(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The Purloined Letter cover image

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.)