Cozy Appreciation #1: MISS JANE MARPLE

Many people have tried to define the “cozy” as a genre. Genres can be so slippery in terms of their definitions (which is one of the joys of them), but I think we all “know a cozy when we see one.”

I think of The Outsmarting of Criminals as a cozy that pays tribute to cozies, if that makes any sense. My idea was to try to use all the things that readers (including myself) love about cozies while making that tribute a part of the book (in the chapter titles).

So I was thinking I might do a series of posts here talking about some of the great cozy heroes and heroines, and what I appreciate most about them.  First up is Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple.

Here’s what struck me so forcibly when I was a teenager reading these books: St. Mary Mead. I grew up in the suburbs, but not the “country.” The way I think about “country,” at least in the tri-state area (where I live), is “acreage.” So, for me, the suburbs were a place where houses were on fairly small lots, packed together on streets. The country was a place where a house had a couple of acres, enough for a garden, lots of animals, and so on. I had a friend who lived in a country-like setting and we never got together at my place… always at hers, because I loved her setting so much. (So I guess “settings” are as much a part of real life as they are in fiction.)

St. Mary Mead was a fictional place that held so much appeal for me … quiet, sylvan, quaint, neighborly. It was the quintessential English village, a place to escape to.

And Miss Marple… I wasn’t sure why I felt drawn to her when I was younger, but now I know. Miss Marple is an expert at making a virtue of necessity. She’s getting on in years and she uses that to her advantage. She feels that “invisibility” that people of a certain age feel (although that feeling of invisibility is common among many groups of people who aren’t necessarily chest-beating extroverts), and, rather than feeling victimized by it, she uses it. Her sense seems to be, “OK, people expect me to be dotty and forgetful just because I’m older. They think that they can open up to me because I’m older and harmless.  I can use that to help solve these murders.” She’s a marvel of working with what she has, which makes her a progenitor for many of the protagonists who followed in her wake. She’s not Superwoman — she’s just really, really smart, but in an understated way. She’s savvy about the way people think and react; her methods are quite different from Hercule Poirot’s, but just as effective.

 

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