‘There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.’
Even before Coronavirus stopped the world, I had begun re-reading my Miss Marple collection. I always find Marple a tonic in tough times, and her shrewd no-nonsense appraisal of people a great comfort.
I began in January with the first Marple novel, The Murder At The Vicarage (1930). The elderly spinster first appeared in short stories, later collated into The Thirteen Problems (1932). Miss Marple obviously wasn’t content with just being in short stories, and thankfully for those of us who love her, managed to break through into a full-length novel.
‘Nothing, I believe, is so full of life under the microscope as a drop of water from a stagnant pool.’
The Murder At The Vicarage introduces us to the world of St Mary Mead, an idyllic, seemingly sleepy English village in south-east England. It has a pub, vicarage, shops and Gossington Hall Estate. Miss Marple’s cottage is Danemead Cottage in Old Pasture Lane.
Colonel Lucius Protheroe, the much disliked church warden, is found shot through the head in the vicarage study. Everybody believes they know who’s responsible, including Miss Marple, one of the ‘old cats’ of the village, who sees everything, hears everything and knows everything! Miss Marple goes as far to declare there are at least 7 suspects who would want the Colonel out of the way.
Just before the unfortunate man’s death, Leonard Clement, the local vicar who narrates the story – and is one of the Seven Suspects – makes the tactless remark that ‘anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service’.
Some of the other suspects include the vicar’s wife, Griselda, a flamboyant character who is a lot of fun. She reminds me of Tuppence Beresfold. I suspect Christie enjoys these young and spirited characters – perhaps reflecting her young and spirited side. She was, after all, one of the first British women to surf standing up in Australia during her Grand Tour in 1924.
Agatha must have been fond of Leonard and Griselda as they also appear in The Body In The Library (1942) and 4.50 From Paddington ( 1957).
The Colonel’s second wife, Anne and her seemingly scatty daughter, Lettice.
Mr Dawes, the new rector under suspicion of stealing from the church collection plate.
Lawrence Redding, the rakish artist and ex-war veteran.
The mysterious Mrs Lestrange, a newcomer to the village.
‘Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much the more dangerous.’
The Murder At The Vicarage is filled with red herrings and twists. It also has a lot of humour and some really fun characters and observations on village life. Even in my Australian Blue Mountains village so many decades later, I can recognise some of the personalities Christie has so much fun with. A Miss Hartnell is described as ‘weatherbeaten and jolly and much dreaded by the poor.’ Agatha can sum up so much in so few words.
Inspirations for Miss Marple included the spinster sister, Caroline Sheppard from The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. Her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends.
I love Miss Marple because I appreciate that an elderly woman is given such power. Dismissed and overlooked by so many to their cost, Miss Marple is always observing and noticing. Nothing appears to unduly shock her.
‘At my time of life, one knows the worst is usually true.’ – Miss Marple
I enjoyed revisiting The Murder At The Vicarage. I love Vicar Leonard and Griselda and of course, I will always love Miss Marple. The plot is slightly convoluted and it’s not my favourite of Agatha’s books but it’s a classic Agatha mystery. I am now about to re-read The Thirteen Problems where Miss Marple first appeared in short story form.
Agatha Christie, reflecting on The Murder At The Vicarage, found it sound but thought it was filled with too many characters and sub-plots.
Scottish crime writer, Val McDermid has cited The Murder At The Vicarage as being the novel that inspired her to write detective novels.
Dorothy L. Sayers was so taken by The Murder At the Vicarage and Miss Marple, she wrote the following to Agatha Christie:
‘Dear Old Tabbies are the only possible right kind of female detective and Miss M is lovely… I think this is the best you have done – almost.’
I discovered Pearl Goldman while researching online for a photo shoot for Currawong Manor, which you can read about HERE . Pearl, Norman Lindsay’s muse who inspired my character Ginger Lawson (one of Rupert Partridge’s Flowers – life models – in my mystery novel Currawong Manor) died in June 2016.
I felt saddened by Pearl’s death, although I am sure her vibrant spirit is dazzling wherever she has journeyed. She was a big energy! But I was always grateful that I had the chance to hear her speak at the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum . A lot of her sassiness went into Ginger. I was wowed by her glamour, even in her nineties, and her sense of humour. I could have listened to her talk for days. When asked the secret of her youth and dynamic energy, she put it down to surrounding herself with young people; age was all in the mind. It felt so special to be in the room with the last of Norman Lindsay’s life models. But Pearl’s life was extraordinary even without the Norman Lindsay years.
Pearl was born in Sydney in 1919 to Gertrude and Joseph Schweig, a dressmaker and tailor who owned a store in George Street. Of course Pearl was always the best-dressed child.
She was also always extroverted and loved attention. She went to Sydney Girls High School and Agnes Kent Modelling School, where she learnt to balance books on her head amongst other tips.
She was employed as a mannequin for the department stores Mark Foy’s and David Jones as a young woman, and modelled for Jantzen swimwear because of her good figure. She first came to Norman Lindsay’s notice in 1937, when Norman, suffering from depression and living in the Blue Mountains, rented a place in The Rocks (Sydney) to paint. He noticed the newly crowned Miss Bondi Surf Queen in a newspaper and thought painting Pearl might be the antidote to his blues. Pearl had been entered into the competition secretly by a girlfriend who thought Pearl ‘the ant’s pants’.
A youthful Miss Bondi put off Norman’s son request to meet his father for around eight months. She was too busy with theatre pursuits and modelling and knew little about Australian art. But finally, curious, Pearl took up the son’s invitation (Norman hated the telephone so had his son make his calls). She was greeted by Norman’s classic opening line when he opened the door: ‘I love your devilish eyebrows.’
Pearl posed for Norman from 1938-1945; her parents didn’t know about it. She found Norman to be a gentleman and nothing like his depiction in the 1994 movie Sirens. By the time she came to disrobe for him, he had earned her trust and she always enjoyed her sessions. Norman spoke to her about history, politics, art and culture and introduced her to a life she hadn’t imagined.
She was the muse for some of Norman’s more famous works: Amazons, Imperia, and Gifts to Venus. Norman described Pearl in letters as, ‘having a great head and sitting perfectly.’
Pearl’s friendship with Norman lasted until his death in 1968.
Pearl also had a career in the theatre and was a showgirl with the JC Williamson Group. Acting followed with parts in Australian television and movies such as Bellbird and Homicide, including a small part in On The Beach (1959), in which she was impressed by Ava Gardner’s style and beauty, and enjoyed hanging out with Fred Astaire and Gregory Peck. She also had a career as a newspaper columnist in Australia, and was painted for the Archibald Prize for Portraiture four times.
After the death of her first husband, Maurice Copolov, Pearl, like Ginger in my book, travelled to America. She married Sydney Goldman, Vice President of New York City Radio.
Her life was now dramatically different; she mixed with and befriended luminaries such as Sophia Loren and Helmut Newton. She described this part of her life: ‘I had a white Jaguar, I had furs, I had diamonds. You name it. I lived like a queen.’
In her later years, Pearl lived in a Gold Coast penthouse, enjoying yoga and talking to schools and the media about Norman Lindsay.
When I saw Pearl talk, she mentioned writing her memoirs, which I hope she managed to complete. For my research when writing Currawong Manor, I used this terrific little book, Memories Of Norman Lindsay & The Theatre by Pearl Goldman, which can be purchased through EBay as it is out of print.
Although small, it’s filled with personal anecdotes and photographs and is worth tracking down if you’re interested. Of course, I treasure my personal signed copy.
Pearl is survived by two sons, David, a professor of neuroscience, and Mark, a computer analyst.
Interviewed in 2007 by the Courier Mail, Pearl reflected on her amazing, outrageous life and said she sometimes looks at the ocean and thinks, ‘Did that really happen? It’s strange. It’s my life, but it’s like a dream.’
Vale Pearl Goldman. Australian Golden Girl. Travel well.
Please share this posts with kindred spirits who may find it of interest.
photos of Five year old Pearl, Pearl with Sophia Loren, Pearl as Imperia, Miss Bondi Surf Queen, Helmut Newton portrait, Sam Hood photo of cast of The Women, Wedding Portraits with Maurice and Sydney are all taken from Memories of Norman Lindsay and the Theatre.