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Poe and Fowles
Detective stories and novels were first created in the 1800s. Readers continue to enjoy them. Even today, 150 years later, millions of people across the world want to read the newest detective books. Many people call Edgar Allen Poe the inventor of the detective story, because he developed a formula that is still followed. An example is his "Murders in the Rue Morgue." Many authors later created their own style. John Fowles' "The Enigma" shows one way that a writer can experiment with the crime story. This paper will compare and contrast these two works to explain Poe's formula and to show how it was altered by Fowles, to let the reader have more freedom of choice.
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" was story was so different from others that were popular at the time that Poe's usual publishers did not want to print it. Instead Poe published it in Graham's Magazine, where he was an editor. Although many people liked the story, it was criticized for being too gruesome and detailed. However, it was still printed many times in other places and was translated into other languages.
In Poe's story, there have been two terrible murders. The mother had a part of her scalp ripped off and her head nearly cut off from her neck. The daughter was choked to death and her body crammed up the chimney. The detective M. Auguste Dupin reads about the murders in the newspaper. The article says the murderer's voice was heard during the crime, but not in an unknown language. Dupin decides that the murderer's words were not a language at all, and the killer was not human. Where the mother and daughter were killed, he sees that the doors were locked from the inside and the windows were nailed shut. A murderer could not escape, so where was he? Dupin solves the problem.
At the end of the story, Dupin puts an ad in the newspaper that lures a sailor to his address. This man's orangutan murdered the two women. The sailor watched, because he was unable to control the animal. Dupin puts together all the pieces of the puzzle, many of them were unknown to the readers. Poe compares the solving of the crime to playing games. The narrator of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" explains that it is very important to have analytical skills, but not everyone is analytical. For example, he mentions the game of chess, where 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." Similarly, a successful analyst will win a card game by knowing if his opponents are holding a good set of cards, because he carefully observes their every move. The narrator then uses Dupin's solving of the Rue Morgue murders as an example of the important of analysis.
The detective, who is often the main character, is one of the most important parts of Poe's crime story formula (Van Leer, 65). After "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" was published, the detective C. August Dupin became a model for crime writing that authors still use. Also, in a detective story, readers are given clues so they can try to decide who did the crime. In Poe's formula, all these clues come together in the end of the book when the detective solves the crime. Sometimes, however, the detective has information that is not in the story.
The detective, or central character, is so important to the book that he is like a god (Daniel, 103): " ... when Poe turned to the detective story he was mainly concerned to dramatize a superior character, the detective ... He would often try out particular paradoxes there and then rework them around the figure of Dupin; but the grand paradox is the transformation of a human character into a god."
In Poe's model, the detective has a companion who helps solve the mystery but never is as smart at putting the pieces together. He acts as a middle man between the narrator of the story and the detective, giving information to the reader and letting the detective keep some clues for himself. The detective also has a dislike for the local police, who he thinks cannot solve the crime. In return, the police do not want the detective to get involved.
It is believed that Poe's ideas about Detective Dupin came from a Frenchman named Eugene Francois Vidocq (1775-1857). Poe heard about Vidocq while growing up in London. Vidocq was a successful criminal, and the Parisian police hired him as a spy. Even though the police chased him in the past, he became the police chief in 1811 (Edwards).
Therefore, there are six major parts to Poe's detective formula: (1) the strange but very bright amateur detective; (2) the partner or companion to the smarter detective;
(3) the simple clues; (4) the failure of the police; (5) the resentment of the police for the detective's involvement; and (6) finding the solution through looking at the all the clues and using logic and intuition.
John Fowles, who wrote the short story "The Enigma," uses some of these same parts of the detective formula. However, he is more interested in the mystery and the information than the solution to the problem. "The existence of mysteries is in a sense, more important than their solution because the absence of certainty refocuses our efforts. Man stops fighting the truth that reality is fundamentally mysterious and starts to work with, rather than against, nature (Martinez, np). It is not surprising that Fowles' story "The Enigma" is different than the formula. He was also experimenting with new styles.
"The Murders at the Rue Morgue" almost always centers around the murder itself and how Dupin puts together all the clues. He is the main character.
In "The Enigma," the characters are more important to the story. They give information about John Fielding who has disappeared. The readers learn about him through the other people that were in his life, such as his high-society wife, angry son, loving daughters and son's girlfriend. At the same time, the readers learn about these individuals. They give insights into their own personality when talking about Fielding.
Martinez (np) says that Fowles adds to the understanding of Fielding's lives and the people around him by letting the readers even know what the characters are thinking. For instance, Mrs. Fielding normally had a great deal of self-control and had no doubts about the existence of a logical explanation for the mysterious events around her husband's disappearance. Yet she starts to suspect "some purely private scandal looming over the tranquil horizon of her life" (191). Being a woman who greatly distinguished between private immortality and public scandal, she would never admit her suspicions. However, the narrator is able to go anywhere "inside herself and the privacies of her life" (192). The readers also learn about Fielding through the analysis of the detective Michael Jennings, who is central to the story. This is similar to Poe's formula.
The first part of the story is an overview by the narrator of the facts around Fielding's disappearance on "an ominously appropriate date and day" (188) of Friday, July 13th, 1973). The narrator tells the readers about what his wife did when she noticed that Fielding was missing. Eventually the police, get involved and "the hunt was at last placed firmly in professional hands" (193).
After a time, the newspapers stop carrying information about Fielding's case. Special Branch Sergeant Jennings becomes responsible for tracing Fielding when no one really wants to find him any longer. Following the crime formula, Fowles knows that the detective now has to unravel the mystery for the family and for the readers.
Detective Dupin was made to look like a god with his analytical skills. Fowles does not write about Jennings in the same way. He is introduced as a good detective, not really brilliant, but, rather, "useful" (198). He is the third generation of a "police family," with a middle-class attitude and accent. He is also a diplomat, personable, sensitive, tactful, and, it seems, attractive to women. He first reviews Fielding's case carefully. Yet he still is confused and all he can do is write "two words, one of which was obscene, in capitals at the bottom of his analysis" (200). After this, the readers learn more about Fielding through dialogue, but especially through Jennings' thoughts about everyone's comments. The readers learn more and more about Fielding as well as become closer to Jennings.
Jennings, however, is not getting any closer to finding the answers to Fielding's disappearance. In fact, the same questions asked over and over makes the readers frustrated that no progress is being made. The story changes its flavor when Jennings meets Isobel, Fielding's son's girlfriend. Unlike in Poe's detective story, there is the added factor of love coming…[continue]
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