Edited by Gerald Boerner
When I think of Edgar Allan Poe, I conjure up images of the macabre and noire stories. He was one of the early proponents of the emerging genres of literature: Science Fiction. Later in the 19th century,this view of the future based on science, technology and discovery. He was in the same mindset of Voltaire and others philosophers that spawned our Revolution and our Constitution. This was the Age of Enlightenment!
Poe was dedicated to position “at its core was a critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs, and morals, and a strong belief in rationality and science”. He was was a dedicated to reason as “the primary source for legitimacy and authority”. His works reflected this anti-traditionalist view. He used this viewpoint to create a body of work that was very different from most of his contemporaries.
The “…Rue Morgue” introduced a new literary style, the detective mystery. He was the forerunner of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Other novelists have followed in his footsteps. We see the full fruition in todays TV detective shows from Dragnet, Colombo, and Murder, She Wrote to today’s NCIS, CSI, and Cold Cases. Quite an impact, if you ask me.
So, let’s get started on today’s exploration… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3995 Words ]
Quotations Related to EDGAR ALLAN POE:
“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“I have great faith in fools; self-confidence my friends call it.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“Experience has shown, and a true philosophy will always show, that a vast, perhaps the larger portion of the truth arises from the seemingly irrelevant.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“There are few cases in which mere popularity should be considered a proper test of merit; but the case of song-writing is, I think, one of the few.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“I have no faith in human perfectability. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active – not more happy – nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe Publishes "Murders in the Rue Morgue"…
Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective-fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.
He was born as Edgar Poe in Boston, Massachusetts; he was orphaned young when his mother died shortly after his father abandoned the family. Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond, Virginia, but they never formally adopted him. He attended the University of Virginia for one semester but left due to lack of money. After enlisting in the Army and later failing as an officer’s cadet at West Point, Poe parted ways with the Allans. His publishing career began humbly, with an anonymous collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to "a Bostonian".
Poe switched his focus to prose and spent the next several years working for literary journals and periodicals, becoming known for his own style of literary criticism. His work forced him to move between several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. In Baltimore in 1835, he married Virginia Clemm, his 13-year-old cousin. In January 1845 Poe published his poem "The Raven" to instant success. His wife died of tuberculosis two years after its publication. He began planning to produce his own journal, The Penn (later renamed The Stylus), though he died before it could be produced. On October 7, 1849, at age 40, Poe died in Baltimore; the cause of his death is unknown and has been variously attributed to alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, and other agents.
Poe and his works influenced literature in the United States and around the world, as well as in specialized fields, such as cosmology and cryptography. Poe and his work appear throughout popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. A number of his homes are dedicated museums today.
Life and Career
After his brother’s death, Poe began more earnest attempts to start his career as a writer. He chose a difficult time in American publishing to do so. He was the first well-known American to try to live by writing alone and was hampered by the lack of an international copyright law. Publishers often pirated copies of British works rather than paying for new work by Americans. The industry was also particularly hurt by the Panic of 1837. Despite a booming growth in American periodicals around this time period, fueled in part by new technology, many did not last beyond a few issues and publishers often refused to pay their writers or paid them much later than they promised. Poe, throughout his attempts to live as a writer, had to repeatedly resort to humiliating pleas for money and other assistance.
After his early attempts at poetry, Poe had turned his attention to prose. He placed a few stories with a Philadelphia publication and began work on his only drama, Politian. The Baltimore Saturday Visiter awarded Poe a prize in October 1833 for his short story "MS. Found in a Bottle". The story brought him to the attention of John P. Kennedy, a Baltimorean of considerable means. He helped Poe place some of his stories, and introduced him to Thomas W. White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. Poe became assistant editor of the periodical in August 1835, but was discharged within a few weeks for being caught drunk by his boss. Returning to Baltimore, Poe secretly married Virginia, his cousin, on September 22, 1835. He was 26 and she was 13, though she is listed on the marriage certificate as being 21. Reinstated by White after promising good behavior, Poe went back to Richmond with Virginia and her mother. He remained at the Messenger until January 1837. During this period, Poe claimed that its circulation increased from 700 to 3,500. He published several poems, book reviews, critiques, and stories in the paper. On May 16, 1836, he had a second wedding ceremony in Richmond with Virginia Clemm, this time in public.
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was published and widely reviewed in 1838. In the summer of 1839, Poe became assistant editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. He published numerous articles, stories, and reviews, enhancing his reputation as a trenchant critic that he had established at the Southern Literary Messenger. Also in 1839, the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes, though he made little money off of it and it received mixed reviews. Poe left Burton’s after about a year and found a position as assistant at Graham’s Magazine.
In June 1840, Poe published a prospectus announcing his intentions to start his own journal, The Stylus. Originally, Poe intended to call the journal The Penn, as it would have been based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the June 6, 1840 issue of Philadelphia’s Saturday Evening Post, Poe bought advertising space for his prospectus: "Prospectus of the Penn Magazine, a Monthly Literary journal to be edited and published in the city of Philadelphia by Edgar A. Poe." The journal was never produced before Poe’s death. Around this time, he attempted to secure a position with the Tyler administration, claiming he was a member of the Whig Party. He hoped to be appointed to the Custom House in Philadelphia with help from President Tyler’s son Robert, an acquaintance of Poe’s friend Frederick Thomas. Poe failed to show up for a meeting with Thomas to discuss the appointment in mid-September 1842, claiming to be sick, though Thomas believed he was drunk. Though he was promised an appointment, all positions were filled by others.
One evening in January 1842, Virginia showed the first signs of consumption, now known as tuberculosis, while singing and playing the piano. Poe described it as breaking a blood vessel in her throat. She only partially recovered. Poe began to drink more heavily under the stress of Virginia’s illness. He left Graham’s and attempted to find a new position, for a time angling for a government post. He returned to New York, where he worked briefly at the Evening Mirror before becoming editor of the Broadway Journal and, later, sole owner. There he alienated himself from other writers by publicly accusing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism, though Longfellow never responded. On January 29, 1845, his poem "The Raven" appeared in the Evening Mirror and became a popular sensation. Though it made Poe a household name almost instantly, he was paid only $9 for its publication. It was concurrently published in the American Review: A Whig Journal under the pseudonym "Quarles".
The Broadway Journal failed in 1846. Poe moved to a cottage in the Fordham section of The Bronx, New York. That home, known today as the "Poe Cottage", is on the southeast corner of the Grand Concourse and Kingsbridge Road. Virginia died there on January 30, 1847. Biographers and critics often suggest Poe’s frequent theme of the "death of a beautiful woman" stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his wife.
Increasingly unstable after his wife’s death, Poe attempted to court the poet Sarah Helen Whitman, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island. Their engagement failed, purportedly because of Poe’s drinking and erratic behavior. However, there is also strong evidence that Whitman’s mother intervened and did much to derail their relationship. Poe then returned to Richmond and resumed a relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster.
Detective Short Story: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe published in Graham’s Magazine in 1841. It has been claimed as the first detective story; Poe referred to it as one of his "tales of ratiocination". Two works that share some similarities predate Poe’s stories, including Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1819) by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Zadig (1748) by Voltaire.
C. Auguste Dupin is a man in Paris who solves the mystery of the brutal murder of two women. Numerous witnesses heard a suspect, though no one agrees on what language was spoken. At the murder scene, Dupin finds a hair that does not appear to be human.
As the first true detective in fiction, the Dupin character established many literary devices which would be used in future fictional detectives including Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Many later characters, for example, follow Poe’s model of the brilliant detective, his personal friend who serves as narrator, and the final revelation being presented before the reasoning that leads up to it. Dupin himself reappears in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" and "The Purloined Letter".
Themes and Analysis
In a letter to friend Dr. Joseph Snodgrass, Poe said of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", "its theme was the exercise of ingenuity in detecting a murderer." Dupin is not a professional detective; he decides to investigate the murders in the Rue Morgue for his personal amusement. He also has a desire for truth and to prove a falsely accused man innocent. His interests are not financial and he even declines a monetary reward from the owner of the orangutan. The revelation of the actual murderer removes the crime, as neither the orangutan nor its owner can be held responsible. Later detective stories would have set up M. Le Bon, the suspect who is arrested, as appearing guilty as a red herring, though Poe chose not to.
The moment Dupin questions the sailor
about the murders. Illustration by Byam
Shaw for a London edition dated 1909
"The sailor’s face flushed up; he started
to his feet and grasped his cudgel"
Dupin’s method emphasizes the importance of reading and the written word. The newspaper accounts pique his curiosity; he learns about orangutans from a written account by "Cuvier" – possibly Georges Cuvier, the French zoologist. This method also engages the reader, who follows along by reading the clues himself. Poe also emphasizes the power of the spoken word. When Dupin asks the sailor for information about the murders, the sailor himself acts out a partial death: "The sailor’s face flushed up as if he were struggling with suffocation… the next moment he fell back into his seat, trembling violently, and with the countenance of death itself."
Poe wrote "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" at a time when crime was at the forefront in people’s minds due to urban development. London had recently established its first professional police force and American cities were beginning to focus on scientific police work as newspapers reported murders and criminal trials. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" establishes an urban theme which will be reused several times in Poe’s fiction, in particular "The Man of the Crowd", likely inspired by Poe’s time living in Philadelphia.
The tale has an underlying metaphor for the battle of brains vs. brawn. Physical strength, depicted as the orangutan as well as its owner, stand for violence: the orangutan is a murderer, while its owner admits he has abused the animal with a whip. The analyst’s brainpower overcomes their violence. The story also contains Poe’s often-used theme of the death of a beautiful woman, which he called the "most poetical topic in the world".
Literary Significance and Reception
Poe biographer Jeffrey Meyers sums up the significance of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue": "[it] changed the history of world literature." Often cited as the first detective fiction story, the character of Dupin became the prototype for many future fictional detectives, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. The genre is distinctive from a general mystery story in that the focus is on analysis. Poe’s role in the creation of the detective story is reflected in the Edgar Awards, given annually by the Mystery Writers of America.
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" also established many tropes that would become common elements in mystery fiction: the eccentric but brilliant detective, the bumbling constabulary, the first-person narration by a close personal friend. Poe also portrays the police in an unsympathetic manner as a sort of foil to the detective. Poe also initiates the storytelling device where the detective announces his solution and then explains the reasoning leading up to it. It is also the first locked room mystery in detective fiction.
Upon its release, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and its author were praised for the creation of a new profound novelty. The Pennsylvania Inquirer printed that "it proves Mr Poe to be a man of genius… with an inventive power and skill, of which we know no parallel." Poe, however, downplayed his achievement in a letter to Philip Pendleton Cooke:
These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say that they are not ingenious – but people think them more ingenious than they are – on account of their method and air of method. In the "Murders in the Rue Morgue," for instance, where is the ingenuity in unraveling a web which you yourself… have woven for the express purpose of unraveling?"
Modern readers are occasionally put off by Poe’s violation of an implicit narrative convention: The reader should be able to guess the solution as they read. The twist ending, however, is a sign of "bad faith" on Poe’s part because readers would not reasonably include an orangutan on their list of potential murderers.
The word detective did not exist at the time Poe wrote "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" though there were other stories that featured similar problem-solving characters. Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1819), by E.T.A. Hoffmann, in which Mlle de Scudery, a kind of 19th century Miss Marple, establishes the innocence of the police’s favorite suspect in the murder of a jeweler, is sometimes cited as the first detective story. Other forerunners include Voltaire’s Zadig (1748), with a main character who performs similar feats of analysis.
Poe may also have been expanding on previous analytical works of his own including the essay on "Maelzel’s Chess Player" and the comedic "Three Sundays in a Week". As for the twist in the plot, Poe was likely inspired by the crowd reaction to an orangutan on display at the Masonic Hall in Philadelphia in July 1839. The name of the main character may have been inspired from the "Dupin" character in a series of stories first published in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in 1828 called "Unpublished passages in the Life of Vidocq, the French Minister of Police". Poe would likely have known the story, which features an analytical man who discovers a murderer, though the two plots share little resemblance. Murder victims in both stories, however, have their neck cut so badly that the head is almost entirely removed from the body. Dupin actually mentions Vidocq by name, dismissing him as "a good guesser".
Plot Summary: "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
The story surrounds the baffling double murder of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter in the Rue Morgue, a fictional street in Paris. Newspaper accounts of the murder reveal that the mother’s throat is so badly cut that her head is barely attached and the daughter, after being strangled, has been stuffed into the chimney. The murder occurs in an inaccessible room on the fourth floor locked from the inside. Neighbors who hear the murder give contradictory accounts, claiming they hear the murderer speaking a different language. The speech is unclear, they say, and they admit to not knowing the language they are claiming to have heard.
Paris natives Dupin and his friend, the unnamed narrator of the story, read these newspaper accounts with interest. The two live in seclusion and allow no visitors. They have cut off contact with "former associates" and venture outside only at night. "We existed within ourselves alone", the narrator explains. When a man named Adolphe Le Bon has been imprisoned though no evidence exists pointing to his guilt, Dupin is so intrigued that he offers his services to "G–", the prefect of police.
Because none of the witnesses can agree on the language the murderer spoke, Dupin concludes they were not hearing a human voice at all. He finds a hair at the scene of the murder that is quite unusual; "this is no human hair", he concludes. Dupin puts an advertisement in the newspaper asking if anyone has lost an "Ourang-Outang". The ad is answered by a sailor who comes to Dupin at his home. The sailor offers a reward for the orangutan’s return; Dupin asks for all the information the sailor has about the murders in the Rue Morgue. The sailor reveals that he had been keeping a captive orangutan obtained while ashore in Borneo. The animal escaped with the sailor’s shaving straight razor. When he pursued the orangutan, it escaped by scaling a wall and climbing up a lightning rod, entering the apartment in the Rue Morgue through a window.
Once in the room, the surprised Madame L’Espanaye could not defend herself as the orangutan attempted to shave her in imitation of the sailor’s daily routine. The bloody deed incited it to fury and it squeezed the daughter’s throat until she died. The orangutan then became aware of its master’s whip, which it feared, and it attempted to hide the body by stuffing it into the chimney. The sailor, aware of the "murder", panicked and fled, allowing the orangutan to escape. The prefect of police, upon hearing this story, mentions that people should mind their own business. Dupin responds that G– is "too cunning to be profound."
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious, "in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance", according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. Some sources say Poe’s final words were "Lord help my poor soul." All medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as "congestion of the brain" or "cerebral inflammation", common euphemisms for deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism. The actual cause of death remains a mystery; from as early as 1872, cooping was commonly believed to have been the cause, and speculation has included delirium tremens, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera and rabies.
Please take time to further explore more about Edgar Allan Poe, Detective
Fiction, Golden Age of Detective Fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle, Romanticism,
The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Age of Enlightenment by accessing
the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body
of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and
hyperlinks have been removed for readability…
Other Events on this Day:
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” one of the first detective stories, is published.
Robert E. Lee resigns his command in the U.S. Army.
Husband-and-wife scientists Marie and Pierre Curie isolate radium in their laboratory in Paris. Their investigation of radioactivity will earn the Curies the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903.
Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, opens.
Billie Holiday records the song Strange Fruit, a condemnation of the lynching of African American men, originally written as a poem by high school teacher Abel Meeropol.
RCA demonstrates the first U.S. electron microscope, capable of magnifying 100,000 times.
Teenage gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris open fire at Columbine High School in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colorado, killing 13 people and wounding 24 others before turning their guns on themselves.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Edgar Allan Poe…
Wikipedia: The Murders in the Rue Morgue…
Wikipedia: Detective Fiction…
Wikipedia: Golden Age of Detective Fiction…
Wikipedia: Arthur Conan Doyle…
Wikipedia: Age of Enlightenment…
Brainy Quote: EDGAR ALLAN POE Quotes…
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Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…