Don’t stare at the apes

“The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis.” Thus begins Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the story with which Poe invented the modern mystery and gave us his Parisian detective hero Auguste Dupin. Poe called the stories he wrote in this vein “tales of ratiocination,” as opposed to “tales of terror” such as “The Pit and the Pendulumn.”
WARNING: Plot spoiler follows. In “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Poe seems to write himself into a corner. Whodunnit? Turns out it was the ourang-outang. Poe characterized the story as “something in a new key,” as indeed it was. In his brilliant biography Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance, Kenneth Silverman observes that Dupin emerged from the Gothic literary world. “Dupin is the hero the Gothic world needs to understand and oppose its evils,” Silverman writes.
In Silverman’s telling, Poe’s life is the counterpart to Poe’s tales of terror. Poe lost both his mother and father by the age of three, was divided from his brother and sister to be raised by a family friend, and suffered the mortal illnesses and deaths of every other person he loved in the course of his life with the sole exception of his mother-in-law, to whom he was unfailingly loyal.
At the same time, Poe struggled manfully with alcohol and destitution. Nevertheless, by the time he died at the age of 40, he had created the impressive body of fiction, poetry and literary criticism that stands as his monument. Silverman’s reconstruction of Poe’s life is itself a pleasure and an inspiration.
The lead paragraph of Pajamas Media’s top story by Aaron Hanscom today brings “Murders in the Rue Morgue” to mind: “Finding comedy in the collapse of Europe.” (Coincidentally, among Poe’s successors is Pajamas Media co-founder Roger L. Simon.) Hanscom’s story, with its echo of Poe’s, implicitly raises the question: Where is the Auguste Dupin to understand and oppose the evils that confront Europe today?
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