The Characters that Gave Birth to Type? -
Isabel Myers' pre-MBTI novel, Murder Yet to Come
Few people are aware that Isabel Briggs Myers, the creator of the MBTI, wrote a murder mystery novel as a young woman, entered it in a national competition, and won first prize for it. Her story was competing with none other than Ellery Queen, so it was no mean feat for her to have won this prize. Recently reprinted by CAPT, Murder Yet to Come is a fascinating novel for a number of reasons--most particularly, of course, for those interested in type. Not only is it written by the well-known future developer of the MBTI herself, but by a self-typed INFP, and it contains a strong and central INFP character. Moreover, long before officially developing the MBTI, Myers peopled this novel with
observable and vivid MBTI types, often using expressions familiar to students of the MBTI in her descriptions. Apart from anything else, the novel is also marvelously entertaining to read, and the reader will find him/herself not only attempting to identify various MBTI types among its characters, but to work out "whodunit".
The duplication of some names can make the Myers/Briggs family rather confusing. The chart below lists the major family members and their types. The author of Murder Yet to Come is Isabel Myers, later to become Isabel Briggs-Myers, who co-authored the MBTI years later with her mother, Katherine Briggs.
|Isabel Briggs-Myers||INFP||Daughter of Katharine Briggs|
|Peter Myers||ENFP||Son of Isabel|
|Katharine Myers||INFP||Daughter-in-Law of Isabel|
While writing this article I decided to avoid mentioning not only the identity of the murderer, but also many plot details, in order to avoid spoiling it for many readers who enjoy solving mysteries. In doing so, however, this article does not do justice to the intricate plot line and other aspects of the novel worth discussing. And of course, it precludes an analysis of the type, and motives, of the murderer, as well as some other characters.
The story opens with the two main characters, playwright Peter Jerningham, his secretary Mac and Jerningham's old friend, detective and ex-soldier Peter Nillson , meeting by chance an old acquaintance of Jerningham's, Ryker , who asks them to help him in rescuing a damsel in distress. Linda Marshall, Ryker explains, has been kept for years against her will by Malachi Trent, a reclusive millionaire. Ryker fears that Malachi has changed his mind about allowing a marriage between Ryker and Linda, and that Linda is in great danger.
Entering Malachi's mansion, the rescuers find Malachi dead at his desk, and Linda standing dazed nearby with no memory of the last few hours. It is clear to everyone except Jerningham that the death has been an accident. Jerningham, described as imaginative, with a brilliant, quick logic, is the only one who is able to put unudual facts together to recognise that it must have been a murder. What follows is a series of discoveries in which Nillson applies his "slow, plodding logic", and Jerningham his flashes of intuitive logic. Jerningham, Mac and Nillson (who become the leaders of the investigation), together with the reader, considers one after another of the characters in turn to be the murderer. Each time, Nillson is satisfied that the correct person has been identified, and it is only Jerningham's intuition that rejects each suspect and keeps the investigation going.
The language used to describe Jerningham, a successful playwright of murder mysteries himself, unmistakably identifies him as a clear NT, probably an INTP or possibly ENTP. He does seem more likely to have N as his dominant function than T, and might well be an INTJ. There might be some anomaly here, in that he appears to be an INTP while seeming to have intuition as his dominant function. Perhaps this is a weakness in the MBTI as it later developed, in that it does not allow the possibility of an iNtp, as suggested by John Fudjack in this Journal.
Jerningham’s insights about the situation come to him in spontaneous intuitive flashes of logic. He is a “big picture” person, and his mind is like quicksilver. He is never satisfied by the easy or obvious answer. He depends on his friend and secretary, Mac, to keep his life organized and to keep tabs on all the practical details of his life. Mac is highly valued by Jerningham for his phenomenal memory for detail and his quiet service. It isn’t hard to identify Mac’s full MBTI type: he would appear to be a clear ISFJ.
Another example of a clear MBTI type is the detective, Nilsson, who is recognizably STJ, probably an ISTJ. He is described as a man with solid, linear thinking who notices detail, then draws a conclusion through careful steps of observation. Logic and drawing conclusions through detail are his methods. He is frequently frustrated by Jerningham's hunches, but is willing to give them a chance because experience has taught him they are often correct.
Linda, gentle, intelligent and imaginative, has through these very qualities survived Malachi's emotional abuse morally intact. She has a kind of inner innocence, integrity and idealism that cannot be touched. Appearing fragile, she has enormous inner strength and can be extremely tenacious when something is important to her. Linda appears to be a very clear and obvious INFP.
Linda’s role in the novel will be of immense interest to type enthusiasts. For a short while she herself is under suspicion of murder, but even then, at no time does she evoke anything in the other characters (except perhaps the murderer!), nor in the reader, but respect and sympathy. I believe it gives us some important information about INFPs in general and the way Myers viewed them.
It is Linda, a self-effacing, gentle INFP, who in some sense is really the central character in this group that finds itself living together over a period of a few days. She seems to draw the other characters towards her like a magnet, evincing positive reactions and a kind of trust that is hard to justify by logic alone. It is as if she takes an unconsciously and unwillingly central role through remaining in the background. She influences by the power of her character, not the dominating or strong overt power of some types. The power of INFPs is through a low-key but potent personal appeal. That Myers, the future creator of the MBTI, and an INFP herself, should allow her characters to be deeply affected by an INFP in this way, reveals not just a need to indicate the important role the low-profile INFP really plays, but a profound understanding of how the INFP is perceived by others and how the INFP experiences her own world.
There is an interesting aspect of the way Myers portrays this INFP. Linda has managed to retain her integrity and inner strength during her life with Malachi, and is prepared during the book to sacrifice herself for the person she loves. But, in a way, Linda is something of a Cinderella figure, a kind of princess who needs rescue in order to reveal the special, hidden gifts of the INFP. This reflects the peculiar combination of weakness and strength that the INFP both presents to the world and experiences her/himself.
Other qualities of the story likewise reveal Myers’ unique INFP view of the world. It is significant that a large part of the novel’s appeal is the vivid depiction of its characters, and the way these characters interact and co-operate, using their various skills, to solve the murder. The small group is shown being drawn together, not just by the murder itself and the fear of “murder yet to come”, but by concern for Linda and for each other. All this is a reflection of the interests of its INFP author.
It is no surprise to me, either, that Myers has chosen for her solver of mysteries a character who is has N as either his dominant or secondary function, one whose methods and thinking an INFP, with N as secondary function, is likely to understand and enjoy. Moreover, the NT character Myers chooses for this role is one who deeply appreciates the abilities and contributions of his S colleagues. The author of “Gifts Differing” certainly would have regarded her cast of characters in just this way.
Although Myers shows Linda’s helplessness and her dependence on others to solve the case, at least until her actions towards the end, it would be true to say Myers shows this INFP in a very positive manner. By the same token, she is similarly generous to other other characters, pointing out the gifts of each type.
Another focal area for me while reading novel was an attempt to correlate the MBTI types I was able to see with possible enneagram styles; and here I must describe an interesting phenomenon. I found it quite difficult to identify the character’s enneagram styles from just reading the novel. It was quite impossible to say, for instance, using enneagram terms of reference, what Linda’s main compulsion or fixation was, or even what her underlying motivation was. While reading the book, my guess was that most probably Linda is a 4, 5 or 9, but the reader would need to know more specific information, slanted from an enneagram perspective, to discern which of these she is. With the knowledge that Linda is an INFP, a rough guess can also be made along the same lines: that the most likely correlations would be 4, 5 or 9.
It seems to me that the difficulty I experience in identifying the enneagram styles of the characters is because their creator was quite consciously using a different model, and a different vocabulary, to describe and paint them. Because they are painted so clearly in one set of terms of reference, it is difficult to understand them in another. It is interesting that the absence of a distinctive typology model in novels and films does not prevent a student of type from identifying personality types and analyzing the dynamics between characters; but the application of a specific model may well make it difficult to see another pattern in the material.
I don’t think that it necessarily follows that the two systems are operating on two totally different levels, as some claim, but it certainly does illustrate that they do not appear to be describing exactly the same thing. Of course, many individuals experience the same phenomenon when they understand quite clearly that they are an INFP, for example, but cannot see what enneagram style they are, or vice versa. The problem may well lie in the fact that the distinctive vision of each system uses a specific vocabulary; each model tends to use a characteristic language to describe what it is analyzing. It seems to me that this use of language may imprison just as well as it may free. If we wear a pair of glasses that filters only blue and red, it will be difficult to say whether there is any green and yellow in the world. The vocabulary used in the two systems of the enneagram and the MBTI is problematic if it forces us to see the world, or characters in a book, in only one perspective. A distinctive vocabulary then becomes yet another fixation that imprisons our perceptions instead of freeing it.
I am certainly not arguing that Myers is doing this in this novel. Her understanding of her characters is fresh and sharp, as is her vision of human personality. But I am suggesting that unless we free our own present-day language from the restrictions of either/or the MBTI/enneagram (or any other) models, we risk turning an understanding that was once radical and alive into something cliched and banal.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed Murder Yet to Come, I found myself feeling somewhat puzzled that an INFP would write a murder mystery, which, despite its richness of character, is still fairly literal in tone, not the whimsical or magical works I usually associate with INFP writers. It is just possible that the title itself might give some clue about this. Is it possible that at some unconscious level, Myers was aware that the writer inside herself would have to be murdered in order to give birth to the psychologist in her that would develop the MBTI? Perhaps this is trying too hard to find hidden meaning. Nevertheless, it remains true that in this novel we see Myers’ future role as developer of Type pre-figured in these vividly drawn characters, each of whom is valued for his or her special gifts.
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