“The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe
from Edgar Allan Poe: Collected Works,
introduction by A.J. Odasso
Publisher: Canterbury Classics
Genre: Horror Fiction Classics
Publication Date: November 2011
Format: Leather-Bound Hardcover
My Rating: 5/5 stars
The third in Poe’s series of detective stories, “The Purloined Letter” follows the work of amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin. The detective is presented with a case that has otherwise stumped the Parisian police, the theft of an incendiary letter. After hearing the story of the theft, and the methods applied to find it, Dupin makes short work of recovering the letter himself.
The actual recovery takes up only a little of the story. What is important is the extraordinary means by which Dupin was able to solve the mystery: the key being the use of a singular kind of logic. Dupin’s success was achieved in immersing himself in the psychosis of the criminal in order to better understand him. By these means he is able to predict his opponent’s actions. So successful is this line of reasoning, that a deep empathy is unveiled between criminal and detective, an empathy which reveals not only the location of a letter, but also exposes the foundations of that which makes up C. Auguste Dupin.
As we move into spooky season, with the cold hands of fall brushing the backs of our necks, our thoughts turn inwards. The time for reflection and consideration has come. We will explore the landscapes of our own inner selves, shedding and releasing those things which no longer serve us in order to make space for new growth. I can think of no better representative of this somewhat macabre period of personal death and rebirth, than master of morbid himself, Edgar Allan Poe. I would like to focus on what I consider to be the perfect opener to the season of self-reflection, Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.”
“The Purloined Letter” presents a compelling case for the duality of the human soul. Empathy of the variety used by Dupin comes from an understanding born of personal experience. The experience, in this case, does not mean that the detective has engaged in illicit activity. Instead, it implies that his psychological make-up is such that he has subversive impulses. By allowing himself to experience the emotional current of another, recognizing and understanding this person completely, Dupin is also recognizing these qualities within himself. Any allegiance to lawful life is therefore a choice, born out of social and moral awareness, rather than inherent feeling. Dupin could as easily be a notorious criminal as he is a celebrated sleuth.
In this story, Poe’s detective is representative of the duality inherent in all people. A polarity which those of great imagination can access and utilize to transform their own perceptions. This theme feels very relevant to fall’s pensive mood. It speaks to the ideas which we might be examining within ourselves. Who have we been in the past, and who will be in the future?
So, curl up under a warm blanket with a mug of your favorite steamy beverage and submerge yourself into the world of Edgar Allan Poe. A world where nothing is as it seems. Stare into the glass of the double-sided mirror of C. Auguste Dupin. Walk hand in hand with Poe down the shadowed and winding road of an existence somewhere between the light and the dark.