"Edgar Allan Poe's Chevalier Auguste Dupin: The Use of Ratiocination in Fictional Crime Solving."
By Helena Markovic & Biljana Oklopcic.
First appearance: HUM XI, 2016.
Article (15 pages).
Online (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: This article has plot solution SPOILERS for three
Poe mysteries. Be sure to read the stories first.)
When Edgar Allan Poe decided to combine his fascination with the undisciplined emotive dimensions of the Gothic with the rigorous powers of rationality by amalgamating the two antithetical modes into the person of C. Auguste Dupin, he certainly didn't have any idea
that he was about to energize a type of literature that even now, 176 years later, is still
going strong. Today's article focuses on Dupin and how he employs ratiocination . . .
"In what follows, we will examine the character of the first detective in literature —
Chevalier Auguste Dupin, his methods of solving the crime by means of deductive
reasoning or ratiocination, and, by extension, Poe’s/Dupin’s role in the rise of
~ 1. Edgar Allan Poe’s Influence on the Rise of Detective Fiction:
"There are several elements of detective fiction introduced in his [Poe's] short stories. All the clues are presented to both the detective and the reader. The clues are simple yet apparently not related with one another. Frequently, the motive and other pieces of evidence point to an innocent person in order to make the story more mysterious. The solution is obtainable through the powers of retrospect observation and logic. The police are shown as ineffective, inefficient, and incapable of rational thinking, which is why they are always outsmarted by a detective. The stories, too, introduce the character of the detective’s helper. He is portrayed as submissive and having 'the reverential attitude […] towards his detective-mentor' (Lewis, 1990: 99) yet sharing his desire for knowledge and truth."
~ 2. Chevalier Auguste Dupin:
"Perhaps equally as famous as Dupin himself is his method of fictional crime solving — ratiocination. His peculiar temperament may have made Dupin more believable as a character, but it is the way in which he solves the crimes that truly makes him come to life. Various dictionaries state that the term ratiocination comes from the Latin word ratiocination meaning reasoning, argumentation, a syllogism. Ratiocination is a combined method of inferences, hypotheses, and experience bound together by logic and based on Dupin’s observation of the criminal mind, i.e., a deductive sequence of facts and guesswork arrived at only by the power of one’s intellect."
~ 3. The Use of Ratiocination in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”:
"Dupin also discusses the notions of the coincidence and the probability. He separates the meaningful from the non-meaningful, the important from the unimportant. He uses logic and deduction effortlessly while normal people struggle greatly under its rules. His work is subtle, as if logic was Dupin’s intuition. In a way, it is similar to the use of grammar by people who study a foreign language and the people who are native speakers of it. Although Dupin is irrefutably brilliant and logical, the actual solution to the crime is ridiculous . . ."
~ 4. The Use of Ratiocination in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”:
"Like the author himself, Dupin has reached the majority of his conclusions about the crime by identifying himself with the perpetrator and through the extensive critical analysis of various newspaper articles. In doing so, he became one of the first examples of armchair detection, which Poe even mentions by name: 'Dupin, sitting steadily in his accustomed
arm-chair, was the embodiment of respectful attention'. . ."
~ 5. The Use of Ratiocination in “The Purloined Letter”:
"In this case, ratiocination does not comply with the universal rules of logic but
with those similar to the perpetrator’s way of thinking. . . . Although ratiocination
uses rationality to solve the crime, it is logical only in retrospect – when explained
by the detective."
"Within Dupin’s masculine analytical world everything, even the most extraordinary of crimes, must have a logical explanation. His highly successful method of ratiocination includes almost every element of modern crime investigation: the examination of the crime scene and the victim’s body, the interrogation of witnesses, and the critical analysis of gathered evidence. Although his motives for solving crimes differ, Dupin is ultimately an entertaining creation in spite of his utter lack of charm."
~ Bibliography (2 pages)
Typos: "expecting" [should be "excepting"]; "the Perfect" ["Prefect"]; formatting difficulties: as our grammar teacher constantly warned us, do not divide one-syllable words: "cri-me," "ti-me," "whi-ch," etc.; some multisyllabic terms are also wrongly divided: "rea-ders," "detecti-ve," "rati-onal," "pi-cture," etc. Otherwise the text reads very smoothly.
- More info about the Chevalier is on Wikipedia (HERE) and Sherlockian-Sherlock.com (HERE).
- To say that Poe started something would be an understatement; he anticipated just about every major approach and important trope to appear in detective fiction for the next century:
"While the tales of horror and Gothic imagination remain some of the most accomplished in the genre, still more significant is Poe’s contribution to the development of detective fiction. Drawing on his own ideas of science, Poe created a detective in whom the combi-nation of imagination and rational method made him capable of solving any mystery.
C. Auguste Dupin is the blueprint for detectives like Sherlock Holmes whose rigorous deductive sense is balanced with more bohemian and mystical tendencies . . .
"In their structure, too, the 'tales of ratiocination' inaugurated the classic detective story; they feature incompetent, though methodical police and a narrator-sidekick who is a precursor of Doyle’s Dr. Watson, while the most fundamental trope of all, the principle of the locked room, is the key feature of 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue.' Poe believed that the rational principles of detection established in these stories could be applied in real life, and indeed 'The Mystery of Marie Roget' was his attempt to 'solve' the real mystery of the murder of Mary Rogers in New York. Besides the overt detective tales, other stories point towards the future of detective fiction. 'The Gold Bug,' for which Poe won a prize in the Dollar Newspaper competition, involves the deciphering of a code, while 'The Man of the Crowd' describes a flâneur familiar to readers of Baudelaire, and a loose prototype for American detectives such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe."
— Chris Routledge, "Poe's Tales, 1831-1849" (HERE)
- And speaking of tropes, there's TV Tropes (HERE), which, true to its mission, cleverly highlights themes and plot gimmicks which have since become not just conventions but virtual institutions in their own right; in the instance of Dupin a few of them would be:
"Author Tract: There's a passage of about a page or so in 'The Purloined Letter' in which Dupin explains why mathematicians aren't very good at reasoning. This is tangentially related to the story, but one does wonder if it needed to be explored in such detail.
"Clueless Mystery: In all the stories, Dupin's solutions depend on clues that aren't revealed to the audience until the summation, if then. In 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' for example, the only clue Dupin and the readers both have is the testimony about 'the shrill voice.' Everything else that Dupin discovers the reader is completely unaware of.
"I Know You Know I Know: In 'The Purloined Letter,' Dupin explains that this is the reason he can outwit the police and get his man. The police know who stole the document; the thief knows the police know. The difference between Dupin and the police is that Dupin knows the suspect knows the police know, and the police don't know that.
"Inner Monologue Conversation: Dupin is famously capable of responding to his companion's inner monologue, by deducing from body language what he must have been thinking about. In 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' Dupin shows off his general awesome-ness by tracking the narrator's train of thought through fifteen minutes of silent walking and several mental topic shifts, and saying exactly the right thing at the end.
"Shaggy Dog Story: Although Dupin solves the case of 'The Murder of Marie Rogêt,' the audience isn't informed of more than Dupin's complex reasoning. This is partly because the story is inspired by real events, which themselves were never solved.
"Smart People Play Chess: Subverted in 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue.' The story begins with a discussion on the difference between calculation and analysis (the latter being a 'true' indicator of intellect), and uses chess as an example of the former, noting that in chess, the winner is typically whoever can concentrate longer, not whoever is smarter.
"The Sherlock Scan: A device used to introduce a detective character and his skills. The detective mentions some fact about the person he's just met, something that is not immediately obvious and he has no way of knowing ('Quitting cigarettes appears to have been good for you', 'How's the wedding planning going?', 'You've holidayed in Italy recently'). The other character looks skeptical or surprised, then the detective describes his reasoning from a set of minor clues (state and style of clothes, marks on skin, tan, etc.) and consequent assumptions. This is often not connected directly to the main plotline, but just to show 'This is how the detective's mind works, and yes, the detective is That Good.'"
(Caution: Once you enter TV Tropes it may be some time before you emerge. You have been warned.)
- We highlighted Steven Rachman's Strand article about Poe some time ago (HERE); to get to the three Dupin stories might take two or three clicks.