This Day In Literary History
On April 1st, 1841, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the classic short story by the legendary American writer Edgar Allan Poe, was published. Appearing in Graham's Magazine, it's considered to be the first detective story.
It also incorporates elements of horror, as its author was famous for his horror fiction, which made up the bulk of his writings. Horror elements also appeared in his poems, such as the classics Annabel Lee and The Raven.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue opens with a bizarre and brutal double murder that took place in the Rue Morgue, a fictional street in Paris. The victims, Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter, were found dead in an inaccessible room that had been locked from the inside.
Madame L'Espanaye's throat was slashed so deeply that her head was nearly severed. Her daughter was strangled and stuffed in the chimney. Parisian detective C. Auguste Dupin and his unnamed friend, who narrates the story, read an account of the murders in the newspaper.
Dupin's interest in the case is piqued, especially when a man named Adolphe Le Bon is arrested for the horrible crime and imprisoned, despite the fact that there is no evidence to prove his guilt. Dupin offers his services to the prefect (chief) of police.
The plot thickens as Madame L'Espanaye's neighbors, who heard the murders take place, give contradictory statements, each claiming to have heard the killer speak a different foreign language - a language that none of them could recognize.
This leads Dupin to conclude that the witnesses weren't hearing a human voice. His theory is proven correct when he finds a hair at the crime scene that is not human. It belongs to an orangutan.
Dupin places an ad in the newspaper asking if anyone has lost an orangutan. A sailor shows up at his home to answer the ad. He had been keeping a pet orangutan he'd acquired in Borneo, but the animal escaped. Dupin interrogates the sailor and solves the crime.
When the orangutan escaped, it made off with the sailor's straight razor. When it got into Madame L'Espanaye's apartment, it attempted to shave her, mimicking its owner. The resulting bloodbath incited the orangutan to a frenzy.
It strangled Madame L'Espanaye's daughter, and, fearing its owner's whip, stuffed her body in the chimney to hide it. When the sailor learned of the "murders," he panicked and fled, allowing the orangutan to escape again.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue was a huge hit with both readers and critics. A review in the Pennsylvania Inquirer proclaimed that "it proves Mr. Poe to be a man of genius... with an inventive power and skill, of which we know no parallel."
Poe's detective, C. Auguste Dupin, would return in The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842), and The Purloined Letter (1844). The Murders in the Rue Morgue would be adapted several times for the radio, screen, and television.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue would also start a new subgenre - the locked room mystery. A locked room mystery involves a logically impossible crime, a crime where no evidence exists to prove that a crime was committed, or a crime where a person is convicted by evidence proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but the sleuth doubts it and proves his innocence.
Quote Of The Day
"It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic." - Edgar Allan Poe, from The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Today's video features a complete reading of Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Enjoy!