When cars began dotting the dirt roads of America, the drivers were almost all men – and the roads . . . well, they stunk. Although “modern” roads certainly existed before the 20th century in the United States – after all, horse-drawn wagons and bicyclists needed a path to follow – the existence of roadways was erratic and nothing to be counted upon. In 1904, for example, only one-sixth of public roads in rural locales had any kind of surfacing whatsoever. Everything else was just plain mud.
The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is a 718-page historical fiction novel written by Allan Gurganus and published by Ivy Books in 1989. Written as if dictated to someone who visited ninety-nine-year-old Lucy Marsden when she lived in a nursing home, it tells the story of Lucy who, at the age of fifteen, married fifty-year-old Confederate veteran Captain William Marsden around 1900 and had nine children with him. This book explores issues of race through the lens of the Confederate South, and serves as a journey of self-discovery for Lucy, and it stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list for eight months, winning the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This was Gurganus’s first novel, selling more than four million copies.
I was invited to write an encyclopedia entry on Agatha Christie’s amateur detective, Miss Jane Marple — and, as a huge fan, I was thrilled. And . . . the encyclopedia project got canceled. So, I thought I would share what I wrote here, with sub-headlines added.
Who is Jane Marple?
Jane Marple is a fictional character created by English mystery novelist Agatha Christie. She appears in twelve books and twenty short stories, starting in approximately 1926 and lasting through 1976; the last was published posthumously. Miss Marple, as she is generally called, is portrayed as an elderly spinster woman of Victorian sensibilities – typically one of the oldest characters in each story where she appears – who has lived her entire life in the small village of St. Mary Mead. She happens upon murder cases in each of the amateur detective stories and can solve them because of her close observation of human nature throughout her long life, outwitting characters much younger than herself.