Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"There is a great deal of wickedness in village life..." -- and St. Mary Mead is no exception

Today I am writing as part of the ongoing Agatha Christie Blog Tour, created and hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. I would like to thank Kerrie for the opportunity to be a part of her tour, because I have been an Agatha Christie fanatic for years.  So now, let's get to it, shall we?

Joan Hickson, my absolute favorite Miss Jane Marple

As Miss Jane Marple has said on more than one occasion, “There is a great deal of wickedness in village life.”

 But who would believe that it's even a possibility in the lovely, quiet and pastoral English countryside? According to Raymond West, Miss Marple's nephew, St. Mary Mead is so boring that he views it as a "stagnant pool, " but  au contraire, as Aunt Jane is quick to note,

 "nothing, I believe is so full of life under the microscope as a drop of water from a stagnant pond."
 (-- Murder at the Vicarage)

And whether gardening or bird watching, collecting money for charity or sitting quietly knitting a sweater for this niece or that cousin's daughter, Miss Marple with the "snow white hair, the pink crinkled face, soft blue eyes"  has seen what teems under the metaphorical microscope and has digested it all, without giving much away.  The Vicar of St. Mary Mead once noted that

"there is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands,"
(-- Murder at the Vicarage)
and time has most definitely been one of Miss Marple's greatest assets.  According to Colonel Melchett, Chief Constable of the County, she  has "hardly been out of the village all her life." Consider how very long that actually is -- and how much she's picked up in her silent study and observation of human nature over the years. 

So let's just take a few moments and examine a few examples of life in the "stagnant pond"  to discover some of  Jane Marple's inspirations that have guided her over the course of  her sleuthing career.  Who are some of the lead players in the wickedness and villainry of this quaint English village? And what have they done?   I present to you an even dozen of the more insidious evildoers that I've ferreted out among the many in trying to dig up the scandals of St. Mary Mead.

  • Mr. Badger was  the owner of the chemist's shop in St. Mary Mead, and was somewhat smitten with the young lady who worked for him.  He suggested to his wife, who enjoyed attending seances, that they should let this girl live in their home.  While his wife was away communing with the spirit world,  he proceeded to lavish upon this young woman some great presents including a diamond bracelet. But the Mrs. got the last laugh: it turns out that Mr. Badger's little honey was having a thing with a racecourse punter -- and that the lovely presents were being pawned to support his betting habits.  
    • Kindly Nurse Ellerton was taking care of one of the old ladies in the village, and was quite fond of her up until the day she died. Another patient came along, and she also died. As it turns out, Nurse Ellerton was fond of her ladies, but sent them on their way in the "kindest" manner with Morphine.  She, of course, felt that she was doing them a favor, since her patients didn't have long to live anyway. She also justified her actions saying that her patient with cancer was in a great deal of pain.  But before you go and think Nurse Ellerton was killing her charges out of mercy, kindly consider that they all signed over their money to her beforehand. And Nurse Ellerton liked money.
    • Mrs. Witherspoon saw nothing wrong with drawing Mrs. Bartlett's old age pension along with her own.  Thinking that people naturally believed that "one old woman was like another," and therefore paid no attention, she felt safe in claiming the money, even though Mrs. Bartlett had been dead for years.  
    • Mr. Harbottle's Maidservant got a bit cocky when Miss Harbottle (the master's sister) was called away to take care of a dying relative.  By the time Miss H. returned, the maid had turned in her cap and apron for a place in the drawing room chair, quite above her station.  She had also traded in her broom and mop for conversation and giddy laughter with Mr. H.  Naturally, Miss Harbottle objected and said something to the girl, but Mr. H.gave his sister her marching orders, and she was forced to rent lodgings in Eastbourne. 
    •  Mrs. Pusey's nephew traveled extensively and brought back a lot of stuff, or so he told his aunt. In reality, he was bringing home stolen goods, which he asked her to dispose of. Mrs. Pusey doted on her nephew, and was quite happy to oblige. But when the police came to the door and began to ask her certain questions, her loving nephew tried to "bash her on the head" so she couldn't rat him out. 
    • Miss Hartnell's laundry woman, Mrs. Pebmarsh quietly availed herself of an opal pin that Miss Hartnell had mistakenly  left on a blouse.  She didn't take it for herself, oh dear me no; simply out of spite (and likely out of jealousy over a man as well),  she hid it in the home of a woman she greatly disliked and then told the police where she'd seen it.
    • Major Hargraves was a married, God-fearing churchwarden, very highly respected by most of the villagers.  Imagine their surprise when Hargraves was discovered to have a home separate from the one kept by his wife -- and tongues really begin to wag when it turned out to be with a former housemaid! Granted, when she was in service to Mr. and Mrs. Hargraves she was quite reliable in turning the mattresses every day except Friday, but evidently that wasn't her only talent.  As it turns out, Hargraves and the maid had five children and lived this secret life for some time, and all the while he had the audacity to continue to pass around the collection plate every Sunday!
    • Hitting closer to home, there's Miss Marple's own maid Ethel, who, as Miss Marple notes, had a problem with the concept of "mine and thine."  Miss Marple let her go, and even went so far as to write her a decent letter of reference.  However, Miss Marple warned her friend Mrs. Edwards against hiring Ethel, which made Raymond quite angry, saying that his aunt had done a very wicked thing.  But Raymond had to eat his words when Lady Ashton took Ethel on, and came up short a few diamond brooches after Ethel had made a hasty departure in the middle of the night.  
    • The bank manager, Mr. Hodson, decided to take a cruise vacation and lost his head. He met and married a woman young enough to be his daughter, without any idea of her background.  To his detriment, he believed only what she told him -- which turned out to be totally untrue. But by then, it was too late.
    •  Now let's examine Mr. Cargill the builder, who not unlike modern contractors, tricked people into having more than what they originally wanted done to their houses. When the bills came due, his clients were shocked at the thought of having to cut off their arms and legs to pay him, but somehow he always got them to do so, justifying every pence spent.  But he did have a happy ending of sorts, in that he found a wealthy woman to marry.
    • Collecting for the Red Cross, Mrs. Partridge with her twitchy nose managed to embezzle 75 pounds by short changing the accounts, always putting off the rest to be collected until next week. 
    •  And last, but definitely not least, was the  Major Bury's beloved, a widow who finally acquiesced to be the Major's bride after ten years of him asking.  She left him high and dry only 10 days before the wedding, when she flew the coop with the chauffeur.
     There are more of these rather sordid types to be found throughout Christie's Miss Marple novels and short stories of course, but well, you get the picture. It seems that St. Mary Mead is more of a microcosm of the much bigger world than I previously realized, and maybe Miss Marple's got it right when she says that

    "...most people are too trusting for this wicked world. They believe what is told them. I never do"

    and given this odd assortment of shady characters living in St. Mary Mead, I can see why. 


    1. Many thanks for this excellent contribution to the Blog Tour Nancy

    2. You are quite welcome. I had fun with this one!

    3. People say living in the big city is scary but I think those small villages are far worse (there's also Cabot Cove and all those Midsomer villages too). I'll stick to the mean streets of the big smoke :)

    4. I used to think Jessica Fletcher had a flashing neon sign above her head that said "here I am, someone's going to die." And then I wondered why no one else ever figured it out!

      Thank you for your comment.

    5. hehehe Oh this is fun! I jokingly refer to St. Mary Mead as "the murder capital of England" but one must not forget the more petty crimes.
      I enjoyed this entry thoroughly. Thanks!

    6. Oh my! I was laughing to myself as I was putting it together. Thanks so much! It was fun to do.


    Say what you will, but at least try to be nice about it.