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Edgar Allan Poe: Locked Room Titles
Edgar Allan Poe, born Edgar Poe, (1809 – 1849) was an American author, poet, editor, and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Poe is best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story, and is generally considered to be the inventor of the modern detective fiction genre. That first mystery story, ‘The Murders in The Rue Morgue’ (1841), is not only the first true piece of crime fiction, it is also the first modern style locked room mystery – making Poe doubly important for the locked room genre.
Poe’s greatest contribution to the mystery genre was Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, a fictional detective that few have rivalled. Dupin made his first appearance in Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), then later reappears in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (1842) and “The Purloined Letter” (1844). Though Poe wrote many great stories of horror and two other mysteries, unfortunately, only ‘The Murders in The Rue Morgue’ makes our locked room list.
Born in Boston, Poe was the second child of two actors. His father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died the following year. The orphaned child was taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond, Virginia. Although they never formally adopted him, Poe was with them well into young adulthood. Tension developed later as John Allan and Edgar repeatedly clashed over debts, including those incurred by gambling, and the cost of secondary education for the young man. Poe attended the University of Virginia for one semester but left due to lack of money. Poe finally enlisted in the Army in 1827 under an assumed name. It was at this time his publishing career began, albeit humbly, with an anonymous collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to “a Bostonian”. With the death of Frances Allan in 1829, Poe and Allan reached a temporary rapprochement. Later failing as an officer’s cadet at West Point, and declaring a firm wish to be a poet and writer, Poe parted ways with John Allan.
Poe switched his focus to prose and spent the next several years working for literary journals and periodicals, becoming known for his own style of literary criticism. His work forced him to move among several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. In Baltimore in 1835, he married Virginia Clemm, his 13-year-old cousin. In January 1845, Poe published his poem, “The Raven”, to instant success. His wife died of tuberculosis two years after its publication. Poe himself died in Baltimore at the age of 40; the cause of his death is unknown and has been variously attributed to alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, and other agents.
Poe and his work appear throughout popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. A number of his homes are dedicated museums today. The Mystery Writers of America present an annual award known as the Edgar Award for distinguished work in the mystery genre.
Poe is also credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction, and was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career. (Edited from Wikipedia: Edgar Allan Poe)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)
Series: C. Auguste Dupin
Available in paperback, ebook, and audible editions. Murder in The Rue Morgue is in Volume 1 of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe & Librivox link. Several film versions.
Project Gutenberg: The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe
Librivox: Murders in The Rue Morgue
Note: The first locked room mystery – and still one of the best!
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe published in Graham’s Magazine in 1841. It has been recognized as the first modern detective story; though Poe referred to it as one of his “tales of ratiocination”. Two works that share some similarities, and predate Poe’s stories, are ‘Mademoiselle de Scuderi’ (1819) by E. T. A. Hoffmann and Zadig (1747) by Voltaire.
C. Auguste Dupin is Poe’s detective, a brilliant man of logic and deduction, who lives in Paris. In this story, Dupin solves the mystery of the brutal murder of two women. Numerous witnesses heard a suspect, though no one agrees on what language was spoken. At the murder scene, Dupin finds a hair that does not appear to be human.
As the first fictional detective, Poe’s Dupin displays many traits which became literary conventions in subsequent fictional detectives, including Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Many later characters, for example, follow Poe’s model of the brilliant detective, his personal friend who serves as narrator, and the final revelation being presented before the reasoning that leads up to it. Dupin himself reappears only in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” and “The Purloined Letter”.
Available in paperback, ebook, and audible editions. The Purloined Letter is in Volume 2 of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe.
Note: Not really a locked room title?
Another Dupin story is listed by the French locked room bibliographer, Roland Lacourbe, but it is not actually a true locked room puzzle. Like Sayers ‘The Pearl Necklace’, it is concerned with searching for an object within a closely defined, and therefore essentially locked space. It is sort of a small sub-genre of the locked room story – at best! In any case, it is a good excuse for re-reading this great mystery classic. Unfortunately, even at a stretch, there is no locked room angle to the other Dupin story “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (1842) – nor is there any in Poe’s two other mysteries ‘The Gold Bug’ or ‘Thou Art the Man’.