Tuesday, September 27, 2016
The Genius of Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue by M. Virginia Garner 1907
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The Murders in the Rue Morgue was published during Poe's residence in Philadelphia. This period of his career, beginning with 1840, was marked by a remarkable development of his analytic powers. It was during the early years of this period that he attracted much attention by his articles on cryptography and his solution of cryptograms, received from all parts of the country. In the May number of The Saturday Evening Post (1841) appeared his prediction of the conclusion of Dickens's Barnaby Rudge from the introductory chapters which had appeared. When Dickens heard of it he is said to have asked Poe if he were the devil. In April 1841, Poe published in Graham's the first of his stories in which he employed the method of disentangling a plot by his powers of ratiocination. In this kind of composition he struck out a new vein—he originated the detective story.
It may be said that there is really no art in disentangling a web of one's own making. In the ordinary detective story the author works out a plot, lays certain signs, calls in his detective who looks wise, quickly recognizes the signs which have been arranged for him, and, by an apparent miracle, solves the mystery. The ordinary writer of detective stories cares for nothing but complexity of plot; Poe chooses dramatic situations and subjects well adapted to illustrating principles of human nature. Later writers may have surpassed him in complexity of plot, but most of them have failed to produce his dramatic effects.
In Murders in the Rue Morgue Poe illustrates a principle which should govern a man in his effort to solve a problem by ratiocination. First, there is the difficulty of the locked room and no apparent exit, though it is known that the murderer escaped in some way. By a re-examination of the facts, the unique window fastening is found. Next the author proceeds by the method of exclusion to discover the murderer. It was not an ordinary man, for prodigious strength was required to stuff the body up the chimney. Then one by one he excludes men of different nationalities—the Frenchman, the Italian, the German, and the Englishman, until he narrows it down to the baboon murderer. Mr. Kipling has made use of this same element of horror in Bimi. None of Poe's later detective stories show any advance upon the method employed in Murders in the Rue Morgue.