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martes, 3 de agosto de 2010

Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders In The Rue Morgue And The Detective Story

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Autor/a: Marisol Rey Castillo
Revista: Dreams, UPN
Volumen: II
Número: 11
Fecha: Agosto-Noviembre 2001
Páginas: 16 - 18

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most important writers in North American history. His poems and short stories are the most famous in the literature of that country. But it is not enough. Edgar Allan Poe is known as the creator of a literary gerne: the detective story.
But it has a problem. Many critics are in a dilemma: Is the detective story a literary genre?
There are many answers to this question. Most of the critics say no, because of several reasons that are too many to be named here. The point we are going to talk about is that there were some critics that had defended the theory that affirms that the detective story is part of the "real literature". Three of those critics are Austen Freeman, Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau.
Austen Freeman in 1924 published an essay entitled "The art of the detective story" where he summarized his ideas about the detective story. Thomas Narcejac in his book "Une machine à lire: le roman policier" defends Freeman's ideas and explained them in a clearer way. Also, he gave some theories from Van Dine among others. Pierre Boileau together with Thomas Narcejac published a book called "Le roman policier" in which they summarized the history and criticize some aspects about the detective story. In each one of the writings, we find how they shield the detective story and give some aspects in order to analyze the detective story.
Here, I am going to take some aspects of the theory of Austen Freeman mentioned by Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau in order to see these aspects in the detective story of Edgar Allan Poe, mainly in "The murders in the Rue Morgue ".
But first at all, we have to say what the detective story is. There are many definitions, but in order to summarize, we can say that he the detective story is the story of a crime since it is committed (even, it is planed) until its criminal is discovered by the detective. The protagonist in the detective story is not the criminal, nor the victim, neither the detective: the protagonist is the crime, we concentrate on the crime and all the elements by which it was committed.
Austen Freeman says that the detective story has a structure divided into four phases:
1. The enunciate of the problem.
2. The presentation of the important data to detect the answer to the problem.
3. The development of the investigation and the presentation of the answer.
4. The discussion of the clues and the demonstration.
In "The murders in the Rue Morgue" we can see those aspects, but the narrator gives an introduction of what he considers a method to discover the answer to a problem. The narrator talks about the deduction, and tells us how his friend and detective of this story, Monsieur Auguste C. Dupin, discovers his thoughts when they are together. The problem of the scientific method in the detective story is very abstract, but we are going to talk about this later on, now we want to concentrate on the structure of the story.
After this short presentation, the problem is outlined. Our narrator and his fellow saw in two newspapers the problem: "'Extraordinary Murders. --This morning, about three o'clock, the inhabitants of the Quartier St. Roch were aroused from sleep by a succession of terrific shrieks, issuing, apparently, from the fourth story of a house in the Rue Morgue, known to be in the sole occupancy of one Madame L'Espanaye, and her daughter, Mademoiselle Camille L'Espanaye..."1  and so forth. This first stage of the structure goes until the beginning of the second newspaper: "The Tragedy in the Rue Morgue. Many individuals have been examined in relation to this most extraordinary and frightful affair, but nothing whatever has transpired to throw light upon We give below all the material testimony elicited."2
Then we have the second phase of the structure: the presentation of the important data. We have the testimonies of more than seventeen people who arrived and found the bodies. Also something very important for an investigation is presented: the evidences or the clues that are going to lead us to the answer to the problem. In the story we have three basic clues: the voices heard by the witnesses, the windows of the room in which the bodies were found and the mark of the fingers of the ourang.
The third important aspect is the development of the investigation and the presentation of the answer to the problem. Here A.C. Dupin goes into the game. For him it is not enough to read the newspapers, so he goes to the stage of the crime by himself taking along the narrator of this story. When he goes there and he sees some aspects that are not mentioned by the newspapers, he finds the solution to the problem and presents it to his friend -it is the narrator. The guilty: "Ourang-Outang of the East Indian Islands." But for this, the investigation is developed and all the evidences given are developed and analyzed in order to get the final result. But there is a question: Is there a guilty one taking into account that we can not make guilty an animal? Is its owner guilty? They at the end of the story do not have punishment, but is there bigger punishment for a person (the case of the owner) than to see how two people are killed in such horrible way?
Then the last stage: the discussion of the clues and the demonstration. Here the evidences are explained. The first is the evidence of the voices heard by the witnesses. One voice is of a French man (the setting of the story is Paris), the other can not be recognized by anyone. The second is the puzzle of the windows closed, it means the problem of the "closed room"3 . The third one is the marks of in the dead bodies. Dupin amounts conclusions of this evidences: the crime could not be committed by any human being. Then he remembers an article which he had read before about the ourang-ourang. But it is not all. Also we can see in this part the motives by which the crime is committed. But this comes only until the confirmation. Dupin tells the narrator about this ourang and discusses why he arrived at this answer, but there is a problem, the answer is not confirmed, then, he calls the owner of the ourang and according to his testimony, he realizes he is right and the case goes on a true answer of the problem of the murders.
That is the way Austen Freeman says the detective story is structured, but that is not all. In the whole story, and of course during all the structure, we have some important aspects to analyze and to see the happy development of the problem.
One of those aspects is the way of investigating of the detective. Freeman says that the author of a detective story "necesita ser a la vez un creador (por ser la novela policiaca obra de imaginación), un lógico (por apoyarse la novela policiaca totalmente en el razonamiento) y un sabio (por depender la naturaleza misma del enigma de conocimientos científicos diversos y profundos)."4  And of course Edgar Allan Poe is all of this. Elsewhere we said we were going to talk about the investigative method. During all the story we see Poe is a creator, and mainly, in his style because he is the creator of the detective story. Now, since the beginning of the story we can see clearly that Poe is a logical man. He introduces the story talking about the method used by his friend Dupin. "Deductions" is a word used many times along the story. But here is when we meet the first problem. Did Auguste C. Dupin use the deductive method?
According to the science, the deductive method is the one in which you go from a universal truth to a particular truth, and the inductive method the one in which you go from a particular truth to a universal truth. According to Narcejac "Para Freeman, la novela policiaca es una verdadera investigación, llevada con todos los recursos del método científico..."5 . But here we can see in the way Dupin solves the puzzle that his method is not deductive as Poe says, neither inductive. If we take the aspect of the window in the story, which is one of the evidences:
"There are two windows in the chamber. One of them is unobstructed by furniture, and is wholly visible. The lower portion of the other is hidden from view by the head of the unwieldy bedstead which is thrust close up against it. The former was found securely fastened from within. It resisted the utmost force of those who endeavored to raise it. A large gimlet-hole had been pierced in its frame to the left, and a very stout nail was found fitted therein, nearly to the head. Upon examining the other window, a similar nail was seen similarly fitted in it; and a vigorous attempt to raise this sash, failed also. The police were now entirely satisfied that egress had not been in these directions. And, therefore, it was thought a matter of supererogation to withdraw the nails and open the windows.
"My own examination was somewhat more particular, and was so for the reason I have just given --because here it was, I knew, that all apparent impossibilities must be proved to be not such in reality.
"I proceeded to think thus --a posteriori. The murderers did escape from one of these windows. This being so, they could not have re-fastened the sashes from the inside, as they were found fastened; --the consideration which put a stop, through its obviousness, to the scrutiny of the police in this quarter. Yet the sashes were fastened. They must, then, have the power of fastening themselves. There was no escape from this conclusion. I stepped to the unobstructed casement, withdrew the nail with some difficulty, and attempted to raise the sash. It resisted all my efforts, as I had anticipated. A concealed spring must, I now knew, exist; and this corroboration of my idea convinced me that my premises, at least, were correct, however mysterious still appeared the circumstances attending the nails. A careful search soon brought to light the hidden spring. I pressed it, and, satisfied with the discovery, forebore to upraise the sash.
"I now replaced the nail and regarded it attentively. A person passing out through this window might have reclosed it, and the spring would have caught --but the nail could not have been replaced. The conclusion was plain, and again narrowed in the field of my investigations. The assassins must have escaped through the other window. Supposing, then, the springs upon each sash to be the same, as was probable, there must be found a difference between the nails, or at least between the modes of their fixture. Getting upon the sacking of the bedstead, I looked over the headboard minutely at the second casement. Passing my hand down behind the board, I readily discovered and pressed the spring, which was, as I had supposed, identical in character with its neighbor. I now looked at the nail. It was as stout as the other, and apparently fitted in the same manner --driven in nearly up to the head.
"You will say that I was puzzled; but, if you think so, you must have misunderstood the nature of the inductions. To use a sporting phrase, I had not been once 'at fault.' The scent had never for an instant been lost. There was no flaw in any link of the chain. I had traced the secret to its ultimate result, --and that result was the nail. It had, I say, in every respect, the appearance of its fellow in the other window; but this fact was an absolute nullity (conclusive as it might seem to be) when compared with the consideration that here, at this point, terminated the clew. 'There must be something wrong,' I said, 'about the nail.' I touched it; and the head, with about a quarter of an inch of the shank, came off in my fingers. The rest of the shank was in the gimlet-hole, where it had been broken off. The fracture was an old one (for its edges were incrusted with rust), and had apparently been accomplished by the blow of a hammer, which had partially imbedded, in the top of the bottom sash, the head portion of the nail. now carefully replaced this head portion in the indentation whence I had taken it, and the resemblance to a perfect nail was complete-the fissure was invisible. Pressing the spring, I gently raised the sash for a few inches; the head went up with it, remaining firm in its bed. I closed the window, and the semblance of the whole nail was again perfect."6
In this part we can see that Dupin does not go from a universal truth to a particular one, nor viceversa, but he goes from one particular thing to another. He compares the windows and he sees their mechanisms are the same, so he can conclude one of the clues in the story.
Now, taking into account this, we can see that Poe was wrong in mentioning this method. Not that we can say Poe did not do a good job. What happened is that we can see this from the methods of Stuart Mill.
He says there are four methods: the method of the concordance, the method of the difference, the method of the concomitant variations, and the method of the residual. The method that is applicable to Dupin's method is the method of the difference that says: "Consiste en considerar dos casos tan semejantes como sea posible, de modo que sólo difieran por un elemento. Si el fenómeno se produce en un caso y no en el otro, ese elemento será el antecedente buscado"7  The difference in this case is the nail. The difference between the nail of the first window and the nail of the second window. So we can say that it is the method used by Dupin.
The last aspect we are going to deal with is the fantastic aspect. "... es fantástico lo que escapa a toda explicación; lo que no es racional..."8 . Here we have the difference between the two styles we know in Poe's short stories. One of them is when the end has a fantastic explanation, it means, that does not have logical explanation, for example we have several stories as "The fall of the house of Usher", "The oval portrait", "The black cat" and so forth. The fantastic aspect goes with these stories. There is not explanation for the case of lady Madelene and Roderick Usher's house. There is no logical explanation for the causes of the death of the girl in the oval portrait. There is no logical explanation for the draw of the black cat. But there are others. "The murders in the Rue Morgue ", "The mystery of Marie Roget", "The purloined letter" and the "The gold bug" are detective stories. They have logical explanation. The fantastic aspect is not presented. In all these stories we can know the guilty and the causes for those crimes being committed.
Finally we can say that Edgar Allan Poe is an important writer. We have to distinguish the differences between the detective story and a mystery story, both kinds, written by Poe. Aspects of the theories given by Austen Freeman, Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau can be applicable to the detective stories of Edgar Allan Poe, or at least "The murders of the Rue Morgue ".
Now it remain a question: the detective story as part of literature. People who does not like this idea will continue arguing that it is not part. Some other are going to continue fighting and proving that the detective story is as respetable genre as any other in literature. Perhaps the theories of Freeman, Nacerjac or Boileau are not complete or do not satisfy critics, but I think it is a little step in order to prove, one day, that the detective story is an important part of literature and that the work of many authors as Poe, Doyle, Agatha Christie, S.S. Van Dine, among others, will be recognized as gems of the world literature.


1. POE, Edgar Allan. (1985) "The mourders in the Rue Morgue in "Edgar Allan Poe: His bests short stories. Houghtonmiffling Company. New York, p 59.
2. Op cit p 61.
3. The “closed room” is a common aspect in a detective story: a dead body is found in a closed room (windows and doors are locked, nobody could enter or leave the room).
4. NARCEJAC, Thomas (1986) Una máquina de leer: la novela policiaca. Fondo de cultura económica, S. A. De C.V. México D. F. Pg 47.
5. Op cit pg 55.
6. POE, Edgar Allan. (1985) "The mourders in the Rue Morgue in "Edgar Allan Poe: His bests short stories. Houghtonmiffling Company. New York, p 74-76.
7. NARCEJAC, Thomas (1986) Una máquina de leer: la novela policiaca. Fondo de cultura económica, S. A. De C.V. México D. F. Pg 38.
8. Op cit pg 154.


BOILEAU-NARCEJAC (1982) La novela policial. Editorial Paidos. Buenos Aires.
NARCEJAC, Thomas (1986) Una máquina de leer: la novela policiaca. Fondo de cultura económica, S. A. De C.V. México D. F.
POE, Edgar Allan. (1985) "The mourders in the Rue Morgue in "Edgar Allan Poe: His bests short stories. Houghtonmiffling Company. New York.




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