I recently watched a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor was working with Agatha Christie to solve a mystery. I realized while watching that I had never actually read an Agatha Christie book. I decided it was time I did so.
The Murder at the Vicarage is the first of Christie’s books to feature Miss Marple, an elderly woman with a sharp memory and a keen eye for details. The basic plot is that someone is found shot within the vicarage of a small English town. Everyone suspects someone, but the lack of solid evidence makes it a puzzle as to “who done it.” That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, because I don’t want to give away the ending. I will say that the person I thought was the murderer was not.
What I do want to talk about are the gender issues I found in the book. While the majority of the women in the book are depicted as nosy spinsters, it is Miss Marple, who is grouped in with the stereotyped women, who actually solves the case. So there is an interesting contrast between the gossipy women and the reserved and focused Marple.
I found that the two views of women are embodied in two of the male characters in the book. The vicar represents the idea of gender equality, while Inspector Slack represents the view that women are inferior to men.
Early in the book, the vicar states:
“But surely,” I said, “in these days a girl can take a post in just the same way as a man does.” (p. 15)
The vicar clearly advocates for gender equality. He makes this statement very matter-of-fact. He has no issues with women entering the workforce, choosing the type of work they want to pursue, and believes they should be provided with the same opportunities as men.
As a contrast, Inspector Slack does not seem to hold a high opinion of women. In fact, he comes right out and states that men and women are different, thereby implying that the words and actions of a man are of greater value than those of a woman:
“That’s different. She’s a woman and women act in that silly way.” (p. 69)
The more I think about this book, the more impressed I am. Not only is it a great plot-driven mystery that keeps you guessing until the end, it also touches on important issues of gender bias. Finally, there are a lot of astute observations on human behavior and society included in the book. I’ll close with one that really hit home with me.
“I’m afraid that observing human nature for as long as I have done, one gets not to expect very much from it.” (p. 18)