No, I Don’t Need Another Half to Make Me Whole*

There’s sometimes a lot of pressure on, especially, young people to marry, or to at least settle down with a partner. Very often, the amount and kind of pressure depend on culture and other social factors, but in most societies, there’s at least some pressure to pair up. You know what I mean, I’m sure. The not-so-subtle hints (‘So, are you seeing anyone?’), and the ‘help’ that well-meaning friends and family members offer (‘There’s this girl I work with – you two would be great together!’). It can be hard to withstand.

And yet, plenty of people do. It’s not that they don’t want to enjoy someone else’s company, but they have no desire to share their lives that way. They value their independence, and they have their own lifestyles. So, they simply don’t go ‘on the market.’ I’ll bet you know people like that, and there are plenty of them in crime fiction.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, for instance, is a confirmed bachelor. He’s quite set in his ways, and he isn’t interested (especially at his age) in making all the changes and adjustments people make when they share their lives. He considers himself, ‘mercifully past all that.’  He doesn’t mind ‘assisting’ at other budding romances, and he has an especially soft spot for the Countess Vera Rossakoff. But marriage? Possibly children? Non, merci.

Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe will know that they, too, remain bachelors. It’s not that they don’t notice women (Even Sherlock Holmes can’t help but admire Irene Adler). But they have no interest in getting married. And, although both accept the fact that others fall in love and marry (they even assist in a few stories), they don’t choose that path themselves.

Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher is a private investigator living in 1920s Melbourne. It’s a time and place when women are expected to ‘find a man,’ marry, settle down, and have children. But that’s not the life Miss Fisher wants. She’s very independent, has her own money, and has no interest in changing her life to suit the needs of a marriage partner. One might say she has the luxury of remaining single, because she has money. She has an active love life, and she’s had more than one love interest. But her relationships are not intended to be permanent or exclusive. For Phryne Fisher, her independence is too important to willingly give it up, as is expected at that time.

James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is Lilian Jackson Braun’s creation. He’s a journalist who used to live and work in Chicago, but who now lives in Moose County, ‘400 miles north of nowhere.’ He inherited a large fortune, and he’s used it to set up a fund to support deserving people and causes. Not only does that make him popular, it also makes him Moose County’s most eligible bachelor. But he has no interest in marrying. He’s dated a few women, most especially the town librarian, Polly Duncan. They spend quite a lot of time together, and in some ways, they act almost like a married couple. But Qwill doesn’t see himself as marriage material. When people ask him why he and Polly don’t marry, his standard answer is that their cats aren’t compatible.

Fans of Elly Griffiths know that her Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist associated with North Norfolk University. She has a successful career and a small, but loyal, circle of friends. She’s also a single mother to Kate. So there’s not really a lot of time in her life to think about marriage and settling down. She does have feelings for Detective Inspector (DI) Harry Nelson, who is Kate’s father, but he is married, and unlikely to divorce. She’s had other relationships, but her work and her life in Norfolk are too important to her to give up for a marriage. Besides, she likes the ‘space’ and independence she feels as a single person. And she’s settled into her ways and routines.

There’s also Geraldine Evans’ Inspector Joe Rafferty. He’s from a large, Irish family, and his mother would like nothing more than to see him married to a ‘proper Irish Catholic girl.’ In fact, in more than one novel, she tries a few tricks to pair him up. But for much of the series, Rafferty isn’t interested in marrying. He’d like to steer completely clear of commitments, although he does enjoy female company now and again. Rafferty enjoys his bachelorhood, although it does put him against his determined mother. And that friction makes for a witty and interesting story arc. What’s also interesting is that his police partner, Dafyd Llwellyn, has completely different ideas. He is much more interested in what you might call domesticity.

Many people feel the pressure to marry or at least find a partner, especially as they move through their twenties and thirties. But at least in crime fiction, not every character gives in to that pressure. And that can add an interesting layer to a character. Which single-and-content characters do you like best?

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Natasha Bedingfield’s Single.


20 thoughts on “No, I Don’t Need Another Half to Make Me Whole*

  1. Poirot and Marple are probably my favourite – although I’m very fond of Tommy and Tuppence who break the singleton mould. And it’s notable that also the single sleuths have no romantic partner, they usually have a regular sidekick for company!

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  2. Good one. I absolutely can’t imagine Nero Wolfe married, or even romantical. !

    I was one of those who dated but had no interest in marriage, I was happily single until I meant my current wife when I was 60, fifteen years ago.

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  3. I would say the majority of mystery series I read have sleuths that do have a relationship, married or not. I was trying to think of another example of contemporary series with a single woman who is independent, not wanting a relationship. No success yet.

    However, Miss Maud Silver is another sleuth who has lived a long life, alone, and liked it.

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    1. There are a few out there, Tracy, but you’re right that the majority of fictional sleuths are in a relationship. And several of those who aren’t would like one (but that’s the stuff of another post!). And thanks very much for mentioning Miss Silver. She’s a great example of a character who’s content to be single. She has an independent life, and I like her for that.

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  4. It’s a nice change to read about detectives who are content with their singleton lifestyle, in contrast to the many divorced or separated ones who turn to drink or make reckless decisions…

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    1. I agree, Marina Sofia. I do get tired of the sleuth who regularly drinks too much, or who is obsessed with getting an ex back (or getting back at an ex), etc.. I like my detectives more functional than that…

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  5. What an interesting post, Margot. I wonder whether Kerry Greenwood has imposed late 20th century/ 21st century attitudes on an earlier time. Do not know much about Australian literature but would a writer writing about a female protagonist (who is not an elderly spinster) in early 20th century Australia present her the way Greenwood has done? [Just wondering aloud since I haven’t read Greenwood.]

    The Irish detective with the determined mother is new to me. Going to search for the books.

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    1. Thank you, Neeru. In my opinion, Greenwood writes Phryne Fisher in a believable way. And as far as I’m aware, during the ’20s, it was getting more acceptable for women to remain single, at least for a while. If you get a chance to try Greenwood’s work, I’ll be interested in what you think of it. And Geraldine Evans’ Joe Rafferty/Davyd Llewellyn series is a good one, I think. A solid amount of wit, but still (at least for me) interesting mysteries.

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      1. Margot, suddenly remembered reading a book called Silences, years ago, in which a woman explained that many women in Europe remained unmarried during the 1920s because the young men they were in love with/ engaged to died in the first WW and they just couldn’t forget them and move on.

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      2. Oh, that’s interesting, Neeru! I didn’t know that, although it does make sense. I can sort of see that happening. Thanks for mentioning the book, too,

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  6. I’m very fond of the single-and-content detective, like Poirot or Holmes, because I feel it tends to mean the author makes the plot the focus rather than the personal life of the ‘tec. Married-and-content works too, as quite a lot of the early police inspectors seemed to be. The ones who are constantly angsting over their love lives or lack thereof, like poor Ruth Galloway, eventually annoy me because it can so easily come to feel as if that’s the main point of the book. It’s another of the many reasons why I prefer vintage to contemporary when it comes to crime fiction – they seemed to think their mostly middle-aged detectives should be settled in life, either with or without a partner, and should be able to give their undivided attention to the job…

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    1. You know, FictionFan, I hadn’t thought about the whole angst thing, but perhaps that’s part of what makes single-and-content characters appealing. As you say, they can devote themselves to the job or other things that matter ot them, and the reader need not get too caught up in romance drama, if I can put it that way. And you’re right; married-and-content can have the same effect. That’s part of what I like about Caroline Graham’s Tom Barnaby series; he’s contentedly married to his wife, Joyce, and that works for me.

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  7. In real life I deal with the ambiguities of spousal relationships. In Saskatchewan common law marriages have the same rights and responsibilities as formal marriages. Two years into a common law relationship and a couple are spouses in Saskatchewan. It is much the same in the rest of Canada. I wait for a book where the sleuth is in a committed intimate relationship of around two years without living in the same home and suddenly his/her “other” claims they are spouses. Just over 20 years ago I successfully convinced a judge that a common law relationship did not require the parties share a home. It was but one of several factors. An unexpected spousal relationship can be a nasty surprise. Changing the scenario slightly, possibly a motive for murder!

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    1. That’s really interesting, Bill, about the legal status of common law marriages. It certainly does present a fascinating motive for murder (all sorts of ideas are now occurring to me…), but it’s also interesting in its own right. Settling matters out when you have a common-law marriage as opposed to a formal marriage can, I’m sure be quite tricky. Thanks for the ‘food for thought.’

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  8. It’s not crime fiction, but I’m reading Love Lies, a true crime book by Amanda Lamb. Your post reminded me of the murder victim’s family who urged their daughter/sister not to leave her husband. She took their advice and stayed. Her body was discovered two weeks later.

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  9. Matthew Scudder (Lawrence Block) and Elvis Cole (Robert Crais) are single in the early series books I’ve read. Not sure if that stays the same throughout both series. Reality sometimes intrudes and relationships and people’s needs change over time.

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    1. That’s certainly true, Col! I believe that Scudder does marry later in the series. I don’t think Cole does, but I could be wrong. In either case, I do like the way those characters change over time, and I like the fact that neither is desperate to find a partner. It makes their characters more interesting if they’re making it on their own, at least for a while.

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