Miss Marple and the Problem of Modern Identity

20160211_TNA47JacobsAMurderisAnnouncedAlan Jacobs at The New Atlantis:

The British passport was so “transformed” because it met, or seemed to meet, a need never mentioned in the debates over what the French and other European nations demanded. We may call it the Miss Marple problem: Setting aside foreigners, who always and instantly raise suspicions when they turn up in charming little villages like Chipping Cleghorn, how do you know that your neighbors are who they say they are?

In their introduction to a collection of essays extending the work of Raymond Williams, The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550–1850, Gerald MacLean, Donna Landry, and Joseph P. Ward note that “during the sixteenth century, most men and women worked in the agrarian sector and lived in the countryside, while fewer than five percent of them lived in towns. By the middle of the nineteenth century that had changed so dramatically that towns with more than 10,000 inhabitants together comprised roughly half the population of England.” And of course that trend has only continued, in England and elsewhere in the world, in the decades since. Such a trend means that places like Chipping Cleghorn will inevitably decline in population, affected as their people are by the gravitational pull of the great metropolises; but the resulting circulation of persons created will bring the occasional stranger into the village’s small orbit. The arrival of an Arnaud du Tilh, under his own name or some other, will be a regular, not an exceptional, occurrence. And what do the long-term residents do about that?

In A Murder Is Announced, Miss Marple comments that in the modern world, “People take you at your own valuation. They don’t wait to call until they’ve had a letter from a friend saying that the So-and-So’s are delightful people and she’s known them all their lives.” Why would anyone take an unknown woman at her “own valuation”?

more here.