Dress Down Sunday: Agatha Christie Week


Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

published 1930

DD Murder at Vicarage

[Miss Marple is a key witness:]

“So Anne Protheroe says she killed her husband. Well, well. I don't think it's true. No, I'm almost sure it isn't true. Not with a woman like Anne Protheroe. Although one never can be quite sure about any one, can one? At least that's what I've found. When does she say she shot him?"

"At twenty minutes past six. Just after speaking to you."

Miss Marple shook her head slowly and pityingly. The pity was, I think, for two full-grown men being so foolish as to believe such a story. At least that is what we felt like.

"What did she shoot him with?"

"A pistol."

"Where did she find it?"

"She brought it with her."

"Well, that she didn't do," said Miss Marple, with unexpected decision. "I can swear to that. She'd no such thing with her."

"You mightn't have seen it."

"Of course I should have seen it."

"If it had been in her handbag."

"She wasn't carrying a handbag."

"Well it might have been concealed - er - upon her person."

Miss Marple directed a glance of sorrow and scorn upon him.
"My dear Colonel Melchett, you know what young women are nowadays. Not ashamed to show exactly how the creator made them. She hadn't so much as a handkerchief in the top of her stocking.''


[A young woman has come to the Vicarage for moral support]

As I entered through the front door a murmur of voices caught my ear. I opened the drawing-room door.

On the sofa beside Griselda, conversing animatedly, sat Miss Gladys Cram. Her legs, which were encased in particularly shiny pink stockings, were crossed, and I had every opportunity of observing that she wore pink striped silk knickers.

"Hullo, Len," said Griselda.

"Good-morning, Mr. Clement," said Miss Cram. "Isn't the news about the colonel really too awful? Poor old gentleman."


[The ladies of the village are discussing a visiting artist]

"He's a very good-looking young fellow."

"But loose," said Miss Hartnell. "Bound to be. An artist! Paris! Models! The Altogether!"

"Painting her in her bathing dress," said Mrs. Price Ridley. "Not quite nice."

"He's painting me too," said Griselda.

"But not in your bathing dress, dear," said Miss Marple.

"It might be worse," said Griselda solemnly.

"Naughty girl," said Miss Hartnell, taking the joke broadmindedly. Everybody else looked slightly shocked.

observations: These are some examples of healthy vulgarity from the book – the vicar commenting on Miss Cram’s knickers is fairly astonishing. Miss Marple has already told us that while doing her bird-watching (ie spying) she recognized her – ‘I think it must have been Miss Cram because her skirts were so short.’ Even so – highly inappropriate remark from a vicar.

And it’s actually quite hard to imagine quite what Anne Protheroe was wearing – in 1930 this is, remember - that an observer could swear that no gun could be concealed. An afternoon outfit in an English village? Really, that tight? It seems an odd certainty for Miss Marple to have. But it certainly gets the reader thinking about the underwear of all these women, along with the prospect of their taking all their clothes off for that very handsome young painter working away in his studio/shed….

It’s always interesting to read this – Miss Marple’s first appearance in a novel – because she is so sharp and steely. At one point the vicar describes her as gentle and appealing, but that’s just before saying she is highly dangerous (in the nicest possible way): and there isn’t much of any kindly good nature in the book. She is, of course, a good egg with a good heart, but she is no old softy. It is almost against their will that some of the characters decide at the end that she is really rather a dear.

And then there’s all this underwear, and a very straightforward attitude to adultery and divorce.

It’s not a bad murder plot, though ludicrously complex, and you do get involved in the characters. I like the narrating vicar and his relationship with his wife Griselda – though it seems unlikely that the unworldly cleric would know that a character could not have worn blue earrings with a black outfit…

A great start to a long career for Miss Marple.

Amongst the many Agatha Christie entries on the blog, this one is of relevance – in The Secret of Chimneys in 1925, there is much unlikely talk from a young woman to her admirer about her control underwear….


  1. I've always found it so interesting, Moira, how Miss Marple grows and changes over the course of the books that feature her. And I love how Griselda Clement thinks of her as 'the worst cat in the village.' And yet, even in this novel, we see hints of the Miss Marple that's to come. And the depiction of St. Mary Mead is classic, I think.

    1. Absolutely Margot, we are in agreement on this book....

  2. Google "fashions of 1929" and you'll find clinging, filmy outfits. Mrs P could possibly have concealed a handkerchief - but not a gun.

    1. I did see plenty of clingy filmy ones, but I saw plenty of others under which you could hide a gun!

  3. I own a pistol. I also own and many pounds ago used to wear two bias cut late twenties/early thirties dresses. Trust me, you couldn't hide anything bigger than a derringer under those clothes.

    Interestingly enough Craig Rice uses the same plot device (a young woman's inability to hide a pistol in the outfit she had on at the time of the murder) in "The Lucky Stiff."

    1. Thanks Shay - I love the image of you in your floaty dress considering the question scientifically. So a derringer is a very small gun then?

    2. I beg your pardon... didn't see this. A derringer is a very small hideout gun favored (at least in the movies) by crooked gamblers and ladies of ill repute. They are small caliber and can be concealed up a sleeve or in a retinue.

    3. Thanks - I loved your comments - so unexpected and helpful!

    4. Yes, I know that weapons and vintage clothing are two skill sets that don't often overlap.

    5. BTW, that "retinue" should have been "reticule." Damned auto-correct caught me.

    6. A really valuable blog supporter when you know about those two subjects...

  4. This was one of the first books I read when I started rereading Christie's mysteries. I loved it. I loved the vicar's narration of the book. My favorite so far of the Marple books, but then I have only read three.

    And that image is wonderful.

    1. Yes I agree with you, I like the vicar very much, and I like his relationship with Griselda.

  5. Agatha Christie and underwear....not something I really want to consider.

    1. I would hate to offend your sensibilities, Col...

  6. I'm imagining that the young lady was wearing something clinging that revealed no anomalies underneath - no mystery lumps or bumps or knobbly bits. And Miss Marple would of course have been on the alert for anything suspicious.It needn't even have been that clinging, just something that would have clung against the body as she walked along, or was blown against her by the breeze. Those 1920s chemise style summer dresses were pretty lightweight.

    1. I went to a wedding on Saturday, and was looking at all the young women who were wearing light, clingy, summer-y outfits, and trying to decide whether they could have had a gun concealed on their person. (Not that I suspected them of gun-carrying of course, this was theoretical). I reckon most of them could if they really wanted to - and I'd say their skirts were a lot shorter than Anne Protheroe's!

  7. I assume the gun would be too heavy for a sort of garter arrangement on the leg. Uncomfortable, too, I imagine.

    1. SPOILER

      ... but tucked away down here, so is that OK?

      What I've been trying not to say is this: that whether or not a gun was or was not faintly detectable is one thing. But a major plot point depends on someone relying on Miss M to be able to swear to this. And THAT, no matter how dainty flimsy the dress, surely just doesn't work.


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