Showing posts with label Literary Masterpieces. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Literary Masterpieces. Show all posts

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?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Subjective Term? Literary Masterpieces?

I remember a literature teacher asking the class what makes a literary masterpiece.  Of course the class had to write and share an essay on the topic.  At the time I simply thought the answer lie in how well a piece of popular literature is written.  As well as how popular some generation of culture and society thought it as, placing it on a pedestal for whatever determined reasoning.  However, I later learned that it remains a subjective topic.  What I may consider a masterpiece may differ from another's thoughts on the same subject.  And all too often I don't even use the term "masterpiece".

Nevertheless, I'd like to share a few of my thoughts.  Many literary masterpieces gather critiques as either presenting lackluster material, or the complete opposite, over-enthused writing.  Therefore, there are several combined elements that may “constitute” a pleasant reading experience, or a dull one.  As an author’s style and syntax continues to be the defining factor in a reader’s experience, other essential ingredients determine how well the message of the novel obtains reception, ingredients that work in conjunction with an author’s choice of words.  This combination of properly used elements helps the reader appreciate the context of a literary masterpiece.  
The Joy Luck Club.  I would consider it a masterpiece.

Long passages of description often cause readers to skim text, missing quality pieces of an author’s message.  Many times description merges with narrative, making it difficult for readers to separate the two.  However, description has the tendency to imply itself throughout a novel, whereas narrative has a way of giving character (often character specific) to a novel, essentially presenting itself as a secondary role in the process.  A character’s role in the pleasantness or dullness of a literary masterpiece brings success to the experience if the character creates speculation within the reader.  Characters that appear predictable to readers may become to contrive to drive a literary masterpiece, as readers are looking to explore the setting within someone he or she can identify with or grow to identify.  A careful balance of inner and outer character statements contributes to a well written literary masterpiece, as character statements create speculation of the character’s actions throughout each manner.

Characters use dialogue to relate their terms to a real life translation for readers.  As many readers skip through narrative and description, it becomes dialogue that catches the reader’s knowledge of the novel’s presence and direction.  Much of this has to do with how text appears on a page, as dialogue tends to be “easy on the eyes.”  However, dialogue is not the absolute to a literary masterpiece, as much of the message infuses into the reader’s ability to visualize the setting and inner monologue of the available characters.  This requires structure, as authors who produce literary masterpieces must maintain a balance of dialogue, narrative, and description to bring pleasure to many readers’ experience.  Character structure allows the information of a novel to become clearer while bringing passion throughout the reading and analysis.  Messages readers receives from a novel is through each passage or piece of dialogue.  It's here that we search for powerful passages to evoke our emotions, not so much to spend time decoding an author‘s material. 

Many find word choices and their meaning brings the biggest appreciation into literary masterpieces.  Though description, character, dialogue, and structure are powerful characteristics that attribute to what an author should focus on when creating a literary masterpiece, these elements are just as important in an author who chooses to explore in other genres of fiction.  Literary masterpieces become important because of the words and meaning they evoke in readers.  Because of this they explore social and personal changes.  Modern contemporary authors like Amy Tan [The Joy Luck Club] and Toni Morrison [Beloved] introduced literary masterpieces that unveil the complexity of what it means to be of an ethnic minority [Chinese, Chinese-American; African, African-American].  Then authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald [The Great Gatsby] provided a glimpse into his concerns about the corruption of the American dream.  An author such as Ralph Ellison [Invisible Man] attacks both social issues and individual conflict within many of his novels.  Then classic masterpiece of Oedipus the King [Sophocles] asks readers to question their purpose in life in modern times.  

With an author’s use of word choice and meaning, his or her messages become striking and clear.  Not understanding the careful use of the two sometimes fails an author.  There are moments when an author does not fully understanding the meaning of a word and uses it.  Granted, a single word can have multiple meanings, but literary masterpieces must use words that remain in the context of the passage.  The message obtains clarity this way because with words used properly in the context of the text, there are no alternatives for the reader to misplace its meaning.  Nevertheless, there are abstract attempts at words designed to further the reader’s contemplation of the material, but a careful use will drive the text to its clarifying end.  Possessing a strong vocabulary (combined with imagination) to draw from authenticates (as well as distinguish) an author’s voice and ability to drawing meaning from his or her masterpiece.  Operating consciously or unconsciously, the arrangement of an author’s word choice takes intuition and observation.  An author who writes to challenge a reader’s personal beliefs or social conditioning takes the advantage by introducing words, meaning, and context.  This careful use supports his or her argument for change, or insight into other cultures and ideas.

Whereas numerous elements such as character, dialogue, narrative, and description goes into creating powerful pieces of literary works, those masterpieces that challenge readers with their use of words and meaning appear to generate cross-cultural conversations.  It is these words that contribute to the greatness of an author’s character, dialogue, narrative, descriptions, and use of metaphors.  Literary masterpieces are important in the sense that they often create changes in real life, just as they gather inspiration from a life in need of change and progression.

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