The Murders in the Rue Morgue (Magill Book Reviews)
The first of three of Poe’s tales involving Dupin, “THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE” is set in Paris, primarily on the fictional Rue Morgue. Poe begins the story with some observations on logical analysis by analogy to games such as chess and checkers; he continues the theme by having Dupin display his thought processes, which have the “air of intuition,” as he appears to read the narrator’s mind while they talk. This long introductory passage with its numerous allusions and obscure references prepares readers for Dupin’s solution to the murders which confound the Parisian gendarmes.
Dupin and the narrator first learn from an evening newspaper of the atrocity, the murders of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter Camille. Newspaper accounts the next day carry depositions by acquaintances of the victims and people in the vicinity where the crime took place; these conflicting accounts and the absence of evidence lead the narrator and the police to consider the crime insolvable.
Dupin, however, places a cryptic advertisement in a newspaper after having inspected the house where the woman and her daughter died. When a sailor in search of a missing orangutan responds to the newspaper advertisement, Dupin has his solution to the murders. Then, for the benefit of the perplexed narrator, the police, and the reader, he explains the clues that led him to the solution.
Dupin’s analytic method of solving the crime has made the tale a classic in the detective-mystery genre. As the first detective in fiction, Dupin is the prototype of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.
Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Inasmuch as Poe uses this story to define and extend his arguments about the application of rational analysis to the whole of problem solving, whether it be draughts or whist or murder, there are long expository and often tediously constructed passages in this tale. Moreover, the characterization of Dupin as a mysterious and brilliant outsider leads Poe to dot his story with words and phrases from French and Latin and with several classical allusions. Further, the use of the first-person narrator allows the reader to know only what the narrator knows about Dupin and does not permit a view of Dupin’s psyche.
The somewhat stilted style of the expository passages in the story notwithstanding, the basic technique that Poe used has become the standard for the genre of detective fiction: the discovery of the scene of a crime; the visit to the scene by the detective; the collection of information that the police have overlooked; the discovery of the culprit as a result of the application of reason to the situation; and the final confrontation between the detective and the person or persons responsible for the crime. This pattern is now so familiar to readers that it is sometimes difficult to realize that it was Poe who created the formula less than a century and a half ago. Monsieur Dupin is the prototype of the gifted amateur detective. Arrogant, at home in the world of books and facts, he triumphs over evildoers whose machinations have stumped the best police minds.
Ideas for Group Discussions
Topics for Discussion
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For Further Reference
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Burluck, Michael L. Grim Phantasms: Fear in Poe’s Short Fiction. New York: Garland, 1993.
Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
Hutchisson, James M. Poe. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
Irwin, John T. The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytical Detective Story. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
Kennedy, J. Gerald. A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
(The entire section is 158 words.)