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The Purloined Letter

by Edgar Allan Poe

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How does Germont describe the letter in "The Purloined Letter"?

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"The Purloined Letter" is one of three detective stories by Edgar Allen Poe, written after "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," considered the first modern detective story, and "The Mystery Of Marie Roget."

In the original 1844 publication of "The Purloined Letter," the Prefect of the Paris Police is identified only as "Monsieur G—." In fact, "Monsieur G—" is not identified in any of the three detective stories Poe write in which the character appears. However, in subsequent versions and adaptations of "The Purloined Letter," the Prefect is identified at "Monsieur Germont."

The first physical description of the letter that appears in the story provides no details whatsoever. Monsieur Dupin asks Monsieur G—, "You have, of course, an accurate description of the letter?"

"Oh yes!" —And here the Prefect, producing a memorandum-book, proceeded to read aloud a minute account of the internal, and especially of the external appearance of the missing document. Soon after finishing the perusal of this description, he took his departure, more entirely depressed in spirits than I had ever known the good gentleman before.

By now, however, the reader has learned that the letter is "a certain document of the last importance" and that it was "purloined from the royal apartments."

Monsieur G-- adds that "the paper gives its holder a certain power in a certain quarter where such power is immensely valuable," and "the disclosure of the document to a third person, who shall be nameless, would bring in question the honor of a personage of most exalted station..."

Later in the story, when Monsieur Dupin discovers the letter at the home of the French Minister who stole it, Dupin provides a better physical description of the letter.

No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be that of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance, radically different from the one of which the Prefect had read us so minute a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the D— cipher; there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the S— family. Here, the address, to the Minister, was diminutive and feminine; there the superscription, to a certain royal personage, was markedly bold and decided; the size alone formed a point of correspondence.

Dupin committed the extremal appearance of the letter to memory and later returned to the Minister's home to procure it. When the Minister went to the window to see what was happening in the street—a diversion arranged by Dupin—Dupin replaced the letter with "a fac-simile," which he had prepared.

Dupin explained that he replaced the letter with a "fac-simile," rather than simply taking the letter, because he was concerned that the Minister might kill him.

By replacing the letter with a "fac-simile," Dupin avoided any confrontation with the Minister, and the Minister would not know that Monsieur Dupin had retrieved the letter for the "royal personage" from whom is was purloined until after it was safely returned to her.

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