The Murder at the Vicarage Discussion Questions
The Murder at the Vicarage
By Agatha Christie
Questions by Rosie Sultan, © 2005 WGBH Educational Foundation
- "It is difficult to know quite where to begin this story," states the Vicar in Agatha Christie's Murder at the Vicarage, "but I have fixed my choice on a certain Wednesday at luncheon at the Vicarage" (p. 2). How is this different from the opening in the film? What plot line does the film producer choose to focus on? Why? To what extent do the different openings affect your sense of the story? If you were the director, would you include this plot line? Why or why not? How might you open the film?
- Miss Jane Marple lives as an elderly spinster in 1930's St. Mary Mead -- and solves crimes by observation and intuition. Compare her to female detectives in current murder mystery novels, plays, or television shows. How are they alike? Or different? What is it about Miss Marple that makes her so perennially popular? Why? Does she symbolize something to us as readers?
- St. Mary Mead is "a stagnant pool" according to Miss Marple's nephew. "Nothing," retorts Miss Marple, "is so full of life under the microscope as a drop of water from a stagnant pool" (Christie, p.163). Brainstorm a list of mystery novels, films, short stories, and television shows set in small towns. What is it about small towns that makes them such rich locations for mysteries? How do you think Agatha Christie felt about the place, importance and comedy of small town life? Why?
- When Inspector Slack questions Colonel Protheroe's chauffeur, Reeves, the Vicar muses, "Were there things [Reeves] knew and could have told us? There is nothing so inhuman as the mask of the good servant" (Christie, p.125). Take the point of view of the book's servants: What might Reeves think of Colonel and Mrs. Protheroe? How might Mary see the Vicar? Or his young wife? Would the addition of the servants' thoughts and feelings alter your reading of the book? How?
- Lawrence Redding is jokingly called "that favourite character of fiction, the amateur detective" (Christie, p.127). In Agatha Christie mysteries the reader is an amateur detective -- second-guessing not just the characters but also the writer. What plot twists or scenes made you suspect certain characters in Colonel Protheroe's murder? Why? Was there a point when you were sure you knew who committed the crime? How does Agatha Christie make her readers into amateur detectives?
- One of the pleasures of reading can be imaging characters in our minds. How do you imagine Miss Marple to look? Lawrence Redding? Lettice and Anne Protheroe? List the ways you pictured their hair color, dress, and manners. Then compare this list to the ways the characters are portrayed in the MYSTERY! film. What is gained by these changes in character? What is lost? What themes do you think the screenwriter is trying to emphasize? Which do you prefer, your imagined characters or those in the film? Why?
- In the MYSTERY! film Miss Marple is given a married lover and talks about sex. Entirely new scenes are invented and a new ending scene is added. How do you feel about these changes? How might Agatha Christie respond to these changes? Are there limits to how much something can or should be changed? What does it mean to be "faithful" to a work of literature -- to capture it literally or to capture its spirit?
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