Edgar Allan Poe's Influence on Research Paper

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Watson, and his several forays into the real world to solve mysteries that confounded others. In this regard, Magistrale reports that, "Dupin solves crimes in part from his ability to identify with the criminal mind. He is capable of empathizing with the criminal psyche because Dupin himself remains essentially isolated from the social world" (21). In fact, Dupin also has a "sidekick" who serves as his narrator. According to Durham (2003), "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," as well as its two sequels, "The Mystery of Marie Roget" and "The Purloined Letter," are both "set in Paris and feature a Frenchman, C. Auguste Dupin, whose adventures are narrated by an unnamed American friend. Dupin's ability to resolve the most puzzling of crimes by the methodical application of his superior powers of reason" (82).

The principal motivating factor for their crime-solving for both Holmes and Dupin were similar as well. For example, Magistrale adds that, "For Dupin, solving a crime is like deciphering a difficult poem or cryptic code; perhaps Dupin's origins are best traced back to Poe's boyhood fascination with cryptograms and puzzles. The detective is essentially disinterested in what happens to the criminal after he is caught, that is, whether he is rehabilitated or even put in prison. Dupin's interests are purely self-motivated and self-defined: can he outwit a criminal's psyche and crack the case?" (21). While Dupin's motivating factors tend to shift from time to time in a situational way, there similarities found in Holmes and Dupin make it apparent that Doyle was heavily influenced by Poe.

There remains some controversy, though, concerning the actual impact that the Dupin character would have on the overall detective genre, Durham (2003) argues that Poe was solely responsible for the creation of the detective genre in its literary manifestations. In this regard, Durham notes that, "With 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' first published in 1841, Edgar Allan Poe invented detective fiction as a literary genre" (82).

These are also important points because they highlight some of the defining characteristics of many of the detective characters that would become popular in the following years. Indeed, while Sherlock Holmes was certainly not the only detective character to have been heavily influenced by Poe, he was probably the most famous and further influenced other authors who would employ these devices as well. For instance, according to Magistrale, "The literary detectives that follow Dupin make up a long list. . . . Arthur Conan Doyle, modeled many of Sherlock Holmes's detective traits on Poe's Dupin, including the tacit denigration of fumbling police methods of investigation and solution, the reliance upon super reason, the eccentric and solitary personalities of the detectives themselves, and their peculiar attachment to loyal associates who serve to document the successes of their brilliant mentors" (21). Likewise, Febles (2008) cites the analytical abilities of Dupin as being one of the defining characteristics of the modern detective genre: "The detective genre has come to be defined as mostly deductive in nature -- a private investigator uses his intellectual acumen to solve a mystery without the need to dirty his hands" (270). Similarly, in his analysis of the modern detective genre, Braham (2004) argues that all of the defining features that make up the genre are attributable solely to Poe:

Detective literature explores the relationship between authority and justice. While classic detective stories present crime as the transgression of norms in an essentially just system, hard-boiled stories present the pursuit of justice itself as a transgression of norms in an essentially corrupt system. The detective genre is a product of the conditions of nineteenth century modernity: the scientific and philosophical transformations of the post-Enlightenment era; the emphasis on empiricism and ratiocination; and the burgeoning sciences of sociology, psychology and forensic medicine. Edgar Allan Poe synthesized these elements in the first detective story, 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in 1841. (1)

The detective story, then, represents the foundational element of the larger detective genre, but one story just goes so far in shaping an entire genre. Crediting Poe with influencing the larger detective genre, therefore, demands some additional contributions but modern analysts do not have to look far to find these as well. For example, Febles describes the emerging detective genre that followed Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" which became fairly recognizable by the turn of the century, and cites Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq (1869) and Gaston Leroux's Le Mystere de la chambre jaune (1907) as good examples of authors who continued the tradition established by Poe (270).

Over time, these early influences of Poe on the detective genre would become even more apparent, due in large part to the increasingly massive audiences that were involved. For example, Golden suggests that the popularity of Alfred Hitchcock's work for television enjoyed large audiences as a result of Poe's influence on the detective genre. In this regard, Golden reports that both Alfred Hitchcock and Paul Auster were heavily influenced by Poe: "Poe's influence on both artists remains profound" (94).

This increased popularity is attributable in large part to Poe's creation of the almost superhuman detective who could see things that others could not, whether by virtue of keen analytical and observational powers or even something nearing the paranormal in quality. For example, Delouche and Oguer (2006) cite Poe's three detective stories as having "laid down the great concepts upon which all fictional detection worth the name has been based & #8230; [and] & #8230; the almost infinite minutiae that are the features of the detective story. The most important of these minutiae is deduction by putting one's self in another's position. Thus, Poe's trilogy is based upon empathy. Moreover, Poe's letters contain unique and, at times, detailed information regarding behavior in strategic situations" (98).

It is the reporting of such detailed information that helped to define the detective story, and this is evident in all of the Sherlock Holmes stories where it is possible to "work backwards" in solving otherwise-inscrutable mysteries by following the clues provided by the author. In this regard, Magistrale reports that:

As the detective genre has grown in popularity in the twentieth century, Dupin's unique psychic attributes can be found surfacing in detectives such as Will Graham in Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon. Graham possesses the unenviable gift of being able to identity with the murderous design of Francis Dolarhyde, the novel's serial killer that he must capture. To do so, Graham descends into the darkest regions of his own psyche, forging an intense Dupin-like identification with the criminal in order to apprehend him. (21)

Clearly, Poe's influence on the detective genre has been far-reaching, and his contributions can also be seen in other contemporary literary detective works such as Peter Straub's Mystery and Lamont von Heilitz's the Throat. According to Magistrale, "In Mystery, Peter Straub's detective Lamont von Heilitz inherits the intellectual tradition of detective work that Dupin and Holmes established a century earlier. Von Heilitz approaches crimes as puzzles to be solved, and in Straub's later novel, the Throat, von Heilitz's role is assumed by yet another intellectual detective, Tom Pasmore" (22). As a clear indication that Poe's influence has transcended the literary domain alone and has in fact influenced the larger detective genre itself in many ways, Magistrale adds that, "Dupin's rational and analytical approach to crime solving also inspired the development of the 'police procedural' type of detective story, whose most noted practitioners include Sara Paretsky and Ed McBain and whose methods are followed punctiliously by such television programs as Homicide, NYPD Blue, Law and Order, and Hill Street Blues" (22). As stars of stage and screen, then, as well as television and more, detectives of all ilk continue to provide entertainment in the entire detective genre and it is reasonable to suggest that Poe's influence on the detective genre itself has been extensive, profound and sustained.


The research showed that Edgar Allan Poe lived a short and tragic but colorful and productive life and wrote many classic tales of mystery and terror that continue to delight modern readers. While he may be best known for works such as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Raven," many modern observers may not realize the significant contributions that Poe made to the detective genre that includes motion pictures, television series, and written works of every form and type. While some authorities credit Poe with creating the detective genre single-handedly, others suggest that Poe stood on the shoulders of earlier giants but he did lay the foundation for the modern detective genre that would emerge during the 20th century and become refined by the 21st century into its countless manifestations today.

Works Cited

Braham, Persephone. Crimes against the State, Crimes against Persons: Detective Fiction in Cuba and Mexico. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Cambiaire, Celestin P. The Influence of Edgar Allan Poe in France. New…[continue]

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