Stories of Edgar Allan Poe The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The epigraph from Sir Thomas Browne reads, "What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among the women, although puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture" Poe, pg. 101. This passage sets the tone for the rest of the story as a reminder that nothing is beyond discussion or reason. Although it is not common knowledge what song the Greek hero Odysseus heard when passing the beautiful Syrens (Sirens) during his odyssey, it is still possible to suggest or deduce what song he might have heard. The mind is a very powerful tool, and to use its skills of analysis are highest above all other. The unnamed narrator then explains that analytic abilities are very important to have, but not everybody is analytical. As an example, he mentions the game of chess, in which the players must be calculated, but they are not necessarily analytical. The "analyst" enjoys being analytical in even minuscule matters, just as the "strong man exults in his physical ability." Games that do actually use skills of analysis include draughts and whist. Both of these games require analyzing other players' reactions about what their next move will be, although the card game of whist uses such powers more than any other. One can memorize the card rules of Hoyle, but that does not make you a good player, as automatically knowing all the calculated rules of chess can do.
In whist, "Our player confines himself not at all; nor, because the game is the object, does he reject deductions from things external to the game. He examines the countenance of his partner, comparing it carefully with that of each of his opponents...A casual or inadvertent word; the accidental dropping or turning of a card, with the accompanying anxiety or carelessness in regard to its concealment; the counting of the tricks, with the order of their arrangement; embarrassment, hesitation, eagerness, or trepidation -- all afford, to his apparently intuitive perception, indications of the true state of affairs" Poe, pg. 103. Chess is bound down by "fanciful" rules that do not test the true powers of an analytical mind, as whist does. To assure victory in whist, a player must carefully observe and interpret the behavior of his opponents; doing so will determine what move he should make next during the game. A good analyst will win the game by knowing whether his opponents have a good set of cards or not, carefully based upon observing their every move. The narrator adds that an analyst is always ingenious, but an ingenious person (like the chess player) is not always a good analyst.
The narrator next tells a story to illustrate his ideas about the extreme powers of analysis that takes place in Paris, France during the summer of 18--, when he decided to share an old, quiet house he was renting with a friend named C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin was from a wealthy family, but somehow he had fallen into debt and didn't have a lot of money left for anything except for the many books that he owned. The narrator was enchanted by Dupin's personality and decides to let Dupin live with him for free, because he enjoys his company so very much, calling his presence "a treasure beyond price." During that summer, the two had no visitors and enjoyed the solitude very much in that enormous but dilapidated building that the narrator had chosen for them to occupy, declaring "We existed within ourselves alone." Dupin exercised a profound influence upon the narrator, urging him to close all the shutters when the daylight is out, and at night they would wander out into the streets, enjoying the beauty of "the wild lights and shadows of the populous city." Having settled into such a routine, the narrator comments on what a great analytical ability that Dupin possesses.
At times Dupin would appear to be outgoing and talkative, while at others he would become quiet and thoughtful, masking his emotions and causing the narrator to wonder what exactly is on his mind. Because of this duality of moods, the narrator declares that Dupin has a "Bi-Part Soul," one that is creative and one that has great resolve, or focus. As such, Dupin embodies the very two qualities that the narrator had just celebrated in humanity through his introductory words: being imaginative and analytical. He goes on to reassure the reader, "Let it not be supposed, from what I have just said, that I am detailing any mystery, or penning any romance. What I have described in the Frenchman was merely the result of an excited, or perhaps of a diseased, intelligence. But of the character of his remarks at the periods in question an example will best convey the idea" Poe, pg. 106. The narrator is not in love with Dupin, nor is there a mystery that exists about Dupin. Rather, his own "diseased intelligence" has given him greater insight into Dupin's personality. Dupin fascinates the narrator, although the narrator feels somewhat ashamed of this; in spite of his shame, he cannot resist Dupin's presence.
Dupin reveals his extraordinary skills of analysis one night when the two are walking together near the Royal Palace in Paris. Out of the blue, Dupin comments on something the narrator had been thinking about, that an actor named Chantilly should, indeed, act in some other opera besides Xerxes because he is so short. The narrator is stunned that Dupin has read his mind and known exactly what he was thinking, insisting on an explanation. Dupin launches into a long monologue detailing each movement that caused him to assume that the narrator was thinking about Chantilly; first was when he bumped into a fruiterer; the trail then led from thought to thought, tracing backwards "Chantilly, Orion, Dr. Nichols, Epicurus, Stereotomy, the street stones, the fruiterer." From the fruiterer, the narrator slipped on a piece of dropped fruit, straining his leg; as a result the narrator stared at the street stones as they continued to walk, noting that it was cut a certain way, causing him to utter "stereotomy" aloud, another word for stone cutting.
Other kinds of science came into his mind, such as the theories of the Greek Epicurus who had many theories about outer space, a topic that Dupin had recently discussed with the narrator. Next, with Greece on his mind, the narrator gazed up at the sky to see the constellations, seeing Orion shining brightly above their heads. Dupin noted this and recalled that recently a quotation they had seen in the newspaper about Chantilly "Perdidit antiquum litera prima sonum," meaning "He has ruined the old sound with the first letter," which was a Latin quotation referring to Orion. The article was mocking Chantilly's role in the play because his appearance was so comical; Dupin knew then that upon seeing the constellation, noting that the original quotation referred to Orion. Seeing the constellation, Dupin saw a smile emerge on the narrator's lips and assumed that he had been thinking about Chantilly's tiny height. This example reveals the depth of Dupin's analytical abilities. Although he is not psychic and cannot read minds, like the player of whist, Dupin observes a person's every behavior in an attempt to understand what is occurring in the individual's mind.
These extraordinary skills are soon to put use again when an article appears in the French newspaper describing a terrible murder that occurred on the "Rue Morgue," or "Morgue Street" when two women were found horribly slain in the fourth story of their house. The room was locked from the inside, confusing the investigators as to how exactly the murderer was able to escape. The younger victim, Mademoiselle Camille L'Espanaye was found strangled to death with deep bruises still embedded in her neck from the assailant's fingers; her body was stuffed upside-down into the chimney of the bedroom. Her mother, Madame L'Espanaye, was found completely decapitated, her body hurled from the fourth story window down to the street below. While the murders were in progress, much screaming emerged from the apartment, but nobody could get inside to help out because it was locked; the front door was not finally broken down until it was already too late to save anyone. As they climbed the stairs, however, a number of odd screams were heard from the upstairs, but when they entered the room finally, no one was left alive.
The room was completely ransacked, and on a chair a bloody razor was lying. On the hearth of the fireplace, large tufts of bloody hair had been tossed, and on the floor was some jewelry and four thousand francs in gold. The daughter's body was found stuffed into the chimney, and upon exiting the house and going into the backyard, the mother's mutilated body was found; the head came off completely when they tried to pick the body up, since it had apparently been severed with the bloody razor found upstairs. Another article is published the next day detailing eyewitness accounts of what exactly each person observed while at the crime scene. The police still had no idea even where to begin in solving this murder, especially because there is no motive -- the assailant had in fact left many valuables untouched, including that four thousand francs that was just lying on the floor for the taking. Additionally, the room has been locked up from the inside, confusing police as to how exactly the murderer made his escape.
The first to give her opinion was the victims' laundrywoman, who reported that the pair were always very kind, and the house had no furniture except for the fourth floor. A local tobacconist said that the elder woman owned the house, and she had evicted her tenants after they did not treat the property well. She thus decided to live in it herself, refusing to rent it out to anyone else. The couple also had few visitors, and the house was fairly new. A policeman testified that he arrived at the house around three o'clock in the morning only to find the doorway blocked by about thirty concerned neighbors. Breaking the door down and rushing upstairs, he heard two voices yelling, one that sounded like a shrill Spanish speaker, and the second gruff voice of a Frenchman yelling out "sacre," "goddam" and "diable," "devil." A neighbor noted that the the first voice sounded more like an Italian, noting that it could have been a woman's voice because it was so high-pitched. A Dutch man who could not speak French thought that the shrill voice sounded French, and the second gruffer voice said the words "sacre," "diable," and also "mon Dieu," "my God." A banker recalled that Madame L'Espanaye had withdrawn four thousand francs from the bank three days before her gruesome murder.
A clerk who accompanied the old woman home with her money added that the daughter took one bag from him when they arrived at the house on Rue Morgue, and the elder woman took the other; he was not invited into the house. A British man who entered the house after the murders stated that the gruff voice was French, but the shrill voice sounded German. The bedroom where the murders occurred was also locked from the inside and, once broken down, the terrible scene within the room was laid bare for all to see. A Spanish witness added that the gruff voice was definitely French, but the shrill voice sounded English to him, although he doesn't know English. An Italian man who entered the house as well stated that the gruff voice was French, but the shrill voice sounded Russian to him. The investigators then searched the chimneys of the house to see if anyone was hiding there, but there was no way anyone could have escaped that way; a trapdoor on the roof was also firmly nailed shut. It also took six people to pull Mademoiselle's battered body out of the chimney, since it had been wedged in there so firmly. Finally, the testimonies of two physicians is published as well, describing their conclusions about cause of death.
The daughter definitely died because of strangulation, as "The throat was greatly chafed. There were several deep scratched just below the chin, together with a series of livid spots which were evidently the impression of fingers. The face was fearfully discolored, and the eyeballs protruded. The tongue had been partially bitten through. A large bruise was discovered upon the pit of the stomach, produced, apparently, by the pressure of a knee" Poe, pg. 115. This young woman's body was in a terrible condition, although she has escaped the violent death faced by her mother, decapitated and hurled out of the building's window into the street below. Having presented all of this evidence, the newspaper added that the police are completely clueless about the murders. One final note mentioned that Adolphe le Bon, the clerk from the bank who accompanied the older woman home with the four thousand francs, had been arrested for the murders and put into prison, although there was no direct evidence against him. Auguste Dupin becomes extremely interested in this story, mocking the inability of the police to solve the crime and invoking the name of a former police chief named Vidocq, who often made uneducated guesses and did not look at the big picture when solving a crime; these mistakes led to his resignation as chief. Dupin adds that he owes Adolphe Le Bon a favor, and that he must solve this crime in order to free his friend, adding that he knows G---, the Prefect of Police and will get permission to examine the crime scene.
Immediately, the pair go to the Rue Morgue, after receiving this promised authorization from the police Prefect. Dupin first investigates the neighborhood surrounding the house before even going inside, noting the streets and alleys around, as well as the types of buildings that are next to the house. Going to the front door, they enter the house after being shown inside by the police. The bodies were still lying upstairs on the fourth floor, noting that every detail was exactly as the newspaper had described. They next examine the rest of the rooms in the house, as well as the yard outside once again. As night falls, the narrator and Dupin leave the scene and walk home, stopping briefly at a local newspaper office along the way. They then go home. No further discussion is made about the Rue Morgue until about noon of the following day. Dupin first asks the narrator if he noticed anything odd about the crime scene, to which the narrator replies that he does not. Dupin then says that the nature of the murder is very violent and exaggerated, and that the newspaper failed to express the extreme violence of the murder in its pages. He adds that the body being found upside down, as well as the odd pair of voices, have all made the police become baffled. Dupin adds that just as much as the police are confused, he is just as confident that he can solve the mystery himself, declaring that he is waiting for a man to arrive at their house who can solve the murders. He adds that, although this man may not come at all, it is necessary to be prepared in case he does, taking out two pistols and giving one to the narrator.
Dupin's voice then continues to drone on in an explanatory sort of way, as if he were giving a "soliloquy," reflecting the "resolvent" and analytical part of his soul that the narrator had mentioned earlier. Beginning from the very onset of the murders, Dupin points out that a third party has committed the murders, since the two women surely did not kill each other. Therefore, in spite of the locked room, somehow the perpetrator must have exited out of there after these crimes were committed; he then adds that of the two voices heard, the first gruff voice was described by all witnesses as being from a Frenchman, but the second voice was shrill. Its language of origin had varied from Russian to Spanish to Italian to English, with little consistency or consensus. Dupin points out that it was also called "quick and unequal." Noting this, Dupin next explores how the room could have been exited, adding that the two women were not slain by supernatural forces and that there is a reasonable explanation for what happened. The doors were firmly closed, and the chimneys are too small for anyone to fit through; therefore the only other possibility was through the windows.
One window is partly blocked by the headboard of a bed that is in front of it, and the second window is nailed shut from the inside, as is the first. Noting that the windows' sashes had been tied back, Dupin states that they must be able to tie themselves, since opening the window would have caused them to come undone; he pulled the nail out of the second window that was unobstructed by the bed, lifted the window, and noted that there was a spring mechanism that caused the sash to refasten when the window went down. However, the nail was not refastened by this mechanism. Therefore, it had to be the first window from which the murderer fled; examining this window, he touched the nail and felt it break in half beneath his fingers from rust. Replacing the nail, he opened the window and watched the nail lift up with the sash, and when he lowered the window the spring mechanism forced the nail back into its place again. Thus, itt was in fact the spring and not the nail at all that kept the window shut so tightly. Gazing out of the window, Dupin noted that a lightning rod is right outside of the window, and the building's shutters have a special design with an opened lattice on the bottom half, allowing for a strong handhold; if the shutter was wide open, it would be easily reachable from the lightning rod, allowing someone to swing around into the room through the window, especially if it was already open.
Recalling all of this information, Dupin then goes back to his conclusion of who this criminal could be, stating again that the murderer had a shrill, unusual voice, and unusual strength would be required to jump from the lightning rod into the room. Also, the murderer did not even touch the money or jewelry lying around on the floor; he thus dismisses the presence of the money as a mere coincidence and not a motive at all. The strength of the assailant was so mighty as to rip out the hair from Camille's head from its very roots and to slice off her mother's head with a single swipe of the razor. The narrator replies that surely a madman has committed these murders then, someone lacking compassion. Dupin then displays a hank of hair he recovered from the dead hands of Madame L'Espanaye, to which the narrator exclaims that "this is no human hair." Dupin then shows a drawing of the finger marks bruised into Camille's neck, asking the narrator to place his fingers in an identical way, yet there is no way for his human hand to fit over these finger marks. Dupin then reads a passage from a book by Cuvier describing an Ourang-Outang, native to the East Indies amd known for its "wild ferocity." The narrator is excited but confused nevertheless as to who the second voice in the room could have been, if the shrill voice was that of this species of monkey. Dupin states that the man was trying to stop the Ourang-Outang with his cursing and cries of "mon Dieu," concluding that this animal must have escaped from him and he had been attempting in vain to recapture it.
Auguste Dupin shows a newspaper bearing an advertisement in the classified section that he had placed on their way home from the Rue Morgue the evening before, declaring that he had captured a lost Ourang-Outang and that the owner, presumably a sailor, should come to claim his creature at the home which Dupin and the narrator shared. Yet again, the narrator is confused, because he doesn't understand how it could be a sailor after all. Dupin brushes this criticism aside, since he is not certain that it is in fact a sailor, but in all likelihood it would be a sailor out of the entire Parisian populace who would have such a creature in his possession, probably brought back from a trip to the East. Also he found a ribbon at the scene near the lightning rod, which is tied in a sailor's knot and is greasy as if it had tied someone's hair back, as sailors tend to do. Utilizing his skills of analysis again, Dupin assumes that the man will want to reclaim his animal in spite of the risk, because it is worth a lot of money, and he had reported in the advertisement that it was found far from the Rue Morgue, minimizing any suspicion that it could be connected with the murders. With these final words spoken, the two men merely wait for this mysterious sailor to arrive, if he dares to come at all.
They finally hear some footsteps upon the stairs below, and a man knocks on the door after hesitating briefly. Dupin urges the man to come inside and have a seat, declaring that the captured Ourang-Outang has been placed into a stable down the street, and that the reward he requests is to know the details of the Rue Morgue murders. At this, Dupin locks the door and casually places his pistol on the table in plain view of this sailor, assuring him that he means no harm and that he knows the sailor had no part in actually committing the murders himself. However, he adds that Adolphe Le Bon is innocent, and his name must be cleared of these murder charges that are pending against him. The sailor agrees to speak, saying that he is innocent. Recently, he was in Borneo and captured a wild Ourang-Outang there with the help of a friend, who later died of undisclosed causes. Left alone, the sailor brought the creature across the ocean and over land until he arrived at his own home in Paris, where he hid it away in his bedroom closet until it recovered from a splinter cut it received during the sea voyage, hoping to then sell it once restored to full health.
One night the sailor came home only to find that the Ourang-Outang had broken out of the closet and had begun to mimic the act of shaving as it had no doubt seen the sailor do himself. Its face lathered up and razor in hand, the monkey posed a danger to the sailor, and he began to hit it with a whip he had. Frightened, the monkey dashed out of the window, razor in hand, pursued by the sailor. They ran all the way to the Rue Morgue, and climbing up the side of Madame Espanaye's building to find a place to hide, the Ourang-Outang swung from the lightning rod to the shutters, and then it entered the fourth story bedroom. The sailor pursued the animal to teh lightning rod but couldn't reach inside of the room and only watched in horror as the Ourang-Outang grabbed Madame L'Espanaye by the hair, holding back her head as if to shave her; yet the woman's struggles angered the monkey and he sliced off her head, turning next to the daughter who had fainted upon the floor. It attacked Camille L'Espanaye ferociously, strangling her with its long fingers. Then, realizing that it would be in trouble if the sailor found out, the creature tried to hide any evidence of its crime, stuffing the daughter into the chimney with enormous force and tossing the mother's body headlong out of the window.
Observing these deeds, the sailor fled in horror, giving up his quest to recapture the monkey. The gruff voice was that of this sailor from outside of the window, and the shrill screams were those of the Ourang-Outang; no one could place the exact language of this voice, because it was not even human. The creature then fled from the window near the bed whence it had come, and the spring-loaded sash placed the nail back into place, hiding the place of exit. After relating this story and getting the guilt off of his chest, the sailor recaptured the Ourang-Outang on his own and sold it right away. Adolphe Le Bon also was released once Dupin told the police exactly how these murders really occurred, clearing the bank clerk of any and all charges. The Prefect of Police is jealous that Dupin has solved the case and made the police squad look like a bunch of fools, adding that people should mind their own business. Dupin is unconcerned, adding that "In his wisdom is no stamen. it is all head and no body, like the pictures of the Goddess Laverna -- or, at best, all head and shoulders, like a codfish. But he is a good creature after all. I like him especially for one master stroke of cant, by which he has attained his reputation for ingenuity. I mean the way he has 'de nier ce qui est, et d'expliquer ce qui n'est pas'" Poe, pg. 137.
Dupin criticizes the Prefect for his lack of analytical abilities, because he is too caught up in his head and does not use his imagination, or his body; like the chess player of the narrator's introduction, the Prefect is bound by calculated rules. When it is necessary to become more creative, the Prefect is at a loss, as the police were completely paralyzed with no real leads when investigating the murders at the Rue Morgue. Dupin takes a certain satisfaction and pleasure in knowing that he has beaten the police at this game of wits, and that he has cleared an innocent man in the process. He generally perceives the police with an eye of disdain, especially since the Prefect dared to say that Dupin and the narrator should mind their own business. However, Dupin has the last laugh in his comment from a work by Rousseau, that the Prefect is very talented at "denying what it is, and explaining what it isn't." The narrator has very good reasons for admiring Dupin so much, because this man evidently possesses amazing powers of observation that overshadow those of the common man, or of any man. Such an enigmatic character could only exist in the literary world and in this world of Edgar Allan Poe nonetheless.