Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is prefaced by a brief quotation, from the seventeenth-century writer Sir Thomas Browne, dealing with the legends of the Sirens and of Achilles and also with matters of interpretation. This is followed by a lengthy meditation on the analytical features of the human mind. This meditation comments on the pleasures of analytical thinking and on the ways mathematical thought may invigorate such thinking. The narrator then compares and contrasts two games (chess and card-playing) at length, suggesting that card-playing involves a great deal more genuine analytical thinking than chess. In particular, an effective card-player must be a good observer of his opponents. Finally, he explains, true analysis is not mere ingenuity. The narrator then introduces a story which, he says, will be almost a commentary on the claims he has just made.
The narrator reports that he lived in Paris for several months in a year during the 1800s—a year he does not precisely specify. During his time there he met a young man named C. Auguste Dupin, who came from a good family but who, from various causes, was not wealthy. Dupin loved books, and he and the narrator met in a Parisian bookshop and began to develop a close friendship. Eventually they decided to room together in a somewhat dilapidated house. They lived there in great privacy.
Dupin loved to walk at night, and the narrator often accompanied him. During these walks, the narrator began to notice and admire the analytical nature of Dupin’s mind. Dupin enjoyed this analytical ability and also enjoyed displaying it. Dupin boasted that he could see into the minds and hearts of most other people. The narrator felt that Dupin possessed a mind that was either excited or perhaps diseased. One night, while the two walked silently through the streets of Paris and after they had not spoken for fifteen minutes, Dupin surprised the narrator by suddenly telling him exactly what the narrator had just been thinking. The narrator was astonished by this feat. He was even more astonished when Dupin patiently explained precisely how, by using analytical reasoning, he had painstakingly come to such a startlingly precise conclusion.
One evening, as Dupin and the narrator were perusing a newspaper, they came across an extremely detailed account of shocking murders that had recently occurred in a house on a street called the Rue Morgue. The murders had been preceded by loud shrieking. A crowd, accompanied by police, had broken through the gate of the house from which the shrieking had come, only to discover the dead bodies of a woman named Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter, Mademoiselle Camille L’Espanaye. However, before the crowd was able to get into the room where the murders had occurred, they heard two voices apparently arguing. Unfortunately, by the time the crowd entered the women’s rooms, the voices had fallen silent. Inside the apartment, they discovered a chaotic scene. Furniture had been moved; a bloody razor lay on a chair; bloody gray human hair was visible, apparently ripped from someone’s head; valuables were scattered on the floor; and a small safe was found unlocked and open.
The older woman was nowhere to be seen, but the body of her daughter was discovered shoved far up into the chimney, with her head pointed downward. The corpse was badly bruised and scratched, and the marks of fingers on her neck indicated that the daughter had died from strangulation. Meanwhile, the corpse of the old lady was found in the small back yard. When her body was lifted, her head fell off, and indeed both the head and the body had been horribly mutilated. The newspaper report ended by announcing that the murders remained a complete mystery.
The next day, the newspaper reported a mass of new evidence, mainly resulting from the examination of neighbors and of numerous people who had been involved in the discovery of the crime and the bodies. Pauline Dubourg, a laundress, said that the two women seemed to live alone and to be on good terms with one another. She was sure they employed no servant, and she had heard that the old woman was a fortune teller who had saved some money. Pierre Moreau, a tobacconist, testified that the two women kept to themselves; he did not believe the claims that she told fortunes, although he did believe that she was somewhat wealthy. He had seen a doctor come to the apartment fairly often. Other neighbors confirmed these basic reports.
Isidore Muset, a policeman, testified that he had arrived at the gates of the apartment at about 3 a.m. and found many people already there. He had heard loud shrieking until he was able to force the gate open, then, as he had approached the apartment, he had heard two voices loudly arguing. One was a gruff voice; the other was an odd, shrill voice. The gruff voice had belonged to a Frenchman; the shrill voice could have belonged either to a man or a woman but seemed to be speaking in Spanish. Henri Duval, another neighbor, testified that he believed that the shrill voice had spokes Italian, and he agreed that it could have been the voice of either a man or a woman. Although Duval did not know Italian, he believed that the intonation of the shrill voice had sounded Italian. He was confident that the shrill voice had belonged to neither of the women, with whom he had often talked.
A Dutch restaurant owner agreed with the previous reports but was positive that the shrill voice (which he considered harsh rather than shrill) had belonged to a Frenchman. The gruff voice had continually said “sacre” and “diable” and had even once said “mon Dieu.” A banker and his assistant reported that three days before her death the old lady had withdrawn 4,000 francs from her account and that the money had been delivered to the apartment. An English tailor testified that he had heard the arguing; that the gruff voice had spoken French; that the shrill voice had been louder than the gruff voice; and that the shrill voice had not spoken English but had seemed to speak German (a language the tailor did not comprehend).