The Art of Detection of C. Auguste Dupin. A Comparison of Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”

Hausarbeit, 2012

14 Seiten, Note: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Murders in the Rue Morgue

3. The Purloined Letter

4. Comparison

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

With The Murders in the Rue Morgue published in 1841 Edgar Allan Poe first introduced his detective C. Auguste Dupin. He introduced therewith a new genre which we know today as crime fiction. Poe “[…] had been called the inventor of the detective story, by no less an authority than Arthur Conan Doyle […]” (Howarth 103). He is known as the “father of detection“ (Rzepka and Horsley 22) because “[…] no set of tales has had more impact on literature and culture in the English-speaking world and beyond.” (Rzepka and Horsley 370). Moreover, Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Rôget and The Purloined Letter “[…] introduce that mainstay of mystery fiction - from Sherlock Holmes to Hercule Poirot - the amateur sleuth who solves crimes from the comfort of his armchair” (May 87). This means that C. Auguste Dupin is considered to the very first armchair-detective and thus laid the foundation for a number of rather famous crime fiction stories. Edgar Allan Poe “[…] was the first to create the intelligent, infallible, isolated hero so important to crime fiction of the last hundred years.” (Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction 39). But what is it about the first armchair-detective that fascinates people and made him that successful? Poe answered this denotative question as following: It is “[…] the sheer delight of ‘analysis’, the ‘activity that disentangles’, that attracts fans of literary detection.” (Rzepka and Horsley 3). But what do his exceptional methods conducive to this?

In this term paper I aim to explain Dupin's captivating and one-of-a-kind Art of Detection. On this account I will proceed with a Dupin-like method by analysing his methods in the first story that broaches the issue of C. Auguste Dupin, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and afterwards in the last story of the three, The Purloined Letter. In a final step I will draw a comparison between those two especially focussing on what makes him “the Analyst par excellence” (Howarth 106), analyse why he seems so “preternatural” (May 87) and what his recurrent methods in those two stories are. In my conclusion I will sum up the detective's most significant characteristics of his Art of Detection and the features that fascinate and interest humanity for such a long time.

2. The Murders in the Rue Morgue

C. Auguste Dupin is a detective living in Paris in a mansion together with the narrator of the stories. He is introduced by this narrator as a poor gentlemen descended from a noble family who is exceedingly literate and likes living in darkness.

Dupin's analytic ability is first demonstrated when he takes a walk with the narrator, whose name is not mentioned throughout the stories. When Dupin notes that the narrator seems distracted, he starts analysing in silence the reason for this distraction. Dupin informs his companion about his conclusion, “It was the fruiterer [...]” (Poe 244) who made him think of Chantilly, and only afterwards explains his observation. As the narrator says later: It is in the nature of the analyst that he “[…] glories [...] in that moral activity which disentangles.” (Poe 240). Here we become acquainted with Dupin's method of deduction when he reconstructs the narrator's train of thoughts. Charles May says about Dupin's novel talent in observing and evaluation: “But what seems preternatural is only the result of 'method,' beginning with observation, which presupposes […] the key element of knowing what to observe.” (88). What he wants to point out with this quotation is that Dupin uses his intuition when he observes and applies his methods. He observes, thinks about the matter and gets to a solution, “Poe himself named the three Dupin stories ‘tales of ratiocination’ […]” (Crime Fiction since 1800: Detection, Death, Diversity 26). This is a technique which is further pursued in the other Dupin-stories and which has also been simulated in the methods of other detectives like Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes.

Some time later an article in a local newspaper about two extraordinary murders (cf. Poe 246) in the Rue Morgue attracts Dupin's attention. The main abnormality in the statements of the interviewed witnesses is that they all agree to have heard the voice of a Frenchman and that of a foreigner, whereas everybody believes to have recognised another nationality. Furthermore it is said that a man called Adolphe Le Bon had been arrested, even if there was no visible motive. In the narrator's opinion Dupin seems rather interested in the case, but refuses to judge just by reading the article and the results of the police's observation as he says “There is no method in their proceedings [...]” (Poe 251). In addition, he compares the police with the detective Vidocq because they both have the habit of “holding the object too close” (Poe 252). Therefore they “lost sight of the matter as a whole” (ibid) and they cannot recognise elementary facts like the lack of a motive. Dupin's first step of action is to visit the scene of the crime by himself. He knows the Prefect of the Police and so he has easy access to the place where the murders happened. The detective does not only investigate the scene of the crime itself, but also the neighbourhood and the rest of the house. Again, it is the simplicity of the case that makes the police fail, like the chaos dominating the room and the extraordinary location of Mademoiselle L'Espanaye's corpse. Dupin expresses the matter of how to proceed with the simple annotation that “[...] it should not be so much asked 'what has occurred,' as 'what has occurred that has never occurred before.'” (Poe 253). Afterwards Dupin discloses that the owner of the French voice heard during the perpetration of the murders will arrive soon at their mansion. This is the moment when Dupin distances himself from being a perfect armchair-detective as he hands the narrator a pistol and admits that they both are capable of using it. What might also be important to know is Dupin's “abstract manner at such times. […] [H]is voice […] had that intonation which is commonly employed in speaking to some one at a great distance. His eyes, vacant in expression […]” (Poe 254). Dupin continues with eliminating the possibility of Madame L'Espanaye committing the crime because the witnesses, each one of them originated from another nationality, agreed that they had heard the voice of a foreigner which was deprived from a language they could not understand themselves. Dupin then points out three peculiarities: the voice was harsh, unequal, quick and no words could be made out (cf. Poe 255). In our French detective's opinion, “legitimate deduction” (ibid) is the only appropriate way of approaching this issue and that hence there would necessarily arise one suspicion. Dupin is still not telling his conclusion and reveals hint after hint trying to make the narrator, and therefore the audience as well, detect the solution on his own. He makes an attempt to use the method which is by many critics considered to be the secret of his success: The ability to put himself in the shoes of his opponent or the perpetrator and to imagine he was in that room when the crime happened. Dupin himself remarks in Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue:

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. (241)

Dupin makes the narrator imagine himself to be in the chamber where the crime was committed and look out for abnormalities. The first thing that should attract attention is the question how the murderers could have escaped. The Murders in the Rue Morgue is thereby as well the first crime story that issues the locked room puzzle. Dupin starts off with curtailing the room to detect the possibilities where the perpetrator must have egressed. Where the police could not find anything unnatural, Dupin, “not trusting their eyes” (Poe 255), makes an examination of his own and eliminates the possibilities. It leaves only the windows in the back room as a potential escapism where he notices a spring with which the windows could be opened and locked. Prior to that he says it would only be left for us to prove that the assumed impossibilities were not impossible (cf. Poe 256). For this reason he applies his method of deduction until he has solved the riddle. When investigating the distance from the ground to the aforesaid window and the acquired “unusual degree of activity and courage” (Poe 258), Dupin gets the idea that the murders might not have been committed by a human.

'You will say […] that 'to make out my case', I should rather undervalue than insist upon a full estimation of the activity required in this matter. This may be the practice in law, but it is not the usage of reason. My ultimate object is only the truth.' (ibid).

Furthermore he advices the narrator to link the clues. Dupin now focusses on the lack of motive by mentioning the abandoned gold. “Although the lack of motive is what makes the mystery so seemingly insoluble for the police, for Dupin, it is precisely this lack of motive, precisely its outré features, that makes it so easy to solve.” (May 88), so the detective recognizes the abnormalities of this crime. In the final stages Dupin educes from the brutality combined with the lack of motive, the superhuman strength that would be required to commit those murders and to enter and exit the window, the foreign voice and the non-human hair that the murderer was not on any account human. By trying to gain certainty, Dupin draws a facsimile of the nail dents on Madame L'Espanaye's throat and detects that this hand was no human hand. Accordingly Dupin gets the idea of an Orang-outang whose hands match with the nail dents. Brian Docherty explains the basic characteristics of Dupin's method plainly: “[…] an object is found, its characteristics are established; specialist knowledge is applied to place the object within a larger system; the person (or animal) to whom the object belongs to is identified.” (9). In an attempt to find the owner of the French voice, Dupin places an advertisement in the local paper, saying that he found an Orang-outang and that the owner is thought to be a sailor from a Maltese vessel (cf. Poe 262). Dupin announces afterwards that he expects a sailor because he found a hair tie that matches with those Maltese sailors like to use. This time Dupin uses rather induction than deduction because he finds a hind and only afterwards he develops his theory. What should not be left unmentioned is the fact that Dupin still insists on calling his conclusion no more than guesses. Furthermore the detective tries to comprehend the sailor's thoughts why he should answer to this advertisement and actually show up at the mansion the two men live in. As a matter of fact Dupin's theory is proved right. The “masterful detective” (Rzepka and Horsley 26) presents himself to the sailor as a confidant by addressing him with a “cheerful and hearty tone” (Poe 262) and calling him “my friend” (Poe 263). One thing that should not be left unnoticed is the fact that, in this story, Dupin rejects every kind of financial reward from the sailor or afterwards for solving the crime. He settles for the whole information about the course of events that took place in the Rue Morgue. As Dupin commits his knowledge about the sailor's involvement in the felony, he changes the pitch of his voice, locks the door and very patiently presents the pistol. Though Dupin tries to avoid violent actions by trying to convince the Frenchman that he is not planning on using the weapon. Moreover, he reassures him that he does not intend to harm the sailor because he is aware of his innocence. To say he admits that he is aware of the guilt of the monkey, but also that it is simply an animal. Brian Docherty said about this course of events that “[…] this method is not only empirical, but, in the end, empiricist; Dupin refuses to place the ape in any complex of structures larger than is absolutely necessary to explain the events.” (10). After making a statement at the police, Dupin says he would be satisfied with having defeated the Prefect in his own castle (cf. Poe 266). In the end Dupin is the “conquering hero” (Rzepka and Horsley 372). The story ends with the words by C. Auguste Dupin:

“[…] the Prefect is somewhat too cunning to be profound. […] I like him especially for one master stroke of cant, by which he has attained his reputation for ingenuity. I mean the way he has ' de nier ce qui est, et d'expliquer ce qui n'est pas.” (Poe 266).

3. The Purloined Letter

The last of the three stories about the cases of C. Auguste Dupin, which “[…] marks a return to pure fiction […]” (Docherty 15), begins with the detective and the narrator sitting in the dark in silence when the Prefect of the Parisian police, Monsieur G——, enters the room to ask for Dupin's advice. This time the crime is free of violence as it is about a stolen letter of major diplomatic importance. When the Prefect first depicts the situation, Dupin suggests that “Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at fault […]” (Poe 368) and that it might be a “little too plain” and “too self-evident” (ibid). The Prefect further reports that the purloiner is known to be the Minister D——. Dupin knows the Minister from earlier in his life as he did him once an “evil turn” (Poe 382). Moreover, the Prefect mentions the generous reward for returning the letter to his rightful owner. It also seemed impossible to find the letter among the premises of the Minister. Dupin advices to make another research and asks for a description of the letter in question. When the Prefect returns a month later, Dupin offers to hand him the purloined letter in change for the reward. After the Prefect has left the brilliant detective declares that he “[…] felt entire confident in his [the Prefect] having made a satisfactory investigation” (Poe 374). Therefrom he derived that the letter must be at a place too simple for the police to look at. Afterwards Dupin compares the situation with the game even and odd. The information that we can derive from this comparison is that the reason why one wins the game is the fact that the principle of guessing (and therefore winning) lays “[…] in mere observation and admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents.” (ibid). According to that the winner has to put himself in the position of his opponent to fully understand his way of acting and thinking. He has to identify himself with the intellect of the rival (cf. Poe 375). To approach the explanation of Dupin's point of view and the method he thinks to be moderate to handle this situation, it is helpful to look upon the party with the opposite method, which is in this case the police. Dupin describes it as following:

[…] the Prefect and his cohort fail so frequently, first, by default of this identification, and, secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather through non-admeasurement, of the intellect with which they are engaged. They consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and […] modes in which they would have hidden it. (ibid)

The reason for the non-admeasurement is therefore that the Prefect considers the Minister to be a poet and believes those to be “only one remove from a fool.” (Poe 371). He underestimates him, and moreover he is not able to put himself in the Minister's position. He acts on the assumption that one would aim to hide the letter instead of putting it in a place visible for everyone entering the room. The Minister is able to succeed where the police fails: he managed to put himself in the police's place and therefore to anticipate where they would be searching. In fact this draws a comparison between Dupin and the Minister D—— because “Both are mathematicians and poets who anticipate their opponents […]” (Rzepka and Horsley 377). Until now Poe presented his detective like the model armchair-detective since he was simply sitting in his study reflecting upon the matter and analysing the mind of the purloiner and the Prefect's methods. Eventually he leaves his armchair by paying the Minister a visit in his hotel, where the letter is suspected to be, while he wears spectacles he actually does not need. The purpose of those is to appear short-sighted so he could have an unhindered glance around the room. He even complains about his weak eyes (cf. Poe 379) to assure the Minister that there would be no danger emanating from him. Finally he spots the letter in a rack, looking battered and completely different than on the description because this is another envelope with the D-cipher printed on. In the end those striking differences are the hints that make Dupin detect this letter as the one in search:

[…] the radicalness of those differences , which was excessive; the dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent with the true methodical habits of D-, and so suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea of the worthlessness of the document; - these things, together with the hyperobtrusive situation of the document, full in view of every visitor, and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously arrived; these things; I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one who came with the intention of suspect. (Poe 380)

Giving him final security about the identity of the letter in the rack are the scrutinized edges. Dupin departs from the hotel leaving something of his possessions so he would have a reason to return. When he does so, Dupin gets creative when he pays a man to provoke a riot by shooting a gun amongst a crowd. As soon as the Minister is distracted, Dupin gets the opportunity to replace the important letter with a duplicate. Dupin remarks that there was not the possibility of barely seizing the letter and leaving without the Minister noticing it and taking immediate action. Furthermore Dupin admits that he sought revenge as the Minister did him an “evil turn” (Poe 382) in the past and that he would enjoy the Minister knowing whose fault his downfall would be. This story therefore “[…] smudges the line between detective and criminal, champion of truth and self-interested genius […]” (Rzepka and Horsley 377).


Ende der Leseprobe aus 14 Seiten


The Art of Detection of C. Auguste Dupin. A Comparison of Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
539 KB
Dupin, Edgar Allan Poe, Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, crime fiction, british literature
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Katharina Lurz (Autor), 2012, The Art of Detection of C. Auguste Dupin. A Comparison of Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”, München, GRIN Verlag,


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