Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The unnamed narrator and his friend, C. Auguste Dupin, are interrupted by the intrusion of the prefect of the Parisian police, who bursts in to tell the tale of the theft of a compromising letter from the bedroom of the queen by the unscrupulous Minister D——. The contents of the letter are never made known, but the prefect avers that he has been charged with retrieving it, and he further reveals that so long as the letter remains in the minister’s possession, he will hold the queen in his power. The prefect details to the narrator and Dupin the extent of his searches of the minister’s apartments, and he confesses that even though he and his assistants have searched in every possible place, leaving no place unexamined, all of their efforts have been in vain. The letter remains concealed in a place undiscoverable by anyone.
Dupin questions the prefect closely about the methods and the places of his search, suggesting that it would appear that the letter is no longer in the minister’s apartments. He nevertheless advises the prefect to search them once more, inquiring as he does about the exact physical appearance of the letter, as well as its contents. The prefect departs in despair, and the story shifts immediately to his return to Dupin’s apartment a month later, at which time the letter remains, as far as the prefect can discern, in the possession of the minister. Dupin inquires as to the amount that the prefect would be willing to give to...
(The entire section is 574 words.)
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The Prefect's First Visit
"The Purloined Letter'' begins with a description by the unnamed narrator of one evening in the ‘‘autumn of 18— ‘‘at C. Auguste Dupin's home in Paris. Both men are sitting silent, smoking, and the narrator is recalling two mysteries that Dupin previously solved—the murders in the Rue Morgue and the murder of Marie Roget. These two mysteries were in fact centerpieces of earlier detective stories written by Poe.
Monsieur G—, the Prefect of the Parisian police, calls on Dupin once again for his help, the mystery of the purloined, or stolen, letter. At Dupin's suggestion, the three men sit in the dark to discuss the case. The Monsieur begins by saying that the matter is simple, and yet puzzling, at which point Dupin says that maybe it is too simple. This notion is funny and odd to the Monsieur, who dismisses it and continues with his description of how the letter was stolen.
Minister D—, a political rival of the French Queen, stole a letter addressed to the Queen from her royal apartment, in plain sight of the Queen. However, the Queen was unable to stop him for fear of drawing attention to the letter and its contents, which contain extremely private information that could be politically damaging to the royal family. The Minister has been using the letter for months to blackmail the Queen, but she has been unable to protect herself from the blackmail, as she cannot openly try to...
(The entire section is 2121 words.)