Miss Marple speaks

The following reflections on morality and human nature come from Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie (New York: William Morrow, 2011):

“There is a great deal of wickedness in village life. I hope you young people will never realize how very wicked the world is.” — p. 60, in “The Bloodstained Pavement”

“In this wicked world, I’m afraid the most uncharitable assumptions are often justified.” — p. 306, “Tape-Measure Murder”

One of the reasons I’m a Universalist is that I tend to believe that there is a great deal of wickedness in the world, and really the only hope for humanity is for love to be the most powerful force in the universe.

And in the story “The Four Suspects,” Miss Marple affirms a variant of part of Hosea Ballou’s ultra-Universalist theology: that sin is punished in this life. Early in the story, Sir Henry Clithering, a character who is an “ex-Commissioner of Scotland Yard,” says:

“You say crime goes unpunished; but does it? Unpunished by the law, perhaps; but cause and effect works outside the law. To say that every crime brings its own punishment is by way of being a platitude, and yet in my opinion nothing can be truer [sic].” (p. 136)

Then towards the end of the story, the following conversation takes place between the characters of Miss Marple and Sir Henry Clithering:

“And that girl—” [Sir Henry] stopped. “She commits a cold-blooded murder and gets off scot-free!”

“Oh! no, Sir Henry,” said Miss Marple. “Not scot-free. Neither you nor I believe that. Remember what you said not long ago. No. Greta Rosen will not escape punishment. To begin with, she must be in with a very queer sort of people — blackmailers and terrorists — associates who will do her no good, and will probably bring her to a miserable end….

But the real point of this story is not whether or not evil-doers get punished; the point is that innocent people suffer because of the actions of the evil-doers. And so, Miss Marple concludes, “one mustn’t waste thoughts on the builty — it’s the innocent who matter.” In this moment, Miss Marple could almost be a Universalist: worried less about punishment of sinners than about making life better for everyone else.

3 thoughts on “Miss Marple speaks”

  1. You have written and preached about Miss Marple several times. I think the world is ready for a book called The Theology of Miss Marple and you’re the man to write it.

    And Poirot’s world view? Not so interesting, huh? Too bad, since there’s way more material.

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