The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales

The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales - Edgar Allan Poe, Matthew Pearl

While I don't have this particular edition (though I'd love to pick it up sometime just to read the introduction), I am reading through the three detective stories for my ongoing Early Detectives List, and for that I wanted to read these three stories back to back and see how well they held up as a series. (GR series page of Dupin tales) Also though I've read all of them (I think, I may not have read one) it's definitely time for a refresher-read because the plots are somewhat fuzzy in my memory.


(I'm using this book of collected stories. In case you really wanted to know. Seems unlikely, but hey, you might be curious.)


Post-read summing up: When you read The Rue Morgue you definitely get the sense that this is an interesting detective, who you'd like to hear more about. That is, if you can get through the opening treatise on games and how checkers ("draughts") and chess differ. There's a lot of sections in these stories where our Unnamed Narrator - there's no nice way to put it - blathers on about something, mainly to do with philosophy, calculus, or science. This is at its worst in Marie Rogêt, where the reader (and it can't be just me) looks ahead to see how many more paragraphs a detailed diatribe goes on for before we get to something that will move the plot along. Marie Rogêt is very much in need of an editor (you really feel Poe is getting paid by the word and needs money), and frankly an ending. Actually the endings on all of the stories leave questions unanswered and end anti-climatically.


The other thing that's difficult in these stories is when Poe goes all Police Procedural Science on us - and then we get long, convoluted discussions of how drowned bodies react, and difficult to understand lectures on probability and calculus. (I've taken calc and stats classes and I'm not at all sure where Poe's coming from - except that he's referring to probability, and I get that bit. I've had more practical classes and not any math history/theory/philosophy, which may be why I'm not seeing what Poe's attempting - or Poe may just be blathering on - I can't tell.)


Still, as early detectives go, Dupin showed promise - and you can understand why he inspired other authors, who indeed used the types of characters Poe had set up (gentleman logician, police who try to solve things but not clever in same way, sidekick who tells us the story, etc.). It's just a shame Poe didn't write more Dupin stories, because I would have enjoyed seeing where he might take the character next.


Also I really think the three stories need to be read together - each refers to the existence of the other stories and it seems obvious a reader would want to know what came before and after. It now seems odd that most collections of Poe's work mix all of his prose writing in together rather than separating some of them out into series - which is actually what led to me putting together the list of Media Hoax stories. I blame Poe for making me want to make up a list, since he wrote so many (and I am going to read those in order...eventually.).


Rue Morgue - 4 stars, mostly for unique crime/solution setup.


Marie Rogêt - 2 stars, primary interest in this is for the history of the actual crime story that Poe based the story on, otherwise it's very unsatisfying. Especially when the actual murder story (more here) holds so much promise of There is A Good Story Here. A ridiculous amount of text is wasted on Dupin's answering the theories of a newspaper editor after he has already indicated newspapers exist to publish sensation not truth. I mean, he goes ON AND ON, answering each and every point. And this is just blather from a newspaper, and we spend little if any time dealing with police reports, witnesses, actual observations Dupin has made at the scene, etc. It felt both tedious and like padding for length.


Purloined Letter - 3 stars. This is the one I'd not read before. Nice plot and characters, but then ending comes too soon and will make you feel as though you'd missed something. Still it's a relief after Marie Rogêt.One things that strikes me about Dupin and our narrator - today we can't really relate with the character of "the gentleman who doesn't work because he survives on his inherited wealth." In stories like these such men often are considered poverty-stricken - but they aren't really because they manage to eat and have a place to live, and they seem to spend most of their time reading, buying books, and in similar bookish pursuits. They never, ever get a job - if they do anything vaguely like work it's primarily for amusement, not money. (Though Dupin is quick to pocket his money from the police, you'll notice.) In today's world this species of man doesn't exist - only the very, very rich have no idea what it's like to do something for a living, and for everyone else that's life as usual. Also we don't really have a class of the extremely wealthy that are known for only their scholarly work, who spend their lives only on reading and learning. The Gentleman Academic has vanished with the dodo. I'm not putting "sadly" in that because I'm not entirely sure it's a sad thing, since in theory education is more widespread amongst the classes - sort of. (Yeah, that's a whole other essay just in that.)


If you too are suddenly interested in the Dupin tales, here's where to go for immediate gratification. Links are to GR page (noted if you can download the story at that link), wikipedia and Gutenberg. Publication info from wikipedia's Poe bibliography.


The Murders in the Rue Morgue - GR Page (has download but only in French), wiki, Gutenberg (The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 1)- published April 1841 in Graham's Magazine


The Mystery of Marie Rogêt - GR Page, wiki, Gutenberg (also The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 1)- published as a serial November 1842, December 1842, February 1843 in Snowden's Ladies' CompanionThe Purloined Letter - GR Page (download ePub, Mobipocket/Kindle, PDF, in English), wiki, Gutenberg (The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 2)- published 1844–1845 in The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present



(In all caps because yes, I was that excited about it!)


So I was reading The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and I bumped into this section:


"Dupin," said I, gravely, "this is beyond my comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses. How was it possible you should know I was thinking of ——-?" Here I paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I thought.


—"of Chantilly," said he, "why do you pause? You were remarking to yourself that his diminutive figure unfitted him for tragedy."


This was precisely what had formed the subject of my reflections. Chantilly was a quondam cobbler of the Rue St. Denis, who, becoming stage-mad, had attempted the ræle of Xerxes, in Cræbillon's tragedy so called, and been notoriously Pasquinaded for his pains.


(No idea why the æ is in there in the Gutenberg, it's not in my paper version.)


So as usual I looked up Crébillon - whose full name is Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon - and read his wikipedia page, where I found:


"Publication of Le Sopha, conte moral, an erotic political satire, in 1742 forced him into exile from Paris for several months."


So of course I had to find out what that was all about, and on Le Sopha's wikipedia page I find this:


The Sofa: A Moral Tale (French: Le Sopha, conte moral) is a 1742 libertine novel by Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon.


The story concerns a young courtier, Amanzéï, whose soul in a previous life was condemned by Brahma to inhabit a series of sofas, and not to be reincarnated in a human body until two virgin lovers had consummated their passion on him. The novel is structured as a frame story in an oriental setting, evocative of the Arabian Nights, in which Amanzéï recounts the adventures of seven couples, which he witnessed in his sofa form, to the bored sultan Shah Baham (grandson of Shehryār and Scheherazade). The longest episode, that of Zulica, takes up nine chapters; the final episode concerns the teenage Zéïnis et Phéléas, whose innocent pleasure provides the means of freeing Amanzéï.


I wanted to read it after I read the bit about "man turned into sofa as penance" because that sounds just too surreal - the rest is even more so. If you click on the Sopha wikipedia page link (where you can read a bit more about the work) at the bottom you'll find a PDF of it in English, 197 pages. Yes, I downloaded it and must read it.


Oh and - back to the Poe quote above - for those interested in what "Pasquinaded" means - read more at Pasquino, and learn about poetry and how a statue can speak.


So one of the things I'd forgotten about Poe is that he loves to toss names and quotes like this around his stories. So at this point rather than describe my looking up each one (you can just know that I had fun doing this) I'll list them with links to more info and let you discover for yourself.


In Rue Morgue:

Georges Cuvier - a naturalist; Dupin has the narrator read a key portion of Cuvier's book for background information.


"de nier ce qui est, et d'expliquer ce qui n'est pas" - Rousseau, Nouvelle HeloiseQuote is something like "to deny what is, and to explain what is not." (Not my translation, because my French isn't that epic.) Julie or The New Heloise is quoted a LOT in other literature of the time as it was an insanely popular novel. I've always meant to read it. (And hey, I did add it to my GR list ages ago.)


In Marie Rogêt:

Quote from the beginning of the tale is by Novalis, pen name of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg who had an interesting, if short, life. (And not your stereotypical starving-in-a-garret poet's life either - more of a poet-businessman-scholar.)


Mary Cecilia Rogers - referenced in my edition of Poe (in footnote, which are also in Gutenberg) as inspiration for this story


Landor quote - still trying to track down which Landor is involved here, Walter Savage or Robert Eyres - it doesn't help that they're brothers.


In The Purloined Letter:

"Do you remember the story they tell of Abernathy?" - nope, I can't find that story (I'll assume it's in Poe's head? Maybe?)


"a sort of Procrustean bed" - Procrustes: in Greek mythology he's the fellow who made people fit in his bed by stretching them or chopping off legs. (That's the short version.)


"spurious profundity which has been attributed to Rochefoucault, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campanella." - I've added wiki links, you can sort of see what he's comparing, kinda. I can find nothing on La Bougive yet.


"'Il y a à parièr,'" replied Dupin, quoting from Chamfort, "'que toute idée publique, toute convention reçue est une sottise, car elle a convenue au plus grand nombre.' - Nicholas Chamfort [Note to self, look up some of his books or books about him.]


"Bryant, in his very learned 'Mythology,'" - Jacob Bryant, one of his books (2 vol) at Gutenberg


"talk about the facilis descensus Averni" - from the Aeneid - "it is easy to slip into moral ruin."


"as Catalani said of singing, it is far more easy to get up than to come down" - Alfredo Catalani


"found in Crebillon's 'Atrée" - Atrée et Thyeste is a tragedy in 5 acts, and the only info I find is in French, so here's that wiki. And all right, Poe, this is your second mention of him, I will be reading some Crebillon! Eventually. That sofa thing first.