Friday, March 21, 2014

Father Poe & Dic Dupin

1860s portrait by Oscar Halling
When I was too young to know any better, it didn't register to me that American writer, Edgar Allan Poe, is considered the originator of the mystery genre, or detective fiction.  When I was first introduced to his works, back in those ghastly (notice the word choice?) early middle school years, I instantly connected his creativity to that of Gothic horror and swirls of nasty, black ravens perched on iron fences.  The connection appeared that lucid, until I got the chance to dig deeper into his short stories as part of a high school theatre assignment.  Even then nothing about his short stories resonated with detective fiction in my hormone congested brain.  No, it wouldn't be until I became an adult with the taste of hard-boiled P.I. novels, soaking in the plethora of capillaries underneath my tongue, that I made the connection.  So while I do have my specific flavor (my love of female leads...) and a set of caveats (...where romance is handled judiciously), mystery fiction was in my bloodstream by then.  So one college-aged year I had to give Poe a suggested third look; naturally, with Poe’s 1841 short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.  As I close in on my March Mystery Madness readings, I thought it made sense to revisit and write a short post on this peculiar--yet eye-opening--story.

The "Rue Morgue", lead my Poe's mostly observant-style narrative, introduces us to the extraordinarily keen first sleuth of the literary world, C. Auguste Dupin.  Nope... not Sherlock Holmes, though apparently Doyle bit some of Dupin's flavor to construct Holmes.  Nonetheless, after pages of crowded exposition, servicing Poe's commentary on analytical thinking, the "Rue Morgue" opens with Poe and his French pal, Dupin, having an unhurried stroll through Parisian streets.  Having met and become acquainted with Dupin in the past (through the mutual taste in a library book), Poe arrived in Paris to spend time with the friend that he soon describes as having a "diseased intelligence" and "rich ideality".  Dupin demonstrates those two expressions during their stroll, astonishing Poe with what he first took as Dupin reading his mind.  I won't spoil the fun of witnessing Dupin at work on a bawling Poe.  However, it's not until the two come across a local newsletter that Dupin's "intelligence" and "ideality" skills are truly demonstrated, giving mass to his literary role as the first literary detective written.  

Pausing in their stroll, the two peer through said newsletter that details the locked-room double murder of two women--mother and daughter--in an apartment not far from the city.  It appears that the mother was thrown through an open window, her head nearly severed upon landing.  Whereas the daughter was beaten, then in a puzzling manner, partly stuffed head first up a chimney.  Short of consumed by the horrific details (particularly in relation to the 1800s time period and the conception of murder itself), Dupin's calculating mind doesn't go without notice to Poe as Dupin's practicable questions about the murders stir.  As used in the actual text, Dupin takes note of the mentioned clews, which appears unforeseeable by the Paris policemen investigating the case.  Their dumbfounded response to the murders further interest Dupin in striking a possible conclusion.  

The following day, Poe and Dupin obtain more details concerning the double murder as the daily newsletter lines up a list of individuals who reported to the scene within the time frame of the murders and its unveiling to the immediate public.  As the newsletter keys into the nationality, language, and witness statements of the listed individuals, Dupin ruminates on each statement and whatever inconsistencies he notices.  Finally, Dupin decides that the best way to assist the police in finding the culprit is for him and Poe to pay a visit to the apartment where the murders took place.  So on leads Dupin's need for explaining "the nature of inductions" involving the murders and the clews scattering the wrecked room.  And that is just what he does as Poe follows Dupin in his investigation.  So as not to spoil anything, I'll leave it at that.  However, be ready for a surprise, delivered by Poe's crafty writing.

Following “Rue Morgue” were two other short stories featuring Auguste Dupin.  Those were “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter”.  Combined, the three are known as “The Dupin Tales”, and are acknowledged as the beginning of classic detective fiction.  As mentioned, Poe's Dupin character is the influence behind Sir Arthur Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  Nevertheless, both applied the staple elements to solving literary murder.  And while those staples have transformed today, I believe a cunning eye, deductive reasoning, scientific hypothesizing, and sleight interrogation skills never changes.  It all originated with Poe's Dupin and his linchpin locked-room mystery that makes “the impossible made possible”.

"He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole.  Thus there is such a thing as being too profound.  Truth is not always in a well.  In fact, as regards the more important knowledge, I do believe that she is invariably superficial.  The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountain-tops where she is found.  The modes and sources of this kind of error are well typified in the contemplation of the heavenly bodies.  To look at a star by glances--to view it in a side-long way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to behold the start distinctly--is to have the best appreciation of its lustre--a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it."

This quote is Poe's "simple" way of illustrating how to the truth behind any murder mystery is always on the surface, and something I would hope to keep in mind if I ever got the opportunity to craft my own as eloquently.

Have you experienced "The Dupin Tales"?  What was your take?  Or favorite of the three short stories?  

Also, while he was short-lived, do you think Dupin would've made for some heavy competition with Sherlock Holmes?

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