Die Ahnen von Sherlock Holmes: Edgar Allan Poe und die Anfänge der Detektivliteratur

Fachbuch, 2013

92 Seiten



Eva Deinzer (2009): Poe's Tales of Ratiocination - A Closer Look
Poe and the detective story
Characteristics of Poe's Dupin stories
Ratiocination and the Power of Detection
Dupin as a template for modern detectives

Bernhard Kehler (2009): Geheimnis und Detektion. Edgar Allen Poes Erzählungen “The Murders in the Rue Morgue“ und “The Purloined Letter” als Vorbild für ein neues Genre
Grundstruktur der beiden Erzählungen
Wirkungsabsicht und Rezeption der beiden Erzählungen

Ines Sundermann (2007): "You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin". C. Auguste Dupin und Sherlock Holmes im Vergleich
Beziehung zwischen Erzähler und Detektiv


Eva Deinzer (2009): Poe's Tales of Ratiocination - A Closer Look


Edgar Allan Poe is considered a literary genius that did not only concentrate on one genre but also succeeded in many different types of literature. He gained a reputation as a poet, a literary critic, and as a writer of gothic tales of terror and science fiction. Through his tales of ratiocination – how he himself called them – he also became one of the first authors of crime fiction.

In this paper I intend to analyze two of his detective stories: The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter. The focus will be on an analysis concerning the ratiocination – the way of deductive and inductive reasoning – performed by Dupin, the protagonist detective. Furthermore, I would like to present the question of whether Dupin really arrives at his conclusions by mere ratiocination and the process of reasoning or whether there are other things involved.

Before I delve into this problem though, I would like to present a short history of the crime story with Poe as the "inventor" of the detective story in the center. After that follows a short description and demonstration of the characteristics of Poe's detective stories as well as a characterization of the protagonist, detective Dupin. Before I conclude the paper, I will compare the Dupin stories to modern detective fiction that can be found in television programming.

Poe and the detective story

When you turn on television and browse through the channels you will find at least some programs that deal with crime and detection: from Columbo, to Monk or to the relatively new CSI series. Crime is as old as humanity. There has always been an interest in it. Therefore it is not surprising that crime fiction has become what it is today: A commodity good which attracts many people from different ranges of society. During the last three to four decades, crime fiction has even found its way into the academia and is no longer something that people read only for pleasure (Priestman 1). One question critics have always asked about is the beginnings of the crime story. Many claim that Edgar Allan Poe was the father of the detective story, however, let us take a brief look at the history of crime fiction before we agree with that.

Stories[1] of crime can also be found in the Old Testament, more precisely in the Book of Daniel: Susanne and the Elders and Daniel and the Priest of Bel are examples for that. And of course, the tale about Adam and Eve's oldest children: Cain who murdered his brother Abel out of jealousy. In Greek Mythology there is the story about Oedpius who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. In the eighteenth century the cautionary tale developed: Society should be deterred from doing evil by reading about criminals and their doom. An example for this is the Newgate Calendar (1773) which is a collection of tales about how the prisoners of the Newgate Prison were captured, tried, and punished. A few years later William Godwin wrote his well-known novel Caleb Williams (1794) which is considered "as one of the most significant precursors to the detective novel" (Scaggs 14). Caleb Williams (as a kind of detective) has to figure out that his aristocratic employer, Falkland, is the murderer of the local squire, Tyrrel.

The founding and the establishment of the police organizations in Europe and the USA led to the full development of the classic detective story. In France it happened as early as 1812 with the founding of the Sûreté, the civil police force founded by Eugène François Vidocq. With the Metropolitan Police Act of 1828, a permanent police force also was introduced in England under Sir Robert Peel. It was a response to rising crime rates in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century due to the shifting distribution of population, the Industrial Revolution, and a large-scale unemployment. Scaggs concludes: "The inevitable response to the widespread emergence of the professional criminal was the birth of the modern policeman" (18).

In 1842, the Metropolitan Police created the 'Detective Department' and only one year before, Poe published the first of three detective stories The Murders in the Rue Morgue (Kayman 44). Dupin, the fictional detective in Poe's stories, is not working with the police; he is even a kind of a counterpart in that he does not hesitate to criticize them overtly:

The Parisian police, so much extolled for acumen, are cunning, but no more. There is no method in their proceedings, beyond the method of the moment. They make a vast parade of measures; but, not unfrequently, these are so ill adapted to the objects proposed, as to put us in mind of Monsieur Jourdain's calling for his robe-de-chambre --pour mieux entendre la musique. The results attained by them are not unfrequently surprising, but, for the most part, are brought about by simple diligence and activity. When these qualities are unavailing, their schemes fail, […] (Poe, "Murders" 152)

Alongside the introduction of the detective as a protagonist (Kayman 41) , Poe invented many motifs still in use in these kinds of stories like "the murder in the locked room, the unjustly accused suspect, analysis by psychological deduction, and the complementary solutions of the least likely person and the most likely place" (Van Leer 65). He has been imitated by a multitude of authors and screenplay writers ever since. The most famous example of this is probably the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes who was introduced by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 with his first detective mystery novel, A Study in Scarlet. Many other detective novels and short stories followed which made Doyle and his protagonist Holmes an international success.

For other authors the detective story introduced by Poe and refined by Doyle served as a kind of template. During the Golden Age (interwar period) in Great Britain, writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers published many novels and stories featuring one protagonist detective: Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple and Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey solved many mysteries in the classic 'whodunnit' style. During the same time, hardboiled private-eye fiction developed in the US with authors like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The stories concentrate on the character of the detective and the plot contains much violence and betrayal. In the last decades, the hard-boiled genre expanded and now also features women, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals as detectives. Another kind of crime fiction, which is often influenced by hard-boiled fiction, emerged and is now represented in literature and film: The police procedural where a team of professional police officers examine the crime together, often using advanced technology and scientific methods to find the criminal.

From this point of view it is easy to agree that Dupin in Poe's stories was the precursor of the classic detective in crime fiction. Although of course altered and adapted in many ways, the basic principle of an intelligent sleuth who usually is smarter than the police or the readership is still used in the same way. Are there any other characteristics in modern fictional detectives that have survived? To answer this question we first should look at the detective Dupin and his methods of investigating.

Characteristics of Poe's Dupin stories

After having heard much about the history of the detective story, I suggest taking a closer look at the stories themselves, especially at the detective Dupin. At first I want to talk about some general characteristics that unite all three narratives, then I am giving a brief overview about the three stories, and finally I am providing a characterization of the protagonist Dupin.

It is very important that the reader differentiates between the author Poe and the protagonist Dupin. This distinction has not always been made by literary critics. The author is the one who creates the mystery of the whole story. Thoms (133) suggests that each of the Dupin stories is constructed by three 'narrators'. The narrator itself who provides the narrative frame; the criminal, who tries to obstruct the "formation of a rounded narrative" by writing the secret story (the crime); and Dupin as detective who in the end takes over the original narrative from the narrator by explaining how he came to the solution. The image of reading and writing the story is an analogy to the detection of the crime: The detective, as mentioned above, becomes the reader of the crime and simultaneously the author of the story since it is he who reveals the hidden story of the crime at the end. Dupin's reading of the crime is literally evident when he tries to get clues from reading newspaper articles ("Mystery" and "Murders") or when he reads the crime scene ("Murders") or when he scans the minister's office for the letter ("Letter"). With this "skilled act of reading and writing" the detective becomes the "hero" because he "uncovers what happened" (Thoms 135). In this way Dupin gains control of the (crime) story, which lifts him in a position of power over the criminal but also over the narrator (Thoms 133-141).

The reader (you and me) becomes a detective himself because he is "pushe[d] […] away from the proffered answers and towards a renewed investigation of mystery" (Thoms 133).The reader is invited to read the secret story of the crime himself, to follow the detective, and to try to read the same as he does (Thoms 133). This invitation, however, is not supported by Dupin at all. He usually does not share his thoughts and clues till the very end of the story when he reveals what happened. The reader therefore is not able to "solve the mystery along with Dupin" (Van Leer 66).

Another characteristic of all three stories is that the plot itself does not seem to be relevant to the story. In all three narratives "the manner of […] discovery and interpretation, and general philosophical discussions" (Van Leer 67) are placed in the center of the story. Van Leer blames this on the fractured chronology which is typical for all three tales.

Content of the stories

All Dupin stories are set in France, after the establishment of the professional police, which was a necessary condition for these tales of detective fiction. The boundaries between fact and fiction are often a little blurred in Poe's works. The same can be found here: It lies in the nature of a detective story that it pretends to deal with facts instead of fiction – in fact, some people do not even know that Sherlock Holmes was not a real detective. Especially considering the fact that Poe wrote the first stories of this kind and the readership had never seen anything like this before. In his first Sherlock Holmes adventure A Study in Scarlet (1887) Doyle presents the detective Holmes who "compares himself to Dupin and Lecoq, treating them as really existing historical figures" (Kayman 42).

Poe even once worked a real crime case into one of his stories, namely in the narrative with the title The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842). He based it on a real crime committed in New York in 1841 in which the body of a woman, Mary Rogers, was found murdered in the Hudson River. Poe transferred the story to France, altered the name of the victim, and offered a fictional solution to the case (the real case had not been solved at the time the story was published). Since this story will not be part of the following analysis, I will not go into detail concerning the content.

In his first tale of ratiocination The Murders of the Rue Morgue (1841) Dupin solves the case of a murder of two women which turned out to not be a murder at all. The culprit was an orangutan who was captured by a sailor and brought to France to make money. Dupin read the newspaper articles about the crime and visited the crime scene. Having established that the murder could not have been committed by a human being, but rather by an orangutan, he tricked the sailor into coming to his place and forced him to explain how everything happened.

The third and last in the series is The Purloined Letter (1845) in which it is clear from the beginning who committed the crime. The minister D--- stole a compromising letter from the royal apartments and is now blackmailing an unnamed lady. The police already searched his apartment but failed to obtain the letter. The prefect of the police asks Dupin to help him solve the case and Dupin uses his method of ratiocination to find the letter. Later he exchanges it with a fake one and leaves the prefect puzzled.

Dupin the detective

How is Dupin the detective? Can some of his traits still be observed in fictional detectives that surround us in modern times? A close look at the protagonist of all three stories should help answer those questions.

The narrator of the stories describes Dupin as an eccentric person when he tells the reader about his lifestyle. He is sort of a dandy figure who is definitely the opposite of an ordinary member of society. For example, he prefers sleeping during the day and going out at night. The narrator finances this lifestyle by paying for all the mutual expenses since his friend, Dupin, is without money. They met in a library and Dupin impresses with his erudition and leaves the narrator in admiration, which might be the reason for his generosity towards the detective (Poe, "Murders" 143-144). Furthermore, as a book lover, Dupin is more interested in intellectual things than abiding by social orders, and he also likes to show off his intellectual abilities (Kayman 45). He does not, however, only want to brag about it, but also he wishes to show the narrator (and the reader) that he really knows how the human mind works, and that he can draw conclusions when no one else can. In The Murders of the Rue Morgue he explains to the narrator at length how he was able to 'read' his thoughts (146-147).

With the introduction of the first person narrator as Dupin's friend and companion, Poe invented the typical Watson-figure. Almost every good fictional detective has his assistant who tells the story to an audience. In Poe's Dupin stories, the narrator remains unnamed and is the link between the detective and the reader. He acts like a foil to Dupin in regard to his mental and analytic abilities. Dupin definitely is too brilliant for the readership to identify with him, but his companion is portrayed as a little slow on the uptake and not at all ingenious. The average reader is glad to be at least a little brighter than he is. When Dupin surprises him with knowing whom he was thinking about, the narrator exclaims: "[…] this is beyond my comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses" (Poe, "Murders" 145). Dupin often keeps him in the dark about his ongoing investigation only to reveal the whole solution at the end. In doing so, "Dupin emphasizes his superiority, creating a significant gap between his composure and control and the vulnerability of […] his companion[…]" (Thoms 144).

Not only does his companion act like a foil, but also the police do as well. Dupin does not work with the police and consequently does not inform them about his results of the investigation either. For him, detection is like a private game. He even ridicules the police, as aforementioned (part 2). The police are only able to solve a crime if everything is in the usual order, because they are not able to dive into the criminal's mind (Poe, "Letter" 216). Dupin, on the other hand, is a brilliant detective and is the only person able to solve the cases. Scaggs sums up:

The Paris setting contributes to the formula that Poe's stories set out by employing existing police and detective forces as a foil to Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin's analytical genius. The formulaic device, which simultaneously identifies the dull and lacklusre mental faculties of thepolice force as a whole and the brilliance of the private detective as an individual, is further emphasised (sic!) in 'The Purloined Letter' (19).

Dupin is an ambiguous character regarding his motives: In the beginning he seems objective, but later the reader recognizes that he is guided by personal reasons, or as Thoms puts it:

[…] Dupin emerges as a worldly detective who is driven by a variety of motives: to repay 'a service' performed by le Bon; to exact personal revenge on Minister D--- for 'an evil turn'; to pursue his 'political prepossessions' by acting 'as a partisan of the lady' in the same story (137)

Ambiguity also is evident when it comes to the ostensible opposition with the criminal. It is no real opposition for a number of reasons. In the first place, he does not care about social order as I mentioned above (life style). Secondly, he enjoys having power over others. In The Purloined Letter, for example, he hides the letter for weeks before telling the prefect that he is in its possession and therefore accepts that the minister still can blackmail the lady (Poe, "Letter" 213-214). Another example of that can be found in The Murders of the Rue Morgue when Dupin is threatening the sailor:

'You shall give me all the information in your power about these murders in the Rue Morgue.' Dupin said the last words in a very low tone, and very quietly. Just as quietly, too, he walked toward the door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket. He then drew a pistol from his bosom and placed it, without the least flurry, upon the table (p. 164-165).

Here it is obvious that he does not shrink from using criminal methods himself. Apart from threatening the sailor with a gun he does not care about the sailor's moral crimes when he captures the orangutan and takes it to France. Thoms asserts that "[b]y obscuring the sailor's mistreatment of the orangutan […] Dupin obscures his own oppressive use of power" (139). It is therefore not far-fetched that the protagonist's name – at least if you pronounce it English, not French – might be a telling name derived from the verb to dupe which changes to duping, meaning "to trick or cheat somebody"[2] (Fisher 59 and Nygaard 224). Another hint for all this is his initials: C.A.D. – cad, meaning "a man who behaves in a dishonest or unfair way"[3] (Nygaard 224). Dupin's tendency to ambiguity makes him definitely a more interesting character and he somehow is a good reflection of society itself. On the one hand, we all want to do good deeds but sometimes we just use evil methods.

Maybe because of all that, he does not have any problems diving into the mind of the criminal, taking his perspective and thinking like him. He wants to be challenged by a criminal who is kind of a mastermind like he himself is. In The Purloined Letter he faces an equal opponent, the minister D---, with his "daring, dashing, and discriminating ingenuity" (220). The kind of analysis and logical thinking he undertakes is called ratiocination and will be discussed more precisely in the chapter “Ratiocination and the Power of Detection”.

Poe, with his detective Dupin, definitely introduced some character traits that were repeated in other fictional detectives as well. The eccentricity and ratiocination, for example, is also found in Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Monk, the protagonist of the televison series Monk. Also the Watson-figure is clearly something that other writers have adopted, Doyle as well as Sayers, among others. The position outside the police as a private investigator, being brighter than them, is definitely repeated in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but also in more recent detective fiction like the police procedurals where it is not the police, but rather a psychological profiler that solves the case (e.g. The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid).

Ratiocination and the Power of Detection

Poe called his stories featuring Dupin as the investigator Tales of Ratiocination; he did not yet call them detective stories. Ratiocination is "the process of thinking or arguing about something in a logical way"[4], in short: reasoning. Reason is indeed a keyword when it comes to Dupin's method of solving crimes. He reads facts, brings them together and comes to a conclusion through deductive and inductive reasoning. He usually does this by reconstructing the deed: he begins at the end (the committed crime) and analyzes his way through to the beginning. He is like a "hunter for clues" which serve as "individual pieces of a larger puzzle" (Sova 122). As I have already mentioned in the chapter “Dupin the detective”, Dupin is able to dive into the criminal's mind and put himself in the criminal's position. In this way he is able to solve the crimes that were believed to be insoluble.

It is not the mystery that is the focus of these stories but the analysis and method of detection that is used to solve it. Dupin possesses the analytic ability that is necessary for a successful unraveling of the crime. He observes closely and then reasons, through a series of mental steps, what happened (Sova 122). The detective – as much as Holmes later – does not really seem to be very active while solving the crime. For example, in Murders in the Rue Morgue he basically draws all information out of the newspaper and visits the crime scene just once. He basically solves the case from home. This kind of investigating a crime came to be known as armchair detection and it underlines the brilliance of the detective even more, since he is coming to the right solution just through mental ability.

Ratiocination, though, is not possible without using imagination. If you just count the facts and concentrate on what you see, you will not be successful. Indeed, you are likely to "lose sight of the bigger picture" (Sova 153) if you focus too much on little details. In The Purloined Letter he demonstrates this by looking for the most obvious - a letter which is not hidden at all - instead of searching the room for hidden places with the latest scientific methods like the police did. Intuitive perception is necessary to apply ratiocination effectively. The introduction to The Murders in the Rue Morgue emphasizes this: "It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic" (142).

In the following I will demonstrate Dupin's ratiocination in The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter and later examine whether Dupin really finds the truth through mere reasoning or whether there is something else which is worth mentioning.

Ratiocination in The Murders in the Rue Morgue

There are many examples of ratiocination in this story, but due to the limits of this paper I am only providing a few of them. The story is divided into two parts: the introduction in which the narrator explains the difference between true analysis and simple ingenuity and the plot itself.

The reader learns in the introduction that calculation is not the same as analyzing because analyzing always is in need of intuition: "His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition" (141). On the next page the narrator explains why it is the analyst that is more likely to win at a game of checkers than somebody who does not possess such abilities:

Deprived of ordinary resources, the analyst throws himself into the spirit of his opponent, identifies himself therewith, and not unfrequently sees thus, at a glance, the sole methods (sometimes indeed absurdly simple ones) by which he may seduce into error or hurry into miscalculation (142).

Mere calculation is not helpful when it comes to analyzing a situation correctly and drawing the right conclusions. Using the analogy of playing a game of Whist, the narrator tells us that it is not the procedure "by 'the book'" (142) which takes you one step before your opponents, but the "quality of observation" (142).

In the plot itself the reader first faces Dupin's analytic abilities when he explains in detail how he came to read his friend's thoughts (142-143). Since it is quite a long monologue, I will not quote it here at length but rather in short excerpts. Dupin astonished the narrator because he knew that he was thinking about a certain man called Chantilly. He said that he "was not particularly attentive to what you did; but observation has become with me, of late, a species of necessity" (142). When his friend, the narrator, murmured the word 'sterotomy' he "knew that [he] could not say to [him]self 'stereotomy' without being brought to think of atomies, and thus of the theories of Epicurus" (142). Another example of how well the detective is able to observe and conclude is given when the narrator "draw[s] [him]self up to [his] full height" because Dupin "was sure that [he] reflected upon the diminutive figure of Chantilly" (142).

After reading about the murder case in the newspaper, Dupin is sharing his thoughts about the police work that has been done so far and the qualities of the police in general. About Vidocq he says: "He impaired his vision by holding the object too close. […] he lost sight of the matter as a whole" (142-43). Dupin is convinced that if you look for the answers too meticulously you will not see them at all: "Truth is not always in a well. In fact, […] I do believe that she is always invariably superficial" (143). Dupin and his friend decide to go to the scene of crime to take a closer look. In the end, it is only Dupin who looks closer since the narrator does not see any necessity for this: "Dupin, meanwhile, examining the whole neighborhood, as well as the house, with a minuteness of attention for which I could see no possible object" (143). Not only do we recognize here that the detective is a very close observer, but also that he does not tell neither the narrator nor the reader what he sees and if something strikes him as unusual. He keeps us in the dark about his thoughts and therefore it is even more surprising to us and the narrator when he suddenly says "[T]he facility with which I shall arrive, or have arrived, at the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ratio of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police" (154).

In another very long monologue, he is explaining to us how he came to find the solution: "I proceeded to think thus – a posteriori" (157). He uses the method of inductive reasoning because he knows that the murderers escaped from one of the windows; and the question that is still to be answered is 'how' they did it. He elaborates his reconstruction of the case in detail (157-164) leaving the narrator in awe and just asking him some questions for which he already has the answers. Dupin stresses also the importance of probability when he talks about how the police interpret a mere coincident as a possible motive: "Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling-blocks in the way of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing about the theory of probabilities" (160).

Ratiocination in The Purloined Letter

Poe's third tale of ratiocination, which he considered his best one (Sova 152), is shorter than the other two, but nevertheless full of examples for his method of detection and investigation. I also will provide just some of them.

When the prefect of the police came to visit Dupin and asked for his help, the detective gave a hint as to how to look differently at the case: "'Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at fault'" (209). He thinks that observing something too narrow-mindedly will lead you astray. He continues telling the prefect that he probably is looking for something more obvious (209). The prefect, though, does not even realize Dupin's effort and just goes on explaining to him what happened. At the end of the prefect's story, Dupin does not offer any advice for him and so the prefect leaves without any hope to solve the case. A month later the prefect visits Dupin and his friend again and to his and the narrator's surprise, Dupin produces the letter they have been looking for so long. Later, Dupin tells his friend what his thoughts were about this case and what he did after the prefect left their house a month ago.

First, he analyzes why the prefect and the police were not able to solve this case:

'The measures, then,' he continued, 'were good in their kind, and well executed; their defect lay in their being inapplicable to the case and to the man. A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs' (215).

He goes on and explains to the narrator what he exactly means by using an example of a children's game called 'even and odd', where one child has to guess the amount of marbles another child is hiding in his hands. He once knew a child who was really good at guessing the marbles so he asked him why he was so lucky, the child answered that "[he] fashion[ed] the expression of [his] face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his [opponent], and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments ar[o]se in [his] mind or heart, as if to match with the expression'" (216). The narrator concludes correctly, that "[i]t is merely an identification of the reasoner's intellect with that of his opponent" (215). What Dupin wants to express by that little analogy is that the police are unable to think outside their usual procedure: "'They consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and, in searching for any thing hidden, advert only to the modes in which they would have hidden it. […] but when the cunning of the individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the felon foils them, of course'" (216). The minister D— , on the contrary, is not that ignorant but rather clever and ingenious. Dupin knows him as a mathematician and a poet, which means "he would reason well" whereas "as mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of the Prefect" (217). The minister D— is an equal opponent for Dupin; he is somebody who has the same intellect and the same acumen as the detective and it is therefore very interesting for Dupin to outwit him.

Dupin demonstrates once again that it is easy to overlook the obvious if you concentrate on the tiny little details instead of looking for the bigger picture when he talks about the game of puzzles which is typically played on a map. One group is supposed to find the name of a street or a river the other group tells them. Dupin remarks that

'a novice in the game generally seeks to embarrass his opponents by giving them the most minutely lettered names; but the adept selects such words as stretch, in large characters, from one end of the chart to the other. These […] escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious' (219).

For Dupin, it is clear that the prefect of the police "never once thought it probable, or possible, that the minister had deposited the letter immediately beneath the nose of the whole world, by way of best preventing any portion of that world from perceiving it" (219). Dupin, knowing that the police only looked for the details and the apparently hidden places, decided to go to the minister's home in person in order to look for the letter himself. And he found it: "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" (220). This obvious difference from the original letter was what drew Dupin's attention toward it. He wasn't fooled by the apparent randomness with which this letter was displayed.

Never trust the detective's method

As we have seen above, Dupin really seems to be brilliant at his ratiocinations and his way of analyzing. He also seems to be always right with his conclusions. He seems like a man the reader can trust, because he is always in search of the truth. But is he really? As I have already mentioned in the chapter “Dupin the detective” he is also a little bit like a criminal himself. But the reader still tends to trust his conclusions. But the reader should know better: Poe is very well known for his "eccentric or half-mad narrators" and he more than once created hoaxes which the readership first believed to be true (Nygaard 223). We really should be more careful when it comes to believing Dupin and his methods or even his intentions. Let us have a closer look:

For Dupin, analysis seems often like a game. He even thinks it is an "amusement" (Poe, "Murders" 153) that distracts him from the boredom of his daily routine. This, however, means that he has to be somehow detached from what is going on. He needs a distance in order to be objective. And that is exactly how Dupin and other famous fictional detectives like Holmes or Hercule Poirot are: "loners and eccentrics, isolated individuals with little in the way of family ties or other commitments" (Nygaard 225). There is one more thing that the analogy of the games illustrates so well: Does the detective really want to find the truth or does he just want to win the game? These two aims – finding the truth and winning the game – are by no means compatible. Dupin, although he seems to find the truth, also likes winning, especially when it means succeeding over the police. He also is eager to win when he steals the letter from the minister D— and takes revenge by leaving him in the dark. Also, we know about the little rivalry between him and the narrator: Dupin always displays his mental superiority over the narrator by demonstrating his analytic abilities so well and later talking about them at length. But there is another game going on: namely the one between the "narrator and the reader, author and audience" (Nygaard 227). The narrator indeed tells us the rules of the game when he philosophizes about analysis in the beginning of The Murders of the Rue Morgue:

Deprived of ordinary resources, the analyst throws himself into the spirit of his opponent, identifies himself therewith, and not infrequently sees thus, at a glance, the sole methods (sometimes indeed absurdly simple ones) by which he may seduce into error or hurry into miscalculation (142)

Loisa Nygaard sums up: "Thus the objective of the analyst is to 'seduce into error' or 'hurry into miscalculation,' to trick and deceive" (228).

How exactly does Dupin use the power of ratiocination? He applies a combination of deduction and induction (Nygaard 229). Nygaard gives explanations of these two methods:

Deductive reasoning is generally defined to be reasoning from premises to specific conclusions according to the set rules of logic.[…]Deduction has also been called reasoning a priori, from first principles, and sometimes crudely characterized as reasoning from cause to effect. […]

Induction […] involves reasoning from a body of evidence to more general conclusions […]. Induction has also been referred to at times as reasoning a posteriori, 'from what comes after', or reasoning from effect to cause (230-231).

It is clearly this latter kind of analysis he applies most often; hints at deduction occur less frequently and when they do, "he does so primarily for strategic reasons, in order to lend a greater aura of certainty to his conclusions" (Nygaard 230). If you deduce something, it is more likely to be true than when you induce something. In other words, when you have a set of rules and you are supposed to come to conclusions from this, set you will be more likely to arrive at the correct conclusions than when you have specific examples and you have to find the general set of rules behind them. Who guarantees that there is only one possible set of rules? And how do you know if the one you found is true? Hence, the method of induction is not always reliable because we simply assume that the future will be exactly like the past (Nygaard 232). When applying inductive reasoning, Dupin assumes that everybody and everything will behave and be like he used to know it. He does not even consider that people and things might react in a different way today than they did yesterday. And I think it is clear that this might be true, but just as well might not be true. Not only is somebody who uses induction relying on the nature's habit but also they are always in danger of the discovery of new evidence: There is a possibility "that the conclusion will be contradicted by new evidence that might become available in the future" (Nygaard 234). Another fact that weakens the credibility of induction compared to deduction is that even if you find a piece of evidence which is true, then your conclusion is not automatically true as well. There might be more than one possible conclusion and nobody is able to say which one is definitely the right one.

Dupin sometimes agrees with the uncertainty of this kind of conclusion and sometimes he tries to hide the fact that they are the only possible options among many. In The Murders of the Rue Morgue he gives the following answer to his friend's question about how he can be sure that the sailor belongs to a Maltese vessel: "'I do not know it […] I am not sure of it. […] Now if, after all, I am wrong in my induction […] still I can have done no harm in saying what I did […]'" (163). Here he is accepting the possibility of another conclusion because it would not be such an obstacle in his way to solve the mystery. In another comment, though, he does not use the word induction to describe his process of reasoning but deduction. He clearly wants to stress that there is no other option – at least not for him – because if there were, then Dupin would not have solved the case:


[1] The following information is from John Scaggs's Crime Fiction (7-32) unless otherwise indicated.

[2] Definition from the OALD, 6th ed., 2000

[3] Definition from the OALD, 6th ed., 2000

[4] Definition from the OALD, 6th ed., 2000

Ende der Leseprobe aus 92 Seiten


Die Ahnen von Sherlock Holmes: Edgar Allan Poe und die Anfänge der Detektivliteratur
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
687 KB
ahnen, sherlock, holmes, edgar, allan, anfänge, detektivliteratur
Arbeit zitieren
Eva Deinzer (Autor:in)Bernhard Kehler (Autor:in)Ines Sundermann (Autor:in), 2013, Die Ahnen von Sherlock Holmes: Edgar Allan Poe und die Anfänge der Detektivliteratur, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/232680


  • Noch keine Kommentare.
Blick ins Buch
Titel: Die Ahnen von Sherlock Holmes: Edgar Allan Poe und die Anfänge der Detektivliteratur

Ihre Arbeit hochladen

Ihre Hausarbeit / Abschlussarbeit:

- Publikation als eBook und Buch
- Hohes Honorar auf die Verkäufe
- Für Sie komplett kostenlos – mit ISBN
- Es dauert nur 5 Minuten
- Jede Arbeit findet Leser

Kostenlos Autor werden