Sunday, February 1, 2015

"He Was Solely an Expression of the Analytical Capacity of the Intellect—A Ratiocinative Device"

"Edgar Allan Poe and the Origins of Mystery Fiction."
By Steven Rachman.
The Strand Magazine (June-September 2004), pages 54-57.
Online HERE.
In just three short stories, the brilliant but erratic Poe gave the world the template that detective fiction writers have followed—or eschewed—for the past two centuries. Excerpts:
. . .  In "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Poe introduced readers to a Parisian polymath, C. Auguste Dupin, a man endowed with preternatural analytical faculties, a man for whom ordinary men "wore windows in their bosoms." The unnamed narrator of these stories is one of these ordinary men. Dupin's powers are such that not only can he seemingly read the narrator's very thoughts at the instant he is thinking them, but he can explain the whole chain of reasoning that led to his thoughts merely by observing the sequence of expressions on his face.  . . .
 . . . Even in outline, readers will recognize [in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"] many of the features of the detective genre in its classic form—the metropolitan setting, a violent crime taking place in an apparently locked room, the vain, befuddled law enforcement official, the wronged suspect, the confession, the cleverly convoluted solution (in which murder turns out not to be murder), and the masculine camaraderie of a supercilious gentleman mastermind and his credulous companion/narrator. (By the third tale, pipe-smoking would make its appearance.)  . . .
. . . In fact, Poe was slightly annoyed at the attention paid to the Dupin stories at the expense of his other literary works. "I do not mean to say that they are not ingenious," he explained, "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 of unravelling a web which you yourself (the author) have woven for the express purpose of unravelling? The reader is made to confound the ingenuity of the supposititious Dupin with that of the writer of the story."  . . .
. . . But even more importantly, Poe never conceived of the Dupin stories as belonging to the genre of detective fiction; he never referred to them as such. Rather he used the term "tales of ratiocination" in order to emphasize the delineation of a chain of logical reasoning and analysis. For him, the detective was not the central focus of the story, but a vehicle for tracing a train of thought, and the tale itself a way to analyze "that moral activity which disentangles" as he writes in his prefatory comments to "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." It was an interest in logic and not in the personality of the fictional detective that led Poe to write his detective fiction. He left it to others, notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to explore the character of the detective, of which his deductive methods would be but one facet.  . . .
. . . The supposititious Dupin would never become the phenomenon that Sherlock Holmes became, because he was solely an expression of the analytical capacity of the intellect—a ratiocinative device.  . . .
"Supposititious" . . . me?
Rachman's article includes an admirably concise history of Poe's life and development as both a man and artist.

- We've touched base with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter" HERE and "The Mystery of Marie Roget" HERE.
- An unsuccessful attempt to psychoanalyze Edgar Poe is discussed HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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