Although I have read “The Purloined Letter” in the past for my own enjoyment, it is quite interesting to be reading it again in a class focusing on its specific genre. In particular, I found the comparison and contrast between the three Auguste Dupin stories interesting to note. “The Murders of Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget” seemed to be much higher stake as they involve murder as opposed to mere theft. Therefore, I was much more eager to hear the resolution in the first two stories than in the final one. Although a resolution is frustratingly not-given in “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” in the other two stories the resolutions seem almost far-fetched and unbelievable. After all, how does a whole police squad manage to miss a letter sitting completely obviously in the criminal’s office or how likely is it that there happens to be a murderous orangutan in Paris? No doubt Poe’s intention was to create “shock value,” something he frequently included throughout his other writings, to draw readers in and keep them interested. Furthermore, by presenting the readers with seemingly outrageous situations and solutions, as explained in J.K. Van Dover’s article “Classic Mystery,” it shows them that it is possible to make logical sense of extraordinary circumstances in their daily life, which is a strangely comforting notion.
It can be comforting in the fact that, although a situation or circumstance may seem completely inexplicable (and the inexplicable tends to be rather frightening), Poe’s stories suggest that if one utilizes his or her logic in the proper manner he or she can find an explanation, albeit sometimes a crazy, seemingly impossible one. In a way, this gives a reader hope that the chaos of his or her life (as everyone’s life is a least a little chaotic) can be more or less ordered and explained if addressed the right way.
Auguste Dupin’s way of addressing this chaos is through his impeccable and almost creepy logic and observation skills. In “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” he literally reasons through the girl’s murder without leaving his armchair. In the case of “The Purloined Letter,” Dupin once again remains in his armchair while reasoning through where the letter is before going to retrieve it. In both these cases, I found it very interesting and vaguely annoying that Dupin was “magically” able to solve these mysteries without doing any of the “dirty work” by simply building off the “dirty work” that others had already done for him. In a way, I found Dupin to be an extremely unlikeable character. I was frustrated with his apparent “laziness” and found his confidence (such as telling the Prefect to hand him a check immediately) rather absurd and quite insulting to virtually everyone surrounding him (he even appeared condescending when explaining things to the narrator, who is supposed to be one of his greatest friends). However, although I found him to be an incredibly annoying character and was secretly hoping his annoying intelligence would fail him (which it did to an extent in “The Mystery of Marie Roget”), I couldn’t help but be impressed with his chain of logic.
I also do have to wonder if, in a way, “The Purloined Letter” is some sort of critique on the elite and the corruption and secrecy (as well as the concern with appearances) that surrounds their circle. The initial crime was curious in the fact that it was committed in the most obvious of manners; the thief literally stole the letter while the victim watched helplessly. The first time I read this, it drove me insane that she didn’t simply stop the thief and demand that he return the letter. However, upon second reading, I get the impression that this is to maintain a “clean” appearance, although I still found it frustrating. As there is someone else in the room, the woman no doubt does not want this person to be aware that there is any sort of information that could possibly condemn her and therefore fears admitting that the information in the letter might be valuable by neglecting to ask for it back.
Overall, whether one regards Poe’s Auguste Dupin as outrageous, frustrating, or fascinating, it is clear that Poe has had a strong and lasting impact on the modern detective fiction we read today.