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Edgar Allan Poe Creator of the Modern Detective Story From “The Purloined Letter” to the 21st Century Mystery Genre.

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Presentation on theme: "Edgar Allan Poe Creator of the Modern Detective Story From “The Purloined Letter” to the 21st Century Mystery Genre."— Presentation transcript:

1 Edgar Allan Poe Creator of the Modern Detective Story From “The Purloined Letter” to the 21st Century Mystery Genre

2 Edgar Allan Poe is best known today for his gothic stories of psychological horror. However, his most enduring legacy in the world of literature is the single-handed creation of detective fiction and what he called, “ratiocination” – the process of logical reasoning used by his fictional detective, Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin.

3 Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin Dupin was never described physically, as the focus was meant to be Dupin’s mental powers. Most literary experts consider Dupin to be Poe himself. Dupin, a Frenchman, was the star of Poe’s three true detective stories: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” and “The Purloined Letter.” In these three short stories, Poe created the most common conventions of the genre: The icon of the brilliant, solitary, amateur sleuth The slightly dim companion of the detective The friend also narrates the story The conventional, bumbling police The ‘locked room’ mystery The device of ‘hidden in plain sight’

4 A Brief History of Crime and Writing Before Poe created detective fiction in the 19 th century, there was very little crime fiction. Why did it take so long?

5 For most of human history, “crime” was the same as “sin” Also, “law enforcement” was concerned with enforcing the privilege (“private law”) of the ruling classes. Sheriffs and other agents were answerable only to the aristocracy or the monarch, not the abstract of justice. The heroes of crime were the criminals – like Robin Hood - who were stealing from the oppressive rulers. Torture was the accepted method of finding culprits The punishment for crime was most often maiming or execution

6 The Age of Reason (The Enlightenment) gave rise to the idea that everyone should be equal under the law, from the poorest to the most powerful. People began to think that torture was immoral and unreliable. By the 19 th century, the ideas of the Enlightenment had trickled down to the masses. The scientific method was being developed, creating the idea that criminal convictions should be based on more than circumstantial evidence. The Industrial Revolution gave rise to larger urban populations, which created the opportunity for anonymous crime.

7 A “Peeler” or “Bobbie” “The Newgate Calendar, or, Malefactors Bloody Register from 1700 to the Present Time” was published in Newgate was one of the most notorious British prisons, and “The Newgate Calendar” was a collection of sensational confessions from condemned criminals. Bow Street Runner Headquarters In 1778, the Bow Street Runners were formed as an information-gathering unit, which lasted until 1829 In 1827, the anonymous and fictional account of “Richmond; or, Scenes from the Life of a Bow Street Runner, drawn up from his Private Memoranda” is published. In 1829, Sir Robert Peel created the first British police force – over some public protest , François-Eugène Vidocq publishes “Memoirs of Vidocq, Principal Agent of the French Police Until 1827.” François-Eugène Vidocq

8 Until there were police, until there was interest in and understanding of the scientific method, until the concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” until there were detectives… There could be no detective fiction. Edgar Allan Poe was fortunate, in so far as his literary legacy, to be living in a time ripe for the first detective stories. But was the public ready? Illustration for “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

9 Poe’s Influences Poe was very familiar with French literature and it is known that he read Voltaire’s Zadig, ou La Destinée (“Zadig, or the Book of Fate”) François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire In Votaire’s work, the hero Zadig uses logical evaluation of the evidence to identify the king’s dog and the queen’s horse.

10 Poe’s Influences Poe also read Vidocq’s book of memoirs. Dupin, Poe’s detective, acknowledges Vidocq in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”: “Vidocq, for example, was a good guesser and a persevering man. But, without educated thought, he erred continually by the very intensity of his investigations. He impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole. There is such a thing as being too profound.” In “The Purloined Letter,” Poe also describes Vidocq’s method of searching a house, used by the character of Monsieur G------, the Prefect of the Parisian police. At the time the Dupin stories were published, Vidocq was under suit by the French police for making them look bad by his success! The story was followed in American newspapers and would have been known to Poe.

11 Fun Fact! About a decade after Poe’s death, Lincoln – who was a huge fan of the Dupin stories – used similar detective skills to secure an acquittal for a legal client. When Lincoln ran for president, his admiration of Poe’s detective fiction was a point in his favor. One of his supporters, the author William Dean Howells, said in his campaign biography of Lincoln: “The bent of his mind is mathematical and metaphysical, and he is therefore pleased with the absolute and logical method of Poe’s tales and sketches, in which the problem of mystery is given, and wrought out into everyday facts by processes of cunning analysis. It is said that he suffers no year to pass without a perusal of this author.” Lincoln also wrote “The Trailer Murder,” a detective story based on a case from his own experience as a lawyer.

12 Another Fun Fact! Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinean writer, was also a super huge fan of Poe. He believed that the ghost of Poe dictated detective stories to him. As further homage, he also consciously imitated Poe’s writing style.

13 Publishing history 1841, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” published in Graham’s Magazine First page of Poe’s manuscript of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” 1842, “The Mystery of Marie Roget: A Sequel to The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” also published in Graham’s 1844, “The Purloined Letter,” published in The Gift: 1845 All three stories, among others, were published by Wiley & Putnam in 1846 Poe did not think much of his own detective stories: “These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say they are not ingenious – but people think them more ingenious than they are – on account of their method and air of method” (1846) Poe did, however, trade on their popularity to persuade publishers to take his later works.

14 Poe’s Recipe for a Detective Story “The thesis of the novel may be regarded as based upon curiosity. Every point is so arranged as to perplex the reader, and whet his desire for elucidation… …There can be no question that, by such means as these, many points which… would have been comparatively insipid if given in full detail in a natural sequence, are endued with the interest of mystery. “The design of mystery, however, being once determined by an author, it becomes imperative, first, that no undue or inartistical means be employed to conceal the secret of the plot; and secondly, that the secret be well kept… …A failure to preserve it until the proper moment of dénouement throws all into confusion. If the mystery leak out, against the author’s will, his purposes are immediately at odds and ends, for he proceeds upon the supposition that certain impressions do exist, which do not exist, in the mind of his readers.” (from Poe’s essay on Charles Dickens, 1841)

15 A New Genre Is Born Initially, there were no imitators, due to the conventions of the Victorian novel versus those of the magazine serial, and because Poe’s critical acclaim lay with his poetry and horror stories. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle However, in 1887, the first Sherlock Holmes story was published. Its author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, always acknowledged Holme’s forerunner Dupin and the inspiration of Poe. In 1909, to honor the 100 th anniversary of Poe’s birth, Doyle gave a speech at the Author’s Club in London: “It is not, I think, upon his strange and haunting poems that Poe’s fame will rest… But his tales were one of the great landmarks and starting points in the literature of the last century… For those tales have been so pregnant with suggestion, so stimulating to the minds of others, that it may be said of many of them that each is a root from which a whole literature has developed… Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”

16 The Direct Descendants of Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes Originally published GK Chesterton and Father Brown Originally published Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot Originally published Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey Originally published

17 Poe, Doyle, Chesterton, Christie, and Sayers have all remained continuously in print since their first appearances. In 1940, nearly 100 years after Poe’s death, the “Golden Age” of mystery writing began, with Christie and Sayers at the apex of their careers. The mystery genre, with its amateur detectives and the invitation to the reader to solve the puzzle first, remains one of the most popular mass-market genres of all time. Poe’s poetry and gothic horror stories may be read today in classrooms across the world, but his most enduring and wide-reaching literary legacy is the creation of the modern detective story.

18 Some of My Favorite Authors Who Give Mysterious Nods to Poe

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20 Works Cited Green, Jim and Jim Finch. Sleuths, Sidekicks and Stooges: An Annotated Bibliography of Detectives, Their Assistants and Their Rivals in Crime, Mystery and Adventure Fiction Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, Haycraft, Howard. Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story. New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., Herbert, Rosemary, ed. The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. New York: Oxford University Press, Murch, A.E. The Development of the Detective Novel. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Purloined Letter.” Complete Tales and Poems: With Selections from His Critical Writings. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Purloined Letter.” The Gift. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, Rollyson, Carl, ed. Critical Survey of Mystery and Detective Fiction: Revised Edition. Vol. 4. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press Inc., Stein, Aaron Marc. “The Mystery Story in Cultural Perspective.” The Mystery Story. Ed. John Ball. Del Mar, CA: Publisher’s Inc., Steinbrummer, Chris and Otto Penzler, eds. Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc, 1976.

21 Works Cited Continued Symons, Julian. Mortal Consequences: A History – From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Thomas, Ronald. “Detection in the Victorian Novel.” The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel. Ed. Deirdre David. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Woeller, Waltraud and Bruce Cassiday. The Literature of Crime and Detection: An Illustrated History from Antiquity to the Present. New York: The Ungar Publishing Company, Worthington, Heather. The Rise of the Detective in Early Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, Wright, Thomas. "Edgar Allan Poe." The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Ed. Jay Parini. Vol. 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press,


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