The First Detective Story

The first detective story is widely considered to be Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) and his creation C. Auguste Dupin is still the model for the detective that dominates mystery writing to this day. Dupin’s eccentric personality and his relationship to his two foils (the nameless and naïve narrator and the professional investigator Monsieur G) are clearly recognizable in Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Like Holmes and Poirot, Dupin’s detective skills are both creative and scientific. In Poe’s story, the world contains both reason and unreason.  The murders are committed by an orangutan, an explanation both logical and bizarre revealing the presence of irrational, natural forces in the modern world but which can be uncovered through rational thought.

For Dupin, science, logic, and reason are all marks of civilization, while nature which is allied with disorder, barbarity and animal urges, is threatening. A similar thought pattern is found in Stephenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, and Freud’s work on the unconscious, for example, and is till the basis for much contemporary mystery writing.

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