Poirot v Miss Marple: head to head

The examination question used to be phrased along the lines: “compare and contrast…”

Having looked at each of Christie’s two greatest detectives in isolation, it is time to identify similarities and differences between them – or at least the short stories in which they appear.

If we consider the victims then we see that Poirot’s cases tend to have a bias towards male victims – they make up two-thirds of the victims – whereas Miss Marple’s cases almost exactly reverse this with slightly more than two-thirds of the victims being female.

A possible explanation for this is that Poirot, as a consulting private detective, is called in to investigate cases that are in the public domain whereas Miss Marple is more usually involved as an interested bystander in more domestic crimes. Since we are concerned with the period before the Second World War, the different spheres in which men and women moved are a significant factor. Generally, women at this time had a more domestic role than now. Married women tended not to go out to work but to stay at home and take responsibility for the household. Men, on the other hand, tended to go out to work as the main breadwinner of the family. Thus there would be a disproportionate number of men in any public setting and a proportionately greater number of women involved in a domestic scenario. Christie is therefore simply reflecting these differences in the proportion of  each sex which falls victim to crime.

If we turn to the age profiles of the victims we find that there is again a discernible difference between the Poirot and the Miss Marple cases. The chart below shows the age of the victims – bear in mind that there are some 50 Poirot cases and only 20 Miss Marple cases so interpretation of the chart must take this imbalance into consideration.

victim age

The ages of the victims in Miss Marple’s cases are decidedly skewed towards the younger end whereas there is a more even spread of victim’s ages in the Poirot cases with the most frequent age of the victims falling in their 40s.

This might again be attributable to the public nature of Poirot’s cases since the victims in this public arena would tend to require sufficient time to achieve whatever prominence in business or public life is required to precipitate their murder – or to enable them to acquire sufficient wealth to be worthwhile potential victims of some form of theft.

However, given the domestic nature of many of Miss Marple’s cases, and the tendency for inheritance to provide the motive for more of the crimes within the family (6 out of her 20 cases), it is perhaps surprising to find that the victims in the Miss Marple cases tend to be younger. It transpires that the inheritance motive tends to apply almost exclusively to the cases where the victim is at the older end of the range and that the young victims are more likely to be murdered for other reasons.  Love (as in the removal of an inconvenient obstacle in the form of a current spouse, for example) is the second most common motive for murder in Miss Marple’s cases (4 out of the 20) and this is more naturally a greater concern to the younger age groups. So on deeper analysis we see a divide in Miss Marple’s cases between older victims killed for inheritance motives and younger victims killed for motives of (misplaced) love.

 

 

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4 responses to “Poirot v Miss Marple: head to head

  1. Great analysis, it must have taken a lot of time to do and such interesting results! A couple of similarities I have often thought Miss Marple and Poirot had were overall their attitudes to justice, which tend to be traditional/orthodox of the time (though of course Poirot does deviate in some of his cases such Murder on the Orient Express and Curtain) and that they also both give value to small domestic details as they know such details can be crucial to solving cases. Conversation is also a tool they both deploy in their investigations as well.

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    • Thanks. Yes, the desire to see justice v due legal process is an interesting area in the stories and no doubt the views of Christie’s central detective characters would to a great extent reflect her own which were, perhaps, less troubled by capital punishment than we are these days. I wonder if the 100% certainty of the murderer’s guilt in each case removes one of the principal concerns about capital punishment – that of wrongful execution of an innocent person. Agree also with your observation on attention to small domestic details and the use of conversations as investigative tools.

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  2. I love this analysis and justification, Mark, another great piece of work. Interesting to contrast the public/domestic split of the short stories with the novels, too, where to my immediate reflection it seems Poirot gets involved in a lot more domestic issues (Taken at the Flood, Appointment with Death…well, listing them all seems rather pointless) compared to relatively few public ones (ABC Murders, The Clocks…erm, again I’ll stop here).

    And on a minor, nerdy point, if you stratify the Poirot 50 stories down to a sample of 20 you can see the age juxstaposition more clearly…just a thought.

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    • Hi JJ, glad you liked this. Interesting that the novels may differ from the stories in terms of setting.
      I debated whether to show actual numbers or percentages to show the age distribution. I came down on the side of numbers as these are more “concrete” but it does mean the Poirot distribution is automatically magnified by 2.5 which then requires comment/explanation in the text.
      Watch out for further head to head analysis next week.

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