The Purloined Letter Summary, Introduction , A Critical Analysis
An Introduction to Edgar Allen Poe:
Edgar Allan Poe was the undisputed “Father” of the Detective Story. He created so much that is of importance in the field – literally creating the template for all of detective fiction to follow. (Years later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was to say that Poe “was a model for all time.”)
In just three stories, Poe created the amateur detective and his narrator friend, the locked-room mystery, the talented but eccentric amateur sleuth outwitting the official police force, what Haycraft calls the “catalogue of minutia,” interviews with witnesses, the first fictional case of an animal committing a perceived murder, the first armchair detective, the first fictional case which claimed to solve a real murder mystery previously unsolved by police, the concept of hiding something in plain sight so that it is overlooked by everyone who is searching for it (except for the detective, of course), scattering of false clues by the criminal, accusing someone unjustly, the concept of “ratiocination” (later called “observation and deduction” by Sherlock Holmes and others!), solution and explanation by the detective, and more. Other stories by Poe introduced cryptic ciphers, surveillance, the least-likely person theme (in one case, the narrator of the story is the murderer!), and other ingredients that have spiced up many a recipe for a crime story.
Poe also began the tradition so fondly embraced by connoisseurs of crime fiction what became known as “The Rules of the Game,” which state, among other things: –
(1) The detective story must play fair. (2) The detective story must be readable.
The Detective Story, per se, was invented in the three stories which feature “the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin.” These are:
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”. “The Mystery of Marie Roget”
“‘The Purloined Letter” “The Gold Bug” which introduced a cipher and the protagonist’s attempt to solve it.
Other Poe stories, although embracing crime and/or mystery, are not true detective stories because they do not introduce all the clues (and so fail to meet the criterion of “playing fair” with the reader) until after the dénouement. Nevertheless, they introduced elements which have become standard in detective and crime fiction. These stories include:
“Thou Art the Man,” was the first known inclusion of the use of ventriloquism to trick a suspect into confessing to a murder . “The Man of the Crowd,” which may well be the first story to include what later became known ” as “surveillance.”
An Introduction to The Purloined Letter:
The Purloined Letter, short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in an unauthorized version in 1844. An enlarged and authorized version was published in The Gift (an annually published gift book containing occasional verse and stories) in 1845 and was collected the same year in Poe’s Tales. The Paris police prefect approaches amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin with a puzzle: a cabinet minister has stolen a letter from a woman of royalty whom he is now blackmailing. Despite a painstaking search of the minister’s rooms, the police find nothing. When the prefect returns a month later and mentions a large reward for the letter, Dupin casually produces the document. Dupin later explains to his assistant, the story’s narrator, that by analyzing the personality and behaviour of the minister, he correctly had concluded that the letter would be hidden in plain sight.
While the story has been traditionally regarded as an early prototype of detective fiction, it has also been the subject of intense scholarly debate, notably between French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who upheld the story as a model of ambiguous narrative, and French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who maintained that it was a sexual allegory.
The story is set in Paris where we find an unnamed narrator sitting with C. Auguste Dupin and ‘enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and meerschaum’185 after having had a discussion on two cases that he, Dupin, had recently solved. The pair are interrupted by G-, the Prefect of Police who would like to ask his opinion on a recent case of theft and extortion in which he can make no headway although he claims ‘I make no doubt that we can manage it sufficiently well ourselves.’ Dupin’s interest is not sufficiently piqued, but the Prefect goes on with the details of the case because, although ‘the business is very simple indeed, Dupin would be interested because it is ‘so excessively odd’.
The culprit is Minister D- and he has stolen a letter, ‘a document of the last importance’, which would be particularly compromising to the Queen should it be disclosed to ‘a third person, who shall be nameless’, but who is quite clearly the King. The Prefect relates that the Queen was interrupted in the ‘royal boudoir’ by the sudden presence of the King and, in an attempt not to raise suspicion, and after a failed attempt to secrete it in a drawer, she resorted to placing the letter on a table [t]he address, however, was uppermost, and, the contents thus unexposed, the letter escaped notice.’ At this point the Minister enters the room on purposes of state. In a move that the Prefect describes as ‘not less ingenious than bold’, he ‘immediately perceives the paper, recognises the handwriting of the address, observes the confusion of the personage addressed, and fathoms her secret.’ On the pretext of retrieving a letter he had recently put down beside it, he takes the Queen’s letter while leaving his own which is of no particular importance. In horror the Queen watched all of this ‘but, of course, dared not call attention to the act, in the presence of the third personage who stood at her elbow.’ The Minister now has power over the Queen and the Prefect tells Dupin that we know the letter is still in his possession because of ‘the non-appearance of certain results’ that would already have unfolded if he were to have been put the letter to use. Furthermore, for the Minister to be able to put the letter to use ‘the document must always have been at hand.’ This limits the range for the letter’s concealment.
In light of this the police have already searched the Minister’s apartments with the most exacting of methods and employed the ‘most powerful of microscopes’ to examine every square inch so that the Prefect says, the “fiftieth part of a line could not escape us”, not only of the Minister’s apartments , but also of the two adjoining houses. The Minister himself has been waylaid and searched twice secretly by the police posing as ‘footpads”. The Prefect feels it is of the utmost importance that the Minister does not know what the police are up to so their activities are couched in secrecy as, he says, “I have been warned of the danger which would result from giving him reason to suspect our design! After the Prefect’s account of his investigation, Dupin advises the Prefect to ‘make a thorough re-search of the premises’ and asks for a description of the letter, which he receives in minute detail. Once this is concluded, the despondent Prefect takes his leave.
About a month afterward the Prefect returns. Despite the incentive of ‘a liberal reward’, we find that he is at a loss even though he has done everything in his power. Dupin shows interest at this and tells the Prefect to seek advice accompanied by an anecdote, ‘the story they tell of Abernethy’, which is about a man who tried to get free consultation from a doctor by presenting his symptoms as a hypothetical case. At this the Prefect assures Dupin that he does want advice and that he would write a ‘check for fifty thousand francs to anyone who could obtain that letter.’ Dupin tells him to write out a check for that sum now and he will produce the letter. The dumbfounded Prefect does so, is given the letter, and, once he has processed what has just happened, hastens out of the room to deliver the letter to the Queen.
Once the Prefect has left, Dupin begins his explanation of how he came in possession of the letter with an observation on the police. He says that the police are exceedingly competent within their purview. Dupin was confident that ‘had the letter been deposited within the range of their search, these fellows would, beyond a question, have found it.’ However, police procedure was ‘inapplicable to the case, and to the man’ as it was ‘a sort of Procrustean bed. Their search was too conventional and the Prefect thought the Minister, being a poet, ‘to be only one remove from a fool.’
To explain the nature of the Prefect’s error, Dupin uses an anecdote about how a boy won all the marbles from his playmates in a game of ‘even and odd. By ‘effecting a thorough identification’ with his opponent the boy was able to calculate his intelligence and to determine what their next move would be. This is what the Minister did and, in doing so, concluded that the police would search for the letter in an elaborate hiding place because ‘[t]hey consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and, in searching for anything hidden, advert only to the modes which they would have hidden it. Consequently, the Minister hid it in the open and, like the over-largely lettered signs and placards of the street, escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious’, thus circumvented the efforts of the police.
Dupin goes on to explain how he obtained the letter. He went to visit the Minister in his apartments wearing a pair of green spectacles and complaining of poor eyesight so as ‘[tjo be even with him.’ Whilst in conversation upon a topic that he knew was of interest to the Minister, Dupin carefully observed the room unnoticed. His eyes alighted on a ripped letter, ‘much soiled and crumpled’, suspended on a rack beneath the mantle-piece. Placed out in the open, its corners were chaffed as if the letter had been refolded inversely against its original creases. Although this letter matched only the dimensions of the sought after letter, Dupin notices it bearing the D- cipher very conspicuously, and was addressed, in a diminutive female hand, to D—, the minister, himself.’ Dupin saw through the ruse and took careful detail of the letters appearance. When it was time for Dupin to take his leave of the Minister, he left his snuff-box on the table. The following morning Dupin returned on the pretence of retrieving his snuff box. During the resumption of their conversation of the previous day, Dupin contrived that a distraction taking place on the street ‘by the frantic behaviour of a man with a muskeť having ‘fired it among a crowd of women and children.’ While the Minister’s attention was on the street, Dupin switched the card on the mantle with a facsimile of his own creation. Dupin claims that he left this duplicate so as not to raise the Minister’s suspicion because he is a desperate man, and a man of nerve and that otherwise “[t]he good people of Paris might have heard of me no more.’ Dupin also gives as a further reason that, because his ‘political prepossessions’, his deception will put the Minister in the power of the Queen. As the Minister is unknowingly no longer in possession of the letter he will continue in his intrigue and hasten his downfall which will not be more precipitate than awkward.’ This furthers Dupin’s agenda as we find out that he is also motivated by the desire for revenge because the Minister ‘at Vienna once, did me an evil turn.’ So that the Minister becomes aware of the architect of his down fall, Dupin wrote in the middle of the letter a line from Crébillon’s Artée, ‘Un dessein si funeste, S’il n’est digne d’Atrée, est digne de Thyeste’ (‘a scheme so hateful, if it is not worthy of Atreus, is worthy of Thyestes.’).
A Critical Analysis of ThePurloined Letter:
Along with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter” establishes a new genre of short fiction in American literature: the detective story. Poe considered “The Purloined Letter” his best detective story, and critics have long identified the ways in which it redefines the mystery genre-it turns away from action toward intellectual analysis, for example. As opposed to the graphic violence of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which features bodily mutilation and near decapitation by a wild animal, “The Purloined Letter” focuses more dryly on the relationship between the Paris police and Dupin, between the ineffectual established order and the savvy private eye. When the narrator opens the story by reflecting upon the gruesome murders in the Rue Morgue that Dupin has helped to solve, Poe makes it clear that the prior story is on his mind. Poe sets up the cool reason of “The Purloined Letter” in opposition to the violence of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The battered and lacerated bodies of “The Murders in the Rue Morgne” are replaced by the bloodless, inanimate stolen letter. However, just as the Paris police are unable to solve the gory crime of passion in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” they are similarly unable to solve this apparently simple mystery, in which the solution is hidden in plain sight. Poe moves away from violence and action by associating Dupin’s intelligence with his reflectiveness and his radical theories about the mind. This tale does not have the constant action of stories like “The Cask of Amontillado” or “The Black Cat.” Instead, this tale features the narrator and Dupin sitting in Dupin’s library and discussing ideas. The tale’s action, relayed by flashbacks, takes place outside the narrative frame. The narrative itself is told through dispassionate analysis. The intrusions of the prefect and his investigations of the Minister’s apartment come off as unrefined and unintellectual. Poe portrays the prefect as simultaneously the most active and the most unreflective character in the story. Dupin’s most pointed criticisms of the prefect have less to do with a personal attack than with a critique of the mode of investigation employed by the police as a whole. Dupin suggests that the police cannot think outside their own standard procedures. They are unable to place themselves in the minds of those who actually commit crimes. Dupin’s strategy of solving crimes, on the other hand, involves a process of thinking like someone else. Just as the boy playing “even and odd” enters his opponent’s mind, Dupin inhabits the consciousness of the criminal. He does not employ fancy psychological theories, but rather imitates the train of thought of his opponent. He succeeds in operating one step ahead of the police because he thinks as the Minister does.
This crime-solving technique of thinking like the criminal suggests that Dupin and the Minister are more doubles than opposites. The revenge aspect of the story, which Dupin promises after the Minister offends him in Vienna, arguably derives from their threatening similarity. Dupin’s note inside the phony letter, translated “So baneful a scheme, if not worthy of Atreus, is worthy of Thyestes,” suggests the rivalry that accompanies brotherly minds. In the French dramatist Crébillon’s early-eighteenth-century tragedy Atrée et Thyeste (or Atreus and Thyestes), Thyestes seduces the wife of his brother, Atreus. In retaliation, Atreus murders the sons of Thyestes and serves them to their father at a feast. Dupin implies here that Thyestes deserves more punishment than Atreus because he commits the original wrong. In contrast, Atreus’s revenge is legitimate because it repays the original offense. Dupin considers his own deed to be revenge and thereby morally justified.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) often gets the credit for inventing the detective story. Although some earlier candidates have been proposed – such as E. T. A. Hoffmann’s ‘Das Fräulein von Scuderi’ (1819), and ‘The Secret Cell’ (1837), written by Poe’s own publisher, William Evans Burton – it was Poe who really showed what could be done with the detective story form. The Purloined Letter’ (1844) is one of three ground-breaking stories Poe vrote featuring C. Auguste Dupin, his amateur sleuth without whom the world would never have had Sherlock Holmes or, one suspects, virtually any other fictional detective.
The narrator and his friend, C. Auguste Dupin (later to provide the model for Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes respectively) are smoking together one autumn evening in Paris, when the door to Dupin’s room opens and a French policeman enters. He has come to share the details of a case the police have been working on – one that is simple, yet odd, in its details.
A letter containing delicate information has been stolen, or ‘purloined’: an important woman was in her boudoir when the letter arrived (presumably written by a man with whom she was having an affair) but as she was reading it, her husband came into the room. She placed the letter down on a table. A minister, identified only as ‘D-‘, then entered the room as a guest, and spotted the letter, recognised the handwriting, and guessed the lady’s scandalous secret. Producing his own letter from his pocket, he placed it down on the table next to the incriminating letter while he was talking to the lady and her husband, and then discreetly picked up the other letter (the scandalous one) in full view of the couple. The lady saw him do this, but obviously couldn’t draw attention to the act in front of her husband, because then the letter’s contents would become known to him.
The police have searched the minister’s rooms from top to bottom, while he’s out, in the hope of locating the letter he stole. They are sure that he would not be carrying it around on his person (in case he’s mugged or accosted while out and about) but, equally, they know he would need to be able to access the letter at short notice, so wouldn’t have stored it somewhere else. Yet the police, despite searching everywhere in the minister’s rooms – behind the mirrors, under the carpets, in the cellars, within his books – have been unable to find the purloined letter. Dupin advises making another thorough search of the premises, but the police prefect says it would do no good.
About a month later, the prefect returns to Dupin’s rooms, and reports to the detective and the narrator that he did undertaken another search of the minister’s rooms, but still didn’t manage to locate the purloined letter. Dupin asks what reward is being offered for the return of the letter. The prefect says he would hand over a cheque for 50,000 francs to the person who could return the purloined letter to him. Dupin announces that he will hand over the letter to the prefect if the policeman gives him the 50,000 francs. The prefect, shocked and overjoyed, hands over the cheque, and leaves with the letter.
Dupin, a master of logical analysis, then explains how he managed to solve the mystery of the purloined letter, beginning by reminiscing about his schooldays, and a clever schoolboy he knew who played a game of ‘even and odd’ with his peers. A boy would place either an odd or even number of marbles in his hand, and the clever schoolboy would then try to guess. He might guess wrong the first time, but by analysing how clever. (or stupid) his opponent was, he would then be able to second-guess his opponent’s next move (e.g. a stupid boy who picked up an even number for the first game would have just the right amount of wit to change the number to odd for the second; a cleverer person would try to outthink the guesser, by putting himself in the shoes of the guesser and trying to out. reason him).
In summary, Dupin says that the problem with the police prefect is that he misjudged what kind of man he was dealing with: he wrote off the minister’s intellect because the minister writes poetry and is therefore, in the policeman’s view, a ‘fool. But Dupin – who admits to having written ‘doggereľ of his own – realises that this marks out the minister a man of superior, rather than inferior intellect. Armed with this knowledge, Dupin dons a disguise and calls upon the minister at his rooms. He soon finds the purloined letter, turned inside out and stuffed into a different envelope, in plain sight on the mantelpiece in the minister’s rooms. He deliberately leaves his snuff-box on the table, so he’ll have a reason to return the following day to retrieve it, on the pretext that he’d forgotten it. When he returns to the minister’s rooms, having arranged for a paid accomplice to fire a musket in the street so as to cause a diversion, Dupin then goes to the mantelpiece, takes the letter, replaces it with a copy he had prepared at home to resemble the original, and leaves with the purloined letter in his possession.
In the substitute letter, Dupin reveals that he left a sheet on which he had written words taken from Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon’s Atrée: ‘A design so hateful, if not worthy of Atreus, is worthy of Thyestes.’ The lines allude to the story from mythology, in which King Atreus of Mycenae, in revenge for his brother Thyestes’ seduction of his wife, kills Thyestes’ sons and serves them to him in a pie. The reference is Dupin’s way of saying he has discovered the minister’s plan, and foiled his scheme. (Dupin also reveals that he owes the minister some payback after ‘an evil turn’ the minister did to him in Vienna.)
‘The Purloined Letter’ has the force of a fairy tale or parable: there is a purity to its plot, a simplicity, an ability to resonate with deeper philosophical meaning. This is probably why so many twentieth-century thinkers, from the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to the founder of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, were so interested in it. The epigraph, which Poe attributes to the Roman writer and philosopher Seneca, translates as: ‘Nothing is as hostile to wisdom as too much subtlety.’ The idea of the purloined letter ‘hiding in plain sight makes the story archetypal in its ability to carry symbolic significance. It seems to invite interpretation as a parable about the dangers of overinterpretation. T. S. Eliot once complained that an early reviewer of The Waste Land had ‘over-understood the poem. In summary, it’s perhaps possible to become too obsessed with understanding something, with the result that one misses the obvious – in this case, the fact that the letter has been placed in just about the most visible and easily discovered place imaginable with the result that it isn’t discovered (at least not by the police prefect).
In this story to www ce se many of the features that Conan Doyle mwild on to to meto nudi otteet in his Sherlock Ilolmer stories. Not only # Homes like Dupin a master of logical analysis and an amateur sleuth wyking independently of the official police, but Ilolmen, too, will go on to me the idea of distraction in order to locate a missing or reclaim a missing them mm a criminal (most famously acon in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’),
The Murloined Letter’ isn’t perfect it’s really a ten-page story spun or spread out to double that longth, which weakens the effect of the reveal, and Dupin long-winded explanation of this theory of ratiocination is less effective by being advanced using a low too many examples from logic and the world of games. But we can forgive l’oe these fallings, for with this story ** and with the methods of analysis and deduction Dupin practises in the other two Poe stories in which he features – he was inventing the modern detective story: Writers have been purloining, and reinventing, Poe’s central idea ever since .
Of all of Poes stories of ratiocination (or detective stories), “The Purloined Letter” is considered his finest. This is partially due to the fact that there are no gothic elements, such as the gruesome descriptions of dead bodies, as there was in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But more important, this is the story that employs most effectively the principle of ratiocination; this story brilliantly illustrates the concept of the intuitive intellect at work as it solves a problem logically. Finally, more than with most of his stories, this one is told with utmost economy.
“The Purloined Letter” emphasizes several devices from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and adds several others. The story is divided into two parts. In the first part, Monsieur G -, Prefect of Police in Paris, visits Dupin with a problem: A letter has been stolen and is being used to blackmail the person from whom it was stolen. The thief is known (Minister D–) and the method is known (substitution viewed by the victim, who dared not protest). The problem is to retrieve the letter, since the writer and the victim, as well as Minister D -, have important posts in the government; the demands he is making are becoming dangerous politically. The Prefect has searched Minister D-‘s home thoroughly, even taking the furniture apart; he and his men have found nothing. Dupin’s advice is that they thoroughly re-search the house. A month later, Monsieur G returns, having found nothing. This time, he says that he will pay fifty thousand francs to anyone who can obtain the letter for him. Dupin invites him to write the check; when this is done, Dupin hands the Prefect the letter without any further comment.
The second half of “The Purloined Letter” consists of Dupin’s explanation, to his chronicler, of how he obtained the letter. One of his basic assumptions is an inversion of one of the aphorisms that was introduced in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”; the case is so difficult to solve because it appears to be so simple. Beyond that, Dupin introduces the method of psychological deduction. Before he did anything else, he reviewed everything he knew about Minister D- . Then, he reviewed what he knew about the case. With this in mind, Dupin tried to reconstruct the Minister’s thinking, deciding that he would very likely have hidden the letter in plain sight. Using this theory, Dupin visited Minister D – and found the letter in plain sight but boldly disguised. He memorized the appearance of the letter, and he left a snuffbox as an excuse to return. Having duplicated the letter, he exchanged his facsimile for the original during a prearranged diversion. Retrieving his snuff-box, he departed. His solution introduces into detective fiction the formula of “the most obvious place.”
– Dupin is, of course, the original eccentric but brilliant detective. He seems to be a very private person, though one with connections and acquaintances in many places. He prefers the darkness and the evening; darkness, he feels, is particularly conducive to reflection. He prefers to gather his information and to ponder thoroughly before any action is taken. He talks little; an hour or more of contemplative silence seems common. And, of course, he is an expert in the psychology of people of various types; indeed, he seems to be learned in a number of areas mathematics and poetry, for example.
The Prefect, Monsieur G is a contrast to Dupin. Whereas Dupin is primarily concerned with the psychological elements of the case, G- is almost wholly concerned with physical details and evidence. G talks much and says little. Dupin considers things broadly, while G-‘s point of view is extremely narrow. Anything G- does not understand is “odd” and not worth considering; for Dupin, that is a matter for investigation. G- believes in a great deal of physical activity during an investigation, while Dupin believes in a maximum of thought and a minimum of physical exertion. Though Dupin says that the Paris police are excellent within their limitations, it is clear that G-‘s limitations are quite severe. The personality of the unnamed narrator, the Dupin-chronicler, lies between these two extremes. Though he shares some of Dupin’s tastes silent contemplation in darkness, for example – and has some understanding of Dupin’s methods, he seems psychologically closer to G – than to Dupin. He seems to be a rather ordinary person with rather ordinary views and ideas. his assumptions and his interjections are often erroneous; he assumes, for example, that if the police have not been able to find the letter after their search, then it must be elsewhere. In his argument with Dupin about mathematicians, the narrator takes the common view and attitude toward mathematicians, a position that Dupin explicitly suggests is idiocy. In other words, the narrator is a mediator between Dupin and the reader. His reactions are similar to those of the reader, though he is somewhat less astute than the reader, so that the reader can feel superior to him. Naturally, such a narrator guides our attitudes toward Dupin, G-, and the case. He is, for example, in awe of Dupin’s abilities and methods; while the reader may maintain a more critical distance, he is guided in that direction to some degree. Finally, such a narrator determines the amount of information which a reader receives and guides the attention of the reader to the information received. In this case, the narrator tells us everything, but only as he receives it, because he did not witness the case being solved, the reader doesn’t either.
The idea that the roader is a participant in the investigation of a crime and thus should be given all the information on which the detective bases his conclusions is quite modern. In “The Purloined Letter,” the reader has little chance to participate, first because little information about Minister D m’s character is given in the first half of the story, and, second, because there is no indication of any activity by Dupin until the second half. Poe’s purpose was not to invite reader participation, but rather to emphasize rationality, stressing logical thinking as the means of solving problems. Consequently, Dupin’s exposition of his thought processes are the most important part of the story. Without this highlighting of the logical investigation and solution of a problem, the detective story may never have developed; it would certainly be very different if it had. However, with this method and approach established, it became logical, and rather easy, to evolve the idea of the reader as a participant.
Attempting to determine the psychology of the criminal is an honourable tradition in detective fiction. The particular methods that are used change as more is learned about human beings, their behaviours, and their motivations; they also change, perhaps even more, as psychological theories change. Thus, much of Poe’s — or Dupin’s – psychology, especially the explanations, seems dated. For instance, the boy whom Dupin uses as an example arranges his face so it is as similar to the other person’s expression as possible ; this is supposed to give rise to thoughts and feelings that are similar to those of the other person. In the sense that outward expressions facial expressions, clothes, and so on are thought to influence the way a person feels, this idea is somewhat still current; however, that effect is thought to be general rather than specific, and we no longer believe that we can gain much knowledge of another person in this way. In addition, it is probably true that certain habits of thinking are likely to contribute to a person’s success in a field; however, the distinctions are by no means as rigid as Poe made them seem, nor are the qualities so narrow. Although the principles that Dupin works from are rather outdated, his method is direct. This method is, of course, applicable to other kinds of problems posed in detective fiction; whenever the detective can learn and apply some knowledge of the criminal’s psychology, he is closer to the solution of the crime.
Other details in “The Purloined Letter” reveal the story’s era – the political system in France, Dupin’s comments about poetry, mathematics, and the sciences in particular. Nevertheless, the story still reads well, and the details are overshadowed by the sweep of the puzzle and the story. Even if the story were not still interesting reading, “The Purloined Letter” would be of prime historical importance for it establishes the method of psychological deduction, the solution of the most obvious place, and the assumption that the case that seems simplest may be the most difficult to solve.
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