All Things Mysterious Volume Seventy-Three
- Auguste Dupin, esq.--The Leader Of the Pack
Edgar Allan Poe is considered by many to be the originator of the modern detective story with Commissaire Auguste Dupin, who first appeared in Murders In the Rue Morgue in Graham’s magazine in 1841, at which publication Poe worked as an editor. He received $56 for the story, high for the time, especially compared to the $9 that he was paid for The Raven.
Now, Poe did not invent crime fiction, prior works such as Zadig by Voltaire contain plot and stylistic similarities although the recognition of Poe as the first exponent of detective fiction is contained in the naming of the Mystery Writers of America award the ‘Edgars.’
Many of the characteristics of Poe’s detective Dupin have become standards in detective fiction, such as the brilliantly deductive sleuth, the friend who serves as narrator, and the revelation of the perpetrator preceding the explanation of the crime itself. Dupin was born into a well-off family, but he lost his wealth and led a hand-to-mouth existence, living a relatively simple life. Unlike Watson, his narrator/roommate is unnamed. The pair live in Paris and met at the library while looking for the same book. Dupin is an honoree of the legion d’honneur and is acquainted with a police prefect, referred to in the stories as G-.
In a letter to a friend, Poe wrote that the point of ‘Rue Morgue' was to spotlight the exercise of ingenuity in depicting a murderer. And ingenuity it is, as the perpetrator of the crime is a most unlikely suspect.
(Spoilers!) ‘Rue Morgue’ is the first locked room mystery in fiction, another milestone for author Poe. If written today, the sailor would be set up as a suspect for the detective to prove or disprove, and today’s readers, who expect to investigate along with the police, might be put off at Poe’s ‘cheating,’ as few would include an orangutan on a list of suspects.
Dupin returned in two more stories in the 1840s. The Case of Marie Roget was based on a sensational murder in New York, when the body of cigar saleswoman Mary Rogers was found floating in the Hudson River. This was the first fiction based upon a true crime and indeed remains one of New York City’s most baffling unsolved murder cases ever. This second story in the Dupin canon was originally published in Snowden’s Ladies Companion in late 1842.
The third and final Dupin story by Poe appeared in The Gift in 1844, which was an annual publication devoted to presenting literary works to its readers. Poe received twelve dollars for this piece. A letter has been stolen from a government minister. Through logic, Dupin deduces that the politician, Minister D.-, has the letter. But then, Dupin produces the letter to collect the reward! This money-motivated Dupin is in contrast to the detective of Murders In the Rue Morgue, where he declines a reward. His desire to solve crimes for his own edification has thus evolved!
A huge influence in the creation of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, among many others, was C. Auguste Dupin.
Read all three Dupin stories, and lots more Poe here: