The Murders in the Rue Morgue Podcast
Welcome to our first podcast episode, where we talk about “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and C. Auguste Dupin!
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” may be the first detective story and the first locked-room mystery. Set in Paris, the story features amateur detective Auguste Dupin and his unnamed sidekick, who narrates how Dupin solves a gruesome double murder.
In the story, the narrator draws distinctions between types of intellect, such as concentration, calculation, and analysis. Later, Auguste Dupin describes the prefect’s intellect like this: “He’s too cunning to be profound. In his wisdom is no stamen. It is all head and no body … He has attained his reputation of ingenuity: the way he has of denying that which is, and explaining that which is not.” What do you think about these distinctions?
Auguste Dupin is a forerunner of Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Hercule Poirot, and others. He’s a reclusive outsider with keen powers of observation and plenty of time to kick back and think. His trusty sidekick narrates the tale and details of the protagonist’s superior intelligence without offering many insights or observations himself. And clues in the story give readers the chance to solve the mystery.
And let’s talk for a moment about “Chekhov’s Gun,” a concept that describes how every element of a story contributes to the whole. Chekhov wrote: ‘If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” The idea here is that strong narratives should not include extraneous ideas.
However, Poe breaks new ground here — in mystery narratives, Poe essentially says, the usual rules don’t apply. The rifle doesn’t need to go off in chapter two, chapter three, or ever. Instead, the rifle, like the gold coins in the story, can be a red herring. Therein lies the challenge — for the detective, Auguste Dupin, and for YOU, the reader.
Read: Find a copy on your bookshelf, buy it on Amazon, or read it for free (courtesy of Project Gutenberg).
Reflect: You can find discussion questions here.
Weigh In: We want to hear from YOU!
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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: Auguste Dupin and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
Sarah Harrison 0:00
Welcome to Tea, Tonic and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison,
Carolyn Daughters 0:36
and I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. So pour yourself a cup of tea or a gin and tonic
Sarah Harrison 0:42
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:45
and join us on a chronological journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers every single one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:56
So Carolyn What book are we talking about today for our first podcast?
Carolyn Daughters 1:02
First podcast! I would have sung that, but I’m tone deaf. Even when someone’s singing happy birthday, I’m just mouthing the words. It’s very helpful for everyone present. Well today we’re talking about Auguste Dupin and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which is a story written in 1841 by Edgar Allan Poe. Look at this very lovely orange and black cover.
Sarah Harrison 1:41
We brought some copies here of the ones we read. These two big ones are old. I don’t know if you can get this one or this one.
Carolyn Daughters 1:50
Well, this one you can get if you steal it from a library.
Sarah Harrison 1:54
You didn’t hear that here.
Carolyn Daughters 1:56
This one is used, as it is stamped on the back.
Sarah Harrison 2:01
Yeah, which is my preference, but this one is the most affordable from Amazon.I liked it because it had a lot of different ones in it. Unfortunately, it only had “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” So next month when we do “The Purloined Letter,” I’ll be borrowing one of Carolyn’s copies. We went through and we read the book, and we made a lot of notes.
Carolyn Daughters 2:42
We do. Before we get into a discussion of Auguste Dupin and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” I just want say this: Sarah, you’ve been doing this book club for nine years called PORN.
Sarah Harrison 2:54
Yes, the PORN reading program. When we started out, I found 50 of the most important books written by women throughout history. And it started in 10th century Japan with the Tale of Genji. I liked going chronologically. I thought it would add an aspect of seeing the very development of the novel, the very first novel was that Tale of Genji.
Carolyn Daughters 3:51
Sarah Harrison 3:53
Yeah, you’re probably right. On the list, it was considered the first novel and it was so un-novel-like. Story arc not invented yet. You could see the structure of the novel emerge as we were reading. I guess that idea transfers a bit to the plan we made for this book club and podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 4:28
It wasn’t a typical book club, I would say, as somebody who has been a member of a book club, and I used to run a book club.
Sarah Harrison 4:40
Carolyn Daughters 4:41
Yes. I used to lead a paid book club. The members would pay me. It’s crazy, I know.
But People Obsessed with Reading Novels — PORN — wasn’t just about analysis of the book. We want to read the book, we want to think about the book, we want to talk about the book. But the book makes us think about things in our own lives. It allows us to have some introspective moments where we see how ideas, themes, characters, plot developments relate to our own lives.
Sarah Harrison 5:48
And that’s what I like about reading fiction. Whenever I would read books, I would have all of these thoughts. I would want to tell someone my thoughts. Things feel more real when you’re talking to someone about them. And I would say it helps clarify your own thoughts to try to explicitly get them out of your brain into a sentence. But no one was ever reading the thing I was reading. In my last year of grad school, and I thought, you know what I want to do? I’m gonna start this book club. And so that’s what I did. And analysis of the book was fine, but the relatable-ness of the content was more interesting. So I sort of exclusively just talked about questions inspired by the book, so you didn’t have to read the book at all to go. But I don’t think we’re gonna be that far gone on this podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 6:53
No, we want to read the books. We want you to read the books. I mean, these are amazing books. Let’s just call it out, right? These are amazing stories.
Sarah Harrison 7:05
I’m very excited. I haven’t read most of them. I loved reading “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and seeing this character Auguste Dupin.
Carolyn Daughters 7:08
And I’ve read some of them and haven’t read others. And the ones I’ve read in some cases, I haven’t read in like 20 years. So I’m excited to have this chance to read some new books and to revisit some books I loved in the past. We’re starting with Edgar Allan Poe, because it just makes logical sense. A lot of people say that Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories featuring Auguste Dupin are the first mystery stories, the first with a detective lead. It sets the scene for a bunch of tropes that are used later with Sam Spade and Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, all these detectives. It’s this outsider, this guy who’s outside the norm. He’s super smart. He has this one friend who loves to record every single thing he says. And there are a lot of tropes that are developed in Poe with Auguste Dupin. The chronology is important. Understanding a foundation of something is important.
Sarah Harrison 8:35
Yeah, Carolyn was instrumental when we were talking through what we wanted Tea, Tonic & Toxin to be. And we landed on the mystery genre. It seemed really fun. It was a genre I’m not super familiar with. I went to grad school for material science and engineering. I just love reading novels. But Carolyn, who actually knows what she’s doing here, helped craft the list of those foundational novels along the evolution of the mystery genre, so that’s this whole first year.
Carolyn Daughters 9:33
We’re reading a book each month, so please join us in our book club. A book a month is manageable. We want to build this basis of what the canon or the foundation of the mystery genre and build off of that. Starting with Poe in 1841 with Auguste Dupin and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” We’re going to move on to “The Purloined Letter,” we’re going to move on to Bleak House. What we’re going to do in this first year together, we hope, is cover the Victorian and Edwardian periods. We’ll go right up to 1910. And that’s going to give us a clean start for the modern period in our second year, where we’ll get to Agatha Christie, and a lot of the the greats. This year, 1841, is where it all started with Edgar Allan Poe, Auguste Dupin, and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” And where the authors are experimenting with a form that was not widely understood or embraced. There’s a lot of courage here in the writing and a lot of experimentation, some of which is successful. The cool thing is that they tried it. And in the trying, they established something that later other authors were able to take and sort of spin on its head and make it work.
Sarah Harrison 11:33
As someone in science and engineering, I love the whole experimental aspect. We always say there’s no bad data as long as it’s correct data. As long as it’s real. As long as it’s interesting and you can learn from it. And if you’re like me, you may be a little bit cloudy when Carolyn says “the Edwardian period.”
Carolyn Daughters 12:07
We’re talking about the years in which Queen Victoria and King Edward VII lived. We’re talking about periods that have definitive demarcation points in literature. Victorian novels are often, but not always, large triple-decker novels. They have three parts. Bleak House is not a quick read. Reading Bleak House is work. But I gotta tell you, it’s worth it.
Sarah Harrison 13:13
It has been great so far. I haven’t read it before. I’m about halfway through now. I love it. I think about it when I’m not with it. But that’s what I love about novels.
Carolyn Daughters 13:25
So, Edwardian novels are in many cases going to borrow from Victorian. They’re going to oftentimes use that three-part structure, but not always. But they’re going to start slimming down. And they’re going to play with those three parts in ways that the Victorians didn’t. And then comes the Modernist era 1910, 1914, whatever year you want to start that period. It fluctuates. They’re going to do away in large part with that structure. They’re going to really make the story, the novel, a different thing altogether. So the Edwardians borrow, but make it their own. We’re gonna see the conventions of the novels and stories of that period. We’re gonna watch the foundations evolve. You know, there’s a quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He wrote all the Sherlock Holmes stories that are so famous. He said, “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed life into it?” As an extension, I would ask, where was the fictional detective until Poe created Auguste Dupin.
Sarah Harrison 14:38
We hope any listeners that might be listening at any point in time …
Carolyn Daughters 14:57
… all four of you …
Sarah Harrison 14:57
… will participate with us. We want to hear from you. And as you’re reading the book, hopefully you will throw some of your own questions out there, or feelings or thoughts that you’re having. I was telling Carolyn I’m 200 pages into Bleak House, and I probably have notes on 175 pages of it. I have an addiction to writing while I read. There are so many thoughts pinging around in there as I read it.
Should we dive into “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and Auguste Dupin?
Carolyn Daughters 15:40
Let’s do. So, many people have called this the first mystery story. But of course, there are Arabic, Chinese, German and French forebears. Sarah and I are not posing as the foremost experts in the canon and in the history of the mystery and thriller genre. But we think that this story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and the protagonist, Auguste Dupin, are important enough that we start right here. So let’s dive in.
Sarah Harrison 16:15
The first pages of the story introduce the kind of analysis that makes detection possible. Did this intro draw you in, frustrates you, or something else entirely? Carolyn, what were you thinking about that question?
Carolyn Daughters 16:41
The first pages simultaneously frustrated me and made me feel smarter for reading it.
Sarah Harrison 16:45
That’s fair. This story is only 30 pages long, but it’s a dense 30 pages.
Carolyn Daughters 16:55
It’s a one-hour read.
Sarah Harrison 17:03
I probably spent longer, I gotta be honest, because I had to reread a bunch of it.
Carolyn Daughters 17:07
Rereading is encouraged, but the goal is to get through it, right? I’m going to digress for a second and talk about Moby Dick.
Sarah Harrison 17:20
Don’t give it away. I haven’t read it yet.
Carolyn Daughters 17:24
The whale wins … Moby Dick is a really interesting book where they the author, Melville, inserts cetology chapters about whales. Many people argue you can skip these chapters if you want.
Sarah Harrison 17:46
I need you to define the word “cetology.”
Carolyn Daughters 17:49
The study of whales. So they’re really about the physiology of the whale, etc. I’m sure I’ve raised everybody’s interest in reading this book now.
Sarah Harrison 18:09
I own the book.
Carolyn Daughters 18:10
It’s an amazing book. But it’s considered legitimate in some camps to skip the cetology chapters. Well, I’m not going to get into that debate. I read the cetology chapters. I’m not sciency. Is that the word, “sciency”?
Sarah Harrison 18:31
Yes, that’s the technical term.
Carolyn Daughters 18:34
I read the cetology chapters in Moby Dick, and there were times where I was reading the beginning of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and I thought, boy, I could just skip over all this and get right to the story.
Sarah Harrison 18:55
Yeah, I like the perspective that it made you smarter. I was reading it. And I was rereading it. And it was very interesting. But it’s not the way language is used currently. Sometimes you read a modern book, and your brain can just kind of slip in there and flow along. And it doesn’t have that cadence. I wondered if it did at the time, but I think probably it was still a difficult book, even for the time. You have to really concentrate and think. What is he saying? I found myself wondering, where’s he going with this? At times I asked myself with this book and Bleak House: Am I reading the right book? Is this a mystery? Is there a murder here? Because it doesn’t start out that way.
Carolyn Daughters 19:50
Is this a philosophical treatise, what is this?
Sarah Harrison 19:53
Right. He talks about analysis and then talks about games and ways of thinking. I guess to introduce us to Auguste Dupin and how his brain works. But as I was reading, I really found myself thinking, wow, he’s speaking about intelligence in a way that we don’t currently speak about intelligence. So my bachelor’s is in physics, and even with just a bachelor’s in physics, people would be like, Oh, you must be really smart. And then they would ask me some question totally not related to physics. And even if it’s related physics, there’s so much that I wouldn’t know.
Carolyn Daughters 20:46
They hear the word “physics” and think, oh, my God, you must be a genius.
Sarah Harrison 20:51
It’s this black and white, smart or not smart. And Poe was untangling this idea in a way. We don’t really talk about intelligence the way that he did.
Carolyn Daughters 21:05
Different kinds of intelligence. I think you and I talked about this a little bit. Somebody’s smart or they’re not smart. That’s how a lot of people are defined. Oh, that friend of mine, she’s really smart. Or he’s not very smart. It’s this black and white demarcation. Whereas Holmes is complicating it.
Sarah Harrison 21:32
Carolyn Daughters 21:37
Remember, when we said we wouldn’t need to edit anything?
Sarah Harrison 21:40
We’re not. It’s in there.
Carolyn Daughters 21:41
Oh, man. Okay. So yeah, Poe is sort of demarcating, right? He’s grouping different kinds of intelligence, an idea that will come into play as we get to know Auguste Dupin.
Sarah Harrison 21:59
Yeah. The only caveat I really hear in the conversation currently is, well, he’s book smart, but he lacks common sense. As though it’s that simple. To continue with this idea, the narrator and Auguste Dupin use games to break down different kinds of intelligence.
Carolyn Daughters 22:23
Yeah. This is probably a good point to mention that our website, teatonicandtoxin.com, has the conversation starters we’re discussing.
Sarah Harrison 22:55
Thanks for pointing that out, Carolyn. And we would love for it to be a conversation, especially if you post questions prior to the podcast. If you have things to say, maybe we’ll discuss them.
Carolyn Daughters 23:14
We’ll read what you write and will attempt to discuss them in the podcast.
Sarah Harrison 23:25
That was a hard and fast rule of the PORN reading program: everyone speaks. Everyone answers. And if someone wasn’t figuring it out, we would just sit silently and then ask, what are your thoughts?
Carolyn Daughters 23:42
Yes. And Sarah is very good at that. Yes.
Sarah Harrison 23:46
Carolyn Daughters 23:49
But also asking “what do you think?” We want to hear your opinions. We want to make this a book club where we’re discussing things that matter to the story, but also to ourselves.
Sarah Harrison 24:05
Definitely. So, then, why do you think the narrator compares chess and whist? And mentions draughts. Carolyn, you said it’s pronounced “drafts.” And you told me that it means “checkers.”
Carolyn Daughters 24:39
Yes. You asked, “Why don’t we play this game called draughts anymore?” And I said we do play it. It’s “checkers.”
Sarah Harrison 24:52
Yeah. And then she had this postcard, which she mailed me, showing the medieval game of draughts. You had it for 20 years.
Carolyn Daughters 25:00
Oh, yeah, a long time. I got it in London. The postcard shows a checkers game with little pieces you can cut out.
Sarah Harrison 25:37
I’m not cutting it though because I don’t need to deface my postcard.
Carolyn Daughters 25:44
It’s not like, cool, now I don’t have to buy checkers because I have this weird postcard.
Sarah Harrison 25:58
Have you played whist?
Carolyn Daughters 26:00
I don’t know how to play whist. But I know a couple things about whist.
Sarah Harrison 26:04
I know it was the Victorian game of choice. People would play it in the evenings. People were addicted to it.
Carolyn Daughters 26:13
Some portion of the population was. Four people would play in pairs. My understanding is that you would have to figure out what you wanted to play from your own hand while looking around the table and seeing what other people played and trying to determine what your partner had in his or her hand and what the other two players had in their hands. So, interestingly, right, Poe, or the unnamed narrator, differentiates between whist and chess. This differentiation seems to be key to understanding Auguste Dupin. So what’s your thought about this differentiation?
Sarah Harrison 27:17
He was kind of putting chess down. Like, this isn’t that smart of a game. It’s not an analytical game. You just have to have really good concentration to be able to see five moves ahead. That’s true. And so I got kind of excited at that part, because I’m not good at chess. I can think three moves ahead, but then I can’t hold the board in my head anymore. That’s definitely a contrast between the sort of dynamic of trying to play with your partner and beat your other two partners. Have you played Euchre?
Carolyn Daughters 28:10
I have played Euchre.
Sarah Harrison 28:11
It sounded like Euchre, the way you were describing it.
Carolyn Daughters 28:15
My family grew up playing a game that’s not unlike Euchre, called 45. It’s an Irish game. And the goal is with your partner to get to 45 points in multiple hands. You’re reading your partner, and you’re trying to read these other two people. My grandparents taught my siblings and me how to play. My sister Michele would be with my grandmother, and I’d be with my grandfather. My grandfather had this big personality, and when we were playing he would give me the biggest verbal or visual signals. He’d be like, “Oh, this hand. Ah!” And I would look at him, and I’d be like, “Got it.” Or he’d be like, “Oh, Carolyn, Carolyn! Oh no!” And my grandmother would get so mad. I think what the narrator in this story is suggesting is that you should be able to read the subtle signs of what people are doing. Which, for the record, Auguste Dupin seems to be able to do but the narrator doesn’t seem to be able to do.
Sarah Harrison 29:50
Yeah, that makes sense to the way Poe sets the story up. He really focuses on how Auguste Dupin was able to read people at this very unrealistic level. The reading people part is very interesting. While I was reading this, I thought about this game that I love called Set. Have you ever played it?
Carolyn Daughters 30:25
Sarah Harrison 30:28
I love it! It’s a card game with Set cards, and they have all these different patterns. And you’re finding things in common across the patterns, shapes, colors, textures. And it’s a game of speed. It’s about pattern finding quickly, as you’re racing your opponent. One thing I love about it, and the only way I can win, is that it sends you into this Zen state of non-thinking, which I love. I don’t know of any other game that will do this. And you just blink it out. I only like to play like on the floor. And I like to play by myself sometimes just to get in this state and just find my three-card patterns. And just, it’s very flow. And I love it. I’m usually pretty good. The person that taught me, well I can’t remember if I ever beat them. They were amazing. So my husband and I play that, and I always win. But if we play this other game called Qwirkle, he always wins. And we can’t figure out why he’s always winning. I haven’t cracked the code on that game. But those two games to me seemed similar, like it’s tapping into some kind of thought trait that gives you an advantage in the game. And kind of like Poe, it’s picking apart ways of thinking in ways that we’re not usually picking them apart.
Carolyn Daughters 32:18
Right. Let’s use chess and whist as an example. I’ve never played whist …
Sarah Harrison 32:27
Maybe we’ll do some extended cut where we play whist.
Carolyn Daughters 32:31
There will be nothing more fun in the world than watching Sarah and me play whist.
Sarah Harrison 32:36
Carolyn Daughters 32:38
Chess is about what you see in front of you. And yes, being able to see in the future, but, again, based on what’s in front of you. And there’s this sort of like ingenious creativity Auguste Dupin has, in addition to his analytical ability, where he’s able to see beyond. For example, he’s able to mind-read. And the mind-reading isn’t some kind of clairvoyance, it’s based on the steps one takes on uneven stones and the smile that comes on one’s face as one’s thinking about something and the word one whispers as one’s walking. Auguste Dupin is noticing these sorts of things with the unnamed narrator, and he can “read his mind.”
Sarah Harrison 33:35
Yeah. The only thing close, I think, is sometimes we’ll walk through the house and my husband will make this little noise like “hmmm.” I hear this noise and I immediately ask, “What are you thinking about?” Because I know he’s thinking about a funny story. It’s usually something he saw in a movie. And it’s always wild and unrelated to anything going on. I’m always thinking, I know that noise!
Carolyn Daughters 34:13
It’s picking up on patterns. What Auguste Dupin does that is one step beyond that is he can see something somebody has never done before. They don’t make this utterance, this grunt, this groan, this “hmmm.” He’s able to extrapolate what that means, which truly seems a gift.
Sarah Harrison 34:41
I would say it definitely goes into the realm of fiction, but it’s close enough that when he explains it, you’re like, okay. It’s on the verge of credible.
Sarah Harrison 35:38
So, Auguste Dupin excels at the game of observation. We talked about how he’s able to access recesses of thought altogether inaccessible to ordinary men. We talked about how he’s able to read his friend’s mind as they walk the streets. How do you feel when people try to read your mind? How often are they right? How often are they wrong?
Carolyn Daughters 36:08
Tell me, Sarah, who thinks they understand what’s in your head? And how often are they right? And how often are they in left field?
Sarah Harrison 36:26
Most of the time, I’m shocked at the wrongness. I’m like, what?
Carolyn Daughters 36:40
Do you have an example?
Sarah Harrison 36:45
Earlier, I visited a tile store. The clerk didn’t even have to read my mind. I’m saying out loud, I don’t like tile that looks like wood.
Carolyn Daughters 37:02
To be fair, Sarah also doesn’t like tile.
Sarah Harrison 37:07
I don’t really care for tile. But I’m pragmatic. And there’s times when it’s the best choice for the job.
So, I’m saying I don’t like tile that looks like wood. And this woman goes, “I do. Let me show you this. Do you like it?” Well, you don’t have to read my mind there. I said it out loud, and you’re still not hearing me.
Carolyn Daughters 37:40
I’m feeling like this woman is not going to be one of our four listeners.
Sarah Harrison 37:44
I don’t think so. And if you are, I apologize. You’re out there doing your best. You’re doing your best, I’m sure. I was late, and you probably started out annoyed with me and my family.
Carolyn Daughters 37:56
So you were late. She expects you at a particular specific time, and you were not there at that specific time. However, when you made your your likes and dislikes known, and she’s like, cool, let me show you this wood tile, is she really doing her best?
Sarah Harrison 38:20
I usually think people are doing their best.
Sarah Harrison 38:39
That’s the thing. People think they’re gonna convince you and they’re like, “But have you seen …?”
Carolyn Daughters 38:45
Right. When I show you how amazing this wood tile is, you’re gonna completely change your mind on the potential of wood tile.
Sarah Harrison 38:56
I can’t say I’m immune to that human urge. A lot of people tell me they don’t like mayonnaise. And I’ll be like, “but I make my own and it’s amazing. You’ve got to try it.” And they usually like it.
Carolyn Daughters 39:10
I can’t understand not liking mayonnaise.
Sarah Harrison 39:19
You’ll love my mayonnaise.
Carolyn Daughters 39:21
I’m pretty sure I will.
Sarah Harrison 39:24
So good. It’s just straight olive oil, egg, salt, a little mustard. It’s good stuff. Anyway, tell me your answer. Who’s reading your mind correctly or incorrectly?
Carolyn Daughters 39:40
Very rarely is my mind read correctly. People have described my face as very expressive. It has been described as other things as well.
Sarah Harrison 39:53
Carolyn Daughters 39:54
Yeah. Lovely is at the top of the list, I’m sure. And also very expressive. So I often express what I’m thinking. If I’m feeling lighthearted, if I’m feeling angry, if I’m feeling sad, you can look at my face and be like, “got it.” However, in some cases, people think they know what is going through my head and they don’t. For example, I host a lot of parties.
Sarah Harrison 40:33
Carolyn Daughters 40:33
I do. And I am the best hostess from the perspective of “what do you need? Can I help you? Can I get that for you?” But I sometimes have trouble being part of the party. I’m always asking, “Can I get you a drink? Would you like a gin and tonic? Would you like a beer? Would you like wine? What would you like? What what do you need?” I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Are you stressed? Are you okay? You seem sad.” But I’m not sad. I’m like, “No. I just need to get you the gin and tonic you asked for. So if you just let me get that gin and tonic, and let me finish my gin and tonic, it will all be fine.” A lot of times people think because my face seems like the facial equivalent of an open book and they think they understand what I’m thinking and feeling.
Sarah Harrison 42:06
That’s funny. I’m similar and different in several ways. So I’ve cultivated this whole persona I call Sarah flat face. I use it all the time in my professional life, in science, whenever I’m starting a new job. I always start these jobs where I don’t know anything. I have no idea what’s going on. My skill is figuring it out. Rather than give anything away, Sarah flat face just asks questions.
Carolyn Daughters 43:03
So it’s a poker face?
Sarah Harrison 43:04
Pretty much. When you don’t know anything, you can’t come in acting like your question is insinuating that they’re doing something dumb. Or that you yourself are dumb for not understanding what’s happening. So I try to be as neutral as possible.
Sarah Harrison 43:50
Sometimes I’ll be like, “What are you saying?” But that’s not pragmatic. That’s not an effective way to get things done, to put people on the defensive. So Sarah flat face is always there to help me.
Carolyn Daughters 44:13
I like that it’s not a poker face. It’s a flat face.
Sarah Harrison 44:22
Maybe I don’t know enough about poker. Maybe I just like the concept. Have you seen those flat Matthews?
Carolyn Daughters 44:31
Sarah Harrison 44:34
They have these Flat Matthews. And some kid would have a paper doll that they would color and send to their uncle and their uncle would take them around and take pictures with them. “Look. Yeah, I’m a Flat Matthew. And I was like, I want a name like that. So, Sarah Flat Face. He’s flat because he’s actually flat. My face just reveals nothing.
Carolyn Daughters 45:15
I have a poker face.
Sarah Harrison 45:18
Does it reveal nothing? Or does it reveal the opposite of the truth.
Carolyn Daughters 45:20
It reveals nothing when I’m working at it. I look at the cards and I think, “oh my god, it’s a straight flush!” I shrug and I’m like “Hmmm. All right, I’ll meet the bet. And maybe throw in another blue chip or two.” Poker face.
So, say Auguste Dupin is your friend. He’s the main character in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” He’s also the main character in “The Purloined Letter” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Auguste Dupin is now your best friend. How do you feel around this guy who knows what’s in your head?
Sarah Harrison 46:16
Yeah, it’s kind of freaky. After that part in the book where Auguste Dupin picks up the conversation that the narrator wasn’t having. I would probably just ask him to do that all the time. “Do you know what I’m thinking right now?”
Carolyn Daughters 46:32
Like it’s a parlor game.
Sarah Harrison 46:34
Yeah. So I do this other thing, the reverse of what I was saying people do with me. I do like to put the pieces together. You pick up all the pieces, and then by Occam’s Razor, whatever the simplest solution is, is probably correct. Then you put together what’s happening in this situation. And I’m very often correct. I’m sometimes wrong, but I’m often right. And so I would probably be quizzing Auguste Dupin all the time to be like, how right are you and how often are you wrong? He’s freaky good.
Carolyn Daughters 47:21
Right. So if I’m remembering correctly, one example in the story is the woman who’s on the ground outside the building. The mother. And the police determined the culprit broke all her bones, but Auguste Dupin determines that the fall broke her bones. Why can’t the police see what Dupin sees? Because they’ve already decided the one thing, and once they land on it, it’s this fixed thing in their brain and then they springboard off of that fixed thing. Whereas Auguste Dupin is able to let information exist fluidly. He’s able to take all these different pieces and decide what’s right, what’s real, what makes sense, and what doesn’t. He can move them pieces around. He’s not sure that somebody did break her bones. He thinks the fall broke her bones. He’s able to ask those hard questions and put every piece of evidence on trial for its life.
Sarah Harrison 48:38
He’s coming to the situation without any assumptions. And this is a spoiler. So if you haven’t read the book …
Carolyn Daughters 48:53
Sarah Harrison 48:57
Most of the covers of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” show what happens.
Carolyn Daughters 49:05
The police are going in assuming that it’s a human. It’s a fair assumption that a human has committed the murder. Because murders are committed by humans. That dog in the backyard and that deer in the forest didn’t commit a murder, for example.
Sarah Harrison 49:26
I think it’s interesting to realize that the assumptions they started with weren’t stupid. A lot of times we are blind to what seems like a really basic assumption. And August Dupin is open to whatever. He starts with the nail in the window, trying to solve how all the doors were locked and the windows were closed. And so he starts with the latch and the window and branches out from there. And uses pretty much the same principles. These are the things that have to be true. How do they fit together? He’s a funny character. I’m looking forward to the next story. You said he’s in “The Purloined Letter” too, right?
Carolyn Daughters 50:17
Yes, Auguste Dupin is in three Edgar Allan Poe stories that are considered together the foundation of detective and mystery stories by many people, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Sarah Harrison 50:32
Which is cool. You know, I have one of these complete works of Poe books, but I hadn’t read it since high school, which is enough time to forget everything. So it’s like starting new.
Carolyn Daughters 50:50
Let’s talk a bit about the prefect of police. The story takes place in Paris.
Sarah Harrison 51:09
I haven’t been there yet.
Carolyn Daughters 51:13
Maybe on our one-year anniversary of the podcast we should go to Paris where it all begins.
Sarah Harrison 51:21
We should. Would you like to join us, listeners?
Carolyn Daughters 51:24
We can have a big party in Paris. I’m very good at throwing parties. Can I get you a cocktail, can I get you something to drink?
Sarah Harrison 51:34
That’s the other thing you made me think of. I like to have groups over, but I am a little stressy about it. And I’m not the social smoother in this situation. But my husband is …
Carolyn Daughters 51:46
He’s very good.
Sarah Harrison 51:47
I just send him about on errands. Nate is like Carolyn, but he’s less frazzled. He’ll get so involved in the conversation that he won’t think to get the drinks.
Carolyn Daughters 52:04
No, you’ve got to get the snacks. That’s why you and Nate are good together, right? He’s schmoozing, and you’re getting the drinks.
Sarah Harrison 52:13
Yeah, he’s the schmoozer.
Carolyn Daughters 52:14
And I’m having fun because it’s not my party. So the chief of police, the prefect of police. Auguste Dupin describes his intellect as too cunning to be profound. In his wisdom is no stamen. It’s all head and no body. He has attained his reputation of ingenuity, the way he has of denying that which is and explaining that which is not.
Sarah Harrison 52:42
I think he’s called a codfish. All head and shoulders. That came up in Bleak House, too. I remember they talked about someone who’s a codfish. And the nice thing is, in my copy of Bleak House there’s an index in the back where you can look up all these Victorian idioms.
Carolyn Daughters 53:08
The stamen produces pollen, right? So it’s all about fertility, like creative fertility. The police officer is the chess player. He can see what is in front of him, but he can’t see beyond what is in front of him.
Sarah Harrison 53:39
Well, I looked up the codfish idiom in in Bleak House, because I’m not fully satisfied with it. It was just saying this was like a dead fish, in shoulders like a dead fish and kind of absurd. I don’t know. I think there’s more to that idiom.
Carolyn Daughters 54:00
The prefect seems upset that Auguste Dupin has stepped in at all, and yet the wrong guy is imprisoned for this murder. Man, you’re pretty jealous when you’re like, “Whoa, you shouldn’t have stepped in because I don’t look as good,” especially when the wrong guy is in prison. I mean, this is a serious charge. He was charged with murder.
Sarah Harrison 54:27
Yeah. When I finished the book, I was like, what does he mean exactly? “Denying that which is and explaining that which is not.”
Carolyn Daughters 54:45
It has to fit into this box. He has this box that he has defined. This is what the crime is. These are the details of that crime. If it doesn’t fit into that box, it just goes outside the box because the box is now the holder of truth that he himself has created. And because he’s so invested in his own truth, he can’t step outside of his truth.
Sarah Harrison 55:12
It’s so interesting. We as humans do that all the time. You already have your framework, and if it doesn’t fit in your framework, then it’s probably it’s hard to assimilate.
Carolyn Daughters 55:34
Yes. If it doesn’t fit in to what you believe about the situation or the the world.
Sarah Harrison 55:41
I don’t even think it’s a bad character trait. I think it’s just a human character trait. It’s a thing that we do. If our framework is wrong, it’s so much harder to get it right, because we have to go back and break our frame and rebuild it rather than just putting something in the right place in an already correct framework.
Carolyn Daughters 56:04
And who does that? Who breaks and then rebuilds their frame?
Sarah Harrison 56:07
It’s usually a painful process. I think you have to be in this inspector’s position and be faced with some wrongness. That is when one thing I like about engineering processes. With engineering processes, I do feel like it’s a little bit easier when you’re wrong. You’ve made the part wrong, very often. You don’t have the right measurement. It doesn’t meet a specification. It doesn’t perform. Business process is a lot hazier, because there’s a lot of opinion. Is this more efficient? Or is that more efficient? Well, it depends. So I think there are certain ways that we avoid being confronted when our framework is incorrect.
Carolyn Daughters 57:04
But I would argue a lot of frameworks are flawed.
Sarah Harrison 57:08
Oh, I would say almost all of them. I don’t remember if it’s Einstein, but I feel like he’s one of the people that everything gets attributed to. So it’s probably not him. Anyhow, someone said, all models are wrong, but some are useful. You go, you go, you go, and you go to the point where your model works. And then it stops working. And you have to figure out why.
Carolyn Daughters 57:43
So all models are wrong, but some are useful. Being willing to entertain the possibility that what you are thinking is wrong, to go backward before you go forward? I have to say, from my perspective, it’s very hard.
Sarah Harrison 58:12
Yeah, it probably leads to a tendency to not state things too strongly. Sometimes I don’t always say things as strongly as I think because I’m like, “wow, I might have to eat that in five minutes.”
Carolyn Daughters 58:31
Because your thought processes are evolving.
Sarah Harrison 58:35
Right. And maybe I’ve just been wrong so much. So, so much. Now, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is the first locked room mystery. I didn’t realize when I read that a locked room is some kind of genre subtype?
Carolyn Daughters 59:00
It is. In the mystery genre, they figure out the crime by breaking into the room, whose door is locked. And there’s ostensibly no way into the room. How did somebody come into this room to murder this person and then lock the door on the way out? They’ve got to figure it out. In this story, maybe the murderer got out through the chimney, dragged this poor woman up the chimney as far as she could go, and then kept going? Well, the chimney starts at a normal width and then gets so narrow that not a cat could pass through it. So it can’t be the chimney. The door is locked. This other door is locked. The windows were locked. How did somebody get into this room? And that’s part of the puzzle. And the fun is figuring it out. And part of this genre involves bringing the reader in. The reader, in theory at least, is being told all the details as they’re emerging. In theory they are figuring it out along with Auguste Dupin.
Sarah Harrison 1:00:29
I know. That was good. I liked how Auguste Dupin figured it out and actually tested it again. Back to the testing, back to the experimentation. I always love those kind of parts.
Okay, so why does the narrator “give himself up to his wild whims with a perfect abandon?” Who is this guy? Is he even real? Tell me what you’re thinking there.
Carolyn Daughters 1:01:01
The quote’s from the beginning when they’re wandering the streets of Paris together.
Sarah Harrison 1:01:06
And they became a couple of night owls. That was interesting. One of the first things that struck me was how this friendship came up. They were in this bookstore. And it seemed like this guy was in town on business for some reason, and he would go to the bookstore.
Carolyn Daughters 1:01:29
The unnamed narrator.
Sarah Harrison 1:01:30
Yeah, the narrator. And he’d find Auguste Dupin there. And he found this friend. You met someone, but kind of casually, and you just have this instant feeling like we would be friends. First of all, before I go on, have you ever felt that, or am I just a weird person here?
Carolyn Daughters 1:02:00
No, if I’ve felt that. I don’t feel it all that often.
Sarah Harrison 1:02:07
No, not very often.
Carolyn Daughters 1:02:09
And in fact, I sometimes feel the opposite when I meet people. Like, I don’t get this person. I don’t like this person.
Sarah Harrison 1:02:19
I’m happy to hear you say that because earlier this evening, I came to the conclusion that I don’t like many people.
Carolyn Daughters 1:02:26
Yes, that’s a whole different podcast. It’s called Sarah Doesn’t Like People —
Sarah Harrison 1:02:33
Sarah and Carolyn Dislike People.
Carolyn Daughters 1:02:36
Oh, I like people. You just lumped me right in there.
Sarah Harrison 1:02:40
Okay, maybe I misunderstood what you said. At the beginning, you feel like you don’t like people.
Carolyn Daughters 1:02:45
At the beginning. Sometimes. Some people. My foundation, my baseline is you’ve got to be kidding me. And oh, hell no. And then over time, the person wins me over, and I’m like, oh, okay. So some of the people I’ve liked best — and to this day like best — I didn’t like all that much when I first met them. I’m constantly putting ideas in my head on trial for their lives. Is this the real deal? Is it not? I’ve got all the same flaws everybody else does. I tend, generally speaking, to not fix in time things that might be problematic down the road, whether it’s a political view or a view about a person I’ve just met. I’m like, everything’s on trial, and I’m constantly evaluating it and seeing what’s what. Things are moving up and down, shifting.
Sarah Harrison 1:03:49
I’m dying with curiosity now, because I remember when we first met.
Carolyn Daughters 1:03:54
Oh, tell me about that.
Sarah Harrison 1:03:55
Well, that’s what I want to know. Was I totally repugnant? Like, who is this person that Karl just hired?
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:05
I cannot remember when I first met you.
Sarah Harrison 1:04:10
You can’t? We went out to lunch together.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:12
Sarah Harrison 1:04:13
Yes, when I first got hired.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:16
Was it fun?
Sarah Harrison 1:04:18
Yes. I got hired at this job. And Carolyn was there as a freelancer. I was told that Carolyn gets along with the owner of this company extremely well and I should go learn how she does it. Figure out how she relates to him.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:41
Who told you this?
Sarah Harrison 1:04:42
The woman that hired me.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:46
Okay, so you were hired and told to go talk to Carolyn.
Sarah Harrison 1:04:54
Go have lunch with Carolyn. She’s a freelance contractor, she’s friends with the owner, she gets along with him great. Emulate what she does. So I was there to learn. I was trying to just glean what I was supposed to.
Carolyn Daughters 1:05:12
What did you glean? What did you learn?
Sarah Harrison 1:05:25
I don’t remember.
Carolyn Daughters 1:05:26
Oh, so it was memorable. It was heartfelt. It was impactful. That’s when I just heard. Am I in the ballpark? Actually, I don’t remember going to lunch with you.
Sarah Harrison 1:05:44
I was hoping to get some like dirt on myself. I don’t know. Carolyn, did you dislike me when we met?
Carolyn Daughters 1:05:52
No. I don’t dislike most people when I meet them. I don’t dislike most people, generally. There are people I dislike and even those people, I tend to cut them some slack. Because I understand things about them or whatever.
Sarah Harrison 1:06:16
I think that’s really nice. I think we all wish that from our friends. Someone to cut us a little slack.
Carolyn Daughters 1:06:25
There are a few people in this world where I’m like, “ooh, that person.” For the most part, Iit might not be a person want to hang out with all the time, but I don’t like actively dislike them.
Sarah Harrison 1:06:42
Okay, I guess we got a little sidetracked from our question.
Carolyn Daughters 1:06:46
What was the question?
Sarah Harrison 1:06:48
The narrator meets this guy, Auguste Dupin, in a bookstore. He thinks they’ll be instant friends. And eventually, after meeting in this bookstore, he tells him he thinks they’d be really good friends. And the guy invites him to move into his house.
Carolyn Daughters 1:07:04
“I think we’d be really good friends. You want to move in with me and hang out? We won’t leave the house during the day, and at night we’re gonna wander, just you and me.”
Sarah Harrison 1:07:12
So they became this kind of odd friends, and at first I was like, what? One of the things I like about old books is that I think not a lot has changed in human nature over the years, but I do think a lot has changed in the ways humans interact with each other. Friendship probably being one of those ways. I read these books. I’m like, was this weird for the time? Or was it believable? Would a traveler stay at somebody’s house? Because you read, and people do go stay at each other’s house for three weeks, six weeks, all summer? You know?
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:00
In a certain class, you could do that. In a certain class, you bounce from one place to the next.
Sarah Harrison 1:08:14
Yeah. I was reading this. Part of me was like, is this real or not real? But now I’m halfway through Bleak House. And there’s some really interesting friendship aspects there that are surprising. So I’m like, maybe that is a thing. Maybe people would form connections in this way and then move in and start this friendship. I don’t know. It was funny that your question was, “Is this guy even real?”
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:37
Is he real? Auguste Dupin came from money, we think, and maybe has less money now. But he’s not broke. He’s not living on the street.
Sarah Harrison 1:08:49
But he seems pretty poor, because they didn’t make a point of saying the narrator was paying for everything.
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:53
He’s poor, but he still has lodging and food and clothes. Poor people today should be so poor, right? So it’s all relative. And then it gets really interesting. So we have this unnamed guy telling the story. What do we know about this guy?
Sarah Harrison 1:09:17
How much he likes bookstores. He travels for business. Tell me what you’re thinking. Do you feel like he’s not actually actually real? Like he’s an imaginary narrator?
Carolyn Daughters 1:09:30
Yeah. So Gertrude Stein had a friend Alice B. Toklas. And Gertrude Stein writes, this book, this is the 20th century many years later, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It’s not written by Alice. And it’s not about Alice. It’s actually written by Gertrude Stein about Gertrude Stein. At some point in reading “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” I have to wonder, is this guy real?
Sarah Harrison 1:10:05
Really? Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t think about that.
Carolyn Daughters 1:10:08
He doesn’t seem to have a personality. All he seems to do is stand in awe, shock and awe and all of the stuff of Auguste Dupin. He records everything Dupin says, and he writes it down. And, dear reader, he’s going to share it with you. At some point, I think the reader has to ask, is this guy a device? Is Dupin writing his own story?
Sarah Harrison 1:10:37
I mean, wouldn’t it kind of fall apart though, the point where he reads the narrator’s mind? Because then he really hasn’t done anything interesting at all,
Carolyn Daughters 1:10:45
Unless he’s showing how bright he would be if he had a friend, which he doesn’t. And he read that friend’s mind,
Sarah Harrison 1:10:53
Right, if he made up a friend to read his mind. I guess that’s possible.
Carolyn Daughters 1:10:57
I feel like the narrator gives us a sort of bridge. So there’s this, what’s happening? Oh, my gosh, how is this working? Oh, my gosh, how did he figure this out? And the narrator gets to walk us through how the narrator or a normal person would figure this out. And if Auguste Dupin had written his own story, it might be more like, “Yep, I saw the room and instantly knew that this that and the other was the truth. I put a notice in the paper, found the sailor, pointed out the actual culprit, and moved on.” It allows ldrama and storytelling and all of the things that might be harder if we were telling your own story. “The next amazing thing that I did was … and another really cool thing that I did was …” So the narrator gives us this device. I’m not saying he’s not real, we don’t know.
Sarah Harrison 1:11:51
He’s certainly two dimensional in the story.
Carolyn Daughters 1:11:54
In the first three pages of my version, I don’t know how many pages of anybody else’s version of this one-hour read. Twenty minutes of the one hour read is this intro from the narrator about analytical abilities and creative abilities and ingenuity and being able to marry the two. And I’m like, is this the narrator’s thought, or is he now in Auguste Dupin’s mind? Does the narrator even have an independent thought?
Sarah Harrison 1:12:27
Well, that’s interesting, too. That’s a different take on it. Is he real, or is DuPont just telling his story. If the narrator should be considered real, then he’s just enthralled with what he does and who he is. I don’t know. People do get obsessed with other people, I hear.
Carolyn Daughters 1:12:56
So I’ve heard once or twice …
Sarah Harrison 1:13:01
Yeah, I don’t know. Does that come up in the next one? The Purloined Letter? Is it the same narrator?
Carolyn Daughters 1:13:09
Same narrator, yeah.
Sarah Harrison 1:13:10
Carolyn Daughters 1:13:11
Same unnamed narrator.
Sarah Harrison 1:13:14
Well, maybe we’ll learn nothing more or learn a little more.
Carolyn Daughters 1:13:19
Yeah. Well, we want to talk also, I think, a bit about how Auguste Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a forerunner to other detectives that we are going to meet this year as we’re reading. We’re all reading books together. You’re reading books with us.
Sarah Harrison 1:13:38
You’re reading them.
Carolyn Daughters 1:13:39
Sam Spade and Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, all of these detectives, and many others, are borrowing from this tradition that Poe is going to establish where there’s this guy who’s super quirky and eccentric. He’s outside society, he has this friend who has nothing better to do than follow him around and write down everything he says and does. And so I think that this is important. And then that the way the story is told, this person, the unnamed narrator, is going to tell the story in a way that, in theory, the reader can figure out what’s happening on their own. Like, what are your thoughts about these conventions as they’re going to apply in different ways to different books we’re going to read.
Sarah Harrison 1:14:42
For me, I’m kind of a blank slate in terms of conventions. I always think it’s super interesting when Carolyn can tell me that one of these things is that. I’, like, “Oh, really? A trope! Great.” I don’t know. Since I jumped from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” to Bleak House and then I’ll jump back to catch The Purloined Letter. Because Mr. Bucket is an actual detective.
Carolyn Daughters 1:15:13
In Bleak House, Mr. Bucket is an actual police detective.
Sarah Harrison 1:15:17
So he’s a little bit different there.
Carolyn Daughters 1:15:19
He’s not an amateur detective.
Sarah Harrison 1:15:20
I don’t know Sam Spade, who that is.
Carolyn Daughters 1:15:25
Sam Spade. So we meet him in The Maltese Falcon.
Sarah Harrison 1:15:29
Okay, I’ve watched the movie. By the way, there are many fine movies made of these books.
Carolyn Daughters 1:15:35
That’s a really good point. You still get you still get DVDs in the mail?
Sarah Harrison 1:15:37
I do. But those take like a month now.
I don’t own a DVD player.
I resent my computer for not having one. And I resent Best Buy for acting like I was dumb when I requested one. So I bought an external DVD player, so that I could still watch.
Carolyn Daughters 1:16:11
I have this subscription to Brit Box.
Sarah Harrison 1:16:15
I’ve heard of that.
Carolyn Daughters 1:16:16
I just started it when we started with this idea of a podcast a month, two months, or however long ago. And it has a lot of British-born movies, I believe, including Bleak House.
Sarah Harrison 1:16:32
Oh, that’d be cool. I can’t imagine making that whole thing into a movie.
Carolyn Daughters 1:16:37
Well, it’s a mini series. Gillian Anderson plays Lady Dedlock.
Sarah Harrison 1:16:43
I love her.
Carolyn Daughters 1:16:44
She plays Lady Dedlock.
Sarah Harrison 1:16:48
That’s very cool.
Carolyn Daughters 1:16:49
She’s very good.
Sarah Harrison 1:16:50
I want to watch some of these. I’m a Bela Lugosi fan, and there’s this Bela Lugosi movie of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
Carolyn Daughters 1:17:09
Auguste Dupin is setting the the sort of scene for how other writers are going to develop their main character.
Sarah Harrison 1:17:19
Is that how Sherlock has Watson. Does Watson write the stories?
Carolyn Daughters 1:17:23
Sarah Harrison 1:17:23
Okay. I had only ever read one.
Carolyn Daughters 1:17:27
Watson tells the stories. And Watson is there really as sort of a means of Sherlock Holmes telling what he thinks to some human being. So Watson’s there and Sherlock Holmes says, Hey, this is what’s going on. And you know, same with Hercule Poirot and Hastings, John [Arthur] Hastings. I don’t know his first name Hastings, where Hastings is this blank slate of big, wide-eyed curiosity. He has no idea what’s going on. And Poirot is constantly telling him what’s going on and why. And he’s sort of this vessel for communicating information out to all of us readers.
Sarah Harrison 1:18:14
So that caught on really quickly then, because we have Poe, and then my Bleak House, which is not that.
Carolyn Daughters 1:18:20
It not catch on quickly.
Sarah Harrison 1:18:22
Carolyn Daughters 1:18:23
Yeah, it did not.
Sarah Harrison 1:18:26
Yeah. I guess Poirot is pretty far in the future. I don’t have a sense of how far in the future Sherlock Holmes is.
Carolyn Daughters 1:18:33
Later in the century. And so it’s actually considered to have started really slowly. I think Poe was known in large part as a literary critic in the United States and known as a fiction writer in Europe — known best — and for a long time. You would think like, wow, these stories are so cool, The Purloined Letter or The Mystery of Marie Roget. These stories are so great that Poe must have had tons of imitators. But he didn’t. It took a while for it to catch on..
Sarah Harrison 1:19:13
All these are new to me. So I just keep thinking back to Mr. Bucket. And like how he and Mr. Turlington are all flat face, closed mouth. They just appear and disappear. No one knows what they’re thinking or why they’re doing what they’re doing. That’s really interesting. That’s cool.
Carolyn Daughters 1:19:36
And that brings us to how did Auguste Dupin solve the crime? And did you, reader, did you, Sarah, figure out who solved the crime without Dupin walking us through how he solved the crime? Is this solvable by somebody else who’s not Dupin?
Sarah Harrison 1:19:57
Oh, absolutely not. He has to walk you through the tests that he does. He tested this window and he found out this thing about this latch. Then he found out this thing about this latch. And I’m not there testing the latches, so he doesn’t really have to relate to me that part. I admit I probably would have had the same human bias that everyone else did that, no, it wasn’t an escaped orangutan.
Carolyn Daughters 1:20:27
Yeah. Would you have imprisoned — what’s the guy’s name — Le Bon?
Sarah Harrison 1:20:36
I don’t remember. But no, I don’t think so because there wasn’t any evidence for him. There was like no evidence.
Carolyn Daughters 1:20:42
Except that he had walked with the woman back to her house two or three days or something before the murder with the 4,000 francs. And so his name I think is Le Bon, which means good. So we’re tipped off that he’s not the guy.
Sarah Harrison 1:21:04
That’s clever. I hadn’t pick that up.
Carolyn Daughters 1:21:09
But he’s in jail. And I guess the police were like, we’ve got to punish somebody,
Sarah Harrison 1:21:14
But not the orangutan, which was interesting to me. When things ended, you know, there was an orangutan on the lose, and this guy probably wanted to sell him for money, and this other guy’s wrongfully imprisoned. And so they return the orangutan to the sailor. He sold him for some money. And all’s well that ends well, I was like, wait, there’s two brutally murdered women here. You didn’t put that orangutan down? I would have thought that would have been the next step.
Carolyn Daughters 1:21:50
So it gets to another question we have here on our list, which is at teatonicandtoxin.com. Moral responsibility. The prefect of police, the chief of police — what responsibilities does he have as a human being and as a chief of police to put the right guy in prison? And then the sailor, he’s sailing around. Where did he get this organgutan, Borneo?
Sarah Harrison 1:22:21
I don’t remember.
Carolyn Daughters 1:22:23
He’s a Maltese sailor who got this orangutan with a friend.
Sarah Harrison 1:22:28
They captured him out of the jungle, too.
Carolyn Daughters 1:22:29
They captured him out of the jungle with apparently no plan for what to do next. In fact, I’m just gonna lock him in the closet. I’m gonna go hang out in the bar with my friends. Everything will be fine. And so what responsibility does he have for taking this orangutan, putting him on the ship, and bringing him to to Paris.
Sarah Harrison 1:22:55
Apparently none. It was all well and good.
Carolyn Daughters 1:22:58
And when it’s brought up at some point that, okay, what’s going on with this orangutan. Well, he’s out of control or what have you. I think he’s got the razor, right? He’s trying to shave.
Sarah Harrison 1:23:15
Oh, yeah, he’s trying to shave, that’s right. Freaks him out.
Carolyn Daughters 1:23:19
And then the sailor … the way the language is so interesting. It’s something like, he pulls the whip out, which is what he had used to keep him under control. So basically, pulls this Ranga Tang, which is orang-otang, the orangutan. He pulls the orangutan out of Borneo, puts it on a ship, has no plan for controlling this wild animal, locks him in a closet so he can drink beers with his buddies. The orangutan tries to imitate the sailor by shaving. The guy pulls out the whip that the language suggests he has used in the past. What responsibility does this sailor have for pulling this orangutan out of the jungle, whipping it, and locking it in the closet? It gets free and suddenly it kills two women. I don’t know. I think there’s a bigger set of issues here.
Sarah Harrison 1:24:26
I wonder back in the day what laws even existed. I assume things would have been handled if that had happened.
Carolyn Daughters 1:24:41
I think so, yeah.
Sarah Harrison 1:24:45
It was probably a very rare case to have an orangutan. No one had anticipated what would happen if you had a killer animal on the loose. I felt like things didn’t end in a satisfactory way. Although it seemed as though it was written that it should have ended in a satisfactory way.
Carolyn Daughters 1:25:07
Right? So this guy Le Bon, he’s free. And he had done some service or favor to Auguste Dupin at some point earlier, and so Dupin feels like, okay, I owe this guy. I want to help this guy. There’s no money involved. So we’re going to see a different set of criteria in “The Purloined Letter,” where, in this story it’s not about somebody paying Auguste Dupin for solving this crime. It’s Dupin solving the crime. And really, he knows he can solve it. And he also knows the guy and feels like he owes him something. But yeah, for me it’s a troubling scenario, because this sailor guy basically goes scot free, right?
Sarah Harrison 1:26:08
Yeah, not just scpt free, e gets the money for selling the orangutan. The orangutan goes on with his merry life of imprisonment. And two ladies are dead. Whatcha gonna do?
Carolyn Daughters 1:26:23
That’s all. Yeah. Just it happens, right?
Sarah Harrison 1:26:27
Interesting. Things wouldn’t go down that way today. I’m not sure that the way things would go down today is the correct way, either. I think there’s plenty to be discussed about legal consequences and things like that.
Carolyn Daughters 1:26:41
Culpability, like how do you distribute culpability here? And then, Sarah, you also mentioned earlier in this podcast the cover of a lot of the stories and books give it away.
Sarah Harrison 1:26:59
Yes! I was looking for what copy of this book to get, and I would always see this orangutan on the cover. I was like, Oh, right. It wasn’t a human. That’s the twist. Thanks a lot. You know, everyone reads this for the first time, and you don’t have to give it away.
Carolyn Daughters 1:27:19
Right. I think that’s also part of an evolving convention. It doesn’t have to be given away on the poster or the front cover of the book. We can be taken by surprise by the ending versus told up front. We also wanted to talk a little bit about something that I’ve studied in my literature background or my education where there’s this concept of Chekhov’s gun.
Sarah Harrison 1:27:56
I saw that. But I can’t talk about it.
Carolyn Daughters 1:28:01
You can, and you will.
Sarah Harrison 1:28:03
After you tell me about it.
Carolyn Daughters 1:28:04
It’s how every element of the story contributes to the whole, so you don’t include a random character, and then the character just disappears. I mean, unless it’s, unless it’s Game of Thrones, in which case that happens. It does happen in some literature, but in a lot of literature the characters there are serving a purpose. They’re moving the thread forward. They’re helping other characters develop their own characters. They’re telling us something we can’t get from somebody else. You don’t just throw in a detail, like this scene has to be set in this amazing park, and then the park has nothing to do with anything. At least in 19th century literature this is the case and probably early in 20th century literature. That convention has been muddied in a lot of really interesting ways in the late 20th century and 21st century, but for a long time this was a convention. The convention of Chekhov’s gun. Chekhov wrote, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter, it must go off. “So the mystery story, the mystery novel is interesting because details are thrown in to obfuscate, right? They’re thrown in to make it difficult for the unnamed narrator, for Auguste Dupin, for the reader to know what matters and what doesn’t. You have to sort through the thing. This is not a chess game, it’s whist. You have to be able to read the room and understand what’s going on. The rifle is held up and displayed, and it may not ever go off. And it’s a concept often called a red herring. So we have 4,000 francs and two bags on the floor in an apartment where two women are murdered, and we’re like, ooh, 4,000 francs. That sounds like a lot of francs. To be honest, I have no idea in 1841 how much money that is.
Sarah Harrison 1:30:14
It seem like a lot though. They have to to carry it in bags.
Carolyn Daughters 1:30:18
I feel like it’s a lot. I feel like it’s a lot. Okay, so was that a motive for the crime? The crime is called outre, which is like “gross.” It’s bloody and it’s gross. We can’t find a motive for it. We hear these disparate voices. We hear a gruff French voice and a shrill — we don’t know what it is. And all these like Dutch, Irish, Italian, French, voices. Oh, I think it’s a French person. Oh, I think it’s an Italian person. They don’t know what it is. We see this messy room. But there seems no purpose for the chaos with somebody trying to steal fancy clothes. The money’s left behind. What do we make of all of these things? And so it’s messier and muddier than stories often, were in a really interesting way where you have to sort through the messiness of the story, like the messiness of a room, and figure out what matters and what doesn’t.
Sarah Harrison 1:31:30
It’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. Again, my brain goes to comparing it with Bleak House.
Carolyn Daughters 1:31:40
Tell me tell me how it compares with Bleak House.
Sarah Harrison 1:31:42
I don’t know. I haven’t read Bleak House before. Carolyn has. I’m going through it, and at first, I was like, Oh, the murder doesn’t even take place until page 176. And it just says he dies of an opium overdose. So there’s no body to page 176. And then I thought, like, no, wait, there was another death early on page 13. And now I just got to like the third death, which is on page 276.
Carolyn Daughters 1:32:13
This is on her copy of the book.
Sarah Harrison 1:32:17
Yeah. So I’m saying the numbers to give you a sense of how far through things are happening. Then I’m like, wait. But two other people died to make these other orphans. I’ve never met them. Is that even related. I’m constantly asking myself, like what is related in this humongous novel? What is even related or driving the story? And I even got to the point, before I talked to Carolyn, like, is this a murder story? Or is this just a mystery, like an origin story?
Carolyn Daughters 1:32:53
There are mysteries regarding origin in Bleak House for sure. Bleak House is hard to pinpoint is one thing, which is why it’s my absolute favorite Dickens novel. It’s so good. It’s hard to pigeonhole it into one thing. There is a mystery in it. And there is a police detective, Inspector Bucket. And he is considered by a lot of people to be a model of the police inspector in stories going forward. So they’re in part born of this inspector that Dickens creates.
Sarah Harrison 1:33:33
Yeah, I find myself thinking these thoughts, like, is this relevant to the story that maybe I don’t necessarily always think with just fictional stories. I don’t know that they’re driving to a particular place. In Poe, it’s so short lived that it’s not much of a distraction. There’s these 4,000 francs, and nobody took them. And all the windows were locked and the doors were locked and nothing makes any sense. We kind of give up.
Carolyn Daughters 1:34:08
Kind of. But if we’re reading more contemporary mystery novels, we believe that there’s a good possibility that the francs mean something. Were there more francs in the room and they left 4,000 behind? Were they so rushed in their departure that they left behind the reason they had come there in the first place? The locked room, how do they get in? How did they get out? We’re trained now to ask all of these questions in reading mystery novels. And in some ways I think Poe was teaching us to start asking those questions. He didn’t know he was doing this, but it starts themes and ways of telling a story that many writers are going to emulate for 170 years after.
Sarah Harrison 1:35:10
That’s cool. I like all these kinds of trivia tidbits and things that are going to blossom into things we’ll see in later novels.
Carolyn Daughters 1:35:21
We’re gonna see how people did this their own way. They made it their own and how we can argue did it better? Maybe did it worse, I don’t know. But how they took these ideas that Poe puts on the page and evolve it. And then whatever we’re seeing evolve there, we’re going to see it continue to evolve.
Sarah Harrison 1:35:47
Awesome. This was a long podcast. I just looked at the time.
Sarah Harrison 1:35:57
And I would love to hear if there are any listeners.
Carolyn Daughters 1:36:11
All four. There’s going to be at least four listeners.
Sarah Harrison 1:36:16
They can comment on the website. Or on social media.
Carolyn Daughters 1:36:37
Yes. Next month, we’re discussing “The Purloined Letter,” also by Edgar Allan Poe, also with the unnamed narrator telling the story of Auguste Dupin.
Sarah Harrison 1:37:00
Awesome. And then after that, Bleak House. So start now. That’s a long one.
Carolyn Daughters 1:37:04
Bleak House, yeah. “The Purloined Letter” is a good hour. Bleak House is long. We can’t we can’t pretend otherwise. But boy, I gotta tell you, it’s so good.
Sarah Harrison 1:37:27
It’s great. I have a lot of thoughts.
Carolyn Daughters 1:37:35
Yeah, it’s it’s big enough to warrant breaking into two parts. So you don’t have to stay up every night reading Bleak House, though feel free.
Sarah Harrison 1:37:46
Why wouldn’t you if you could? I would love to, but there’s a baby sleeping in my room.
Carolyn Daughters 1:37:51
Yes. Sarah has issues that I don’t have. And I’m still not staying up all night to read it. Honestly, I’ve read all Dickens.
Sarah Harrison 1:38:03
You’ve read all of them. Oh, wow. That’s impressive.
Well, I have no shortage of thoughts.
Carolyn Daughters 1:38:29
She has lots of thoughts. At present, I have zero notes and Sarah has four million pages of notes.
Sarah Harrison 1:38:42
A lot of notes. “The Purloined Letter.” Bleak House. Coming up. This was our first episode. We hope you enjoyed it. We enjoyed it.
Carolyn Daughters 1:38:50
And we hope you’re subscribing to our podcast. And also check out our website, which is www.teatonicandtoxin.com. That’s teatonicandtoxin.com. We also have a Facebook page @teatonicandtoxin and an Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin. It has been a pleasure, Sarah. This has been very fun.
Sarah Harrison 1:39:41
Thanks, Carolyn, I agree. I hope you agree. But if you don’t we have a strictly positive comment policy.
Carolyn Daughters 1:39:48
Yeah, if you don’t, we don’t want to hear about it.
Sarah Harrison 1:39:51
No garbage. Disagreement is fine.
Carolyn Daughters 1:39:54
Disagreement, yes. Other opinions, good. This has been fun.
Sarah Harrison 1:40:02
That’s what counts, our fun.
Carolyn Daughters 1:40:05
Yes, but your fun also counts.
Sarah Harrison 1:40:09
Carolyn Daughters 1:40:13
Okay, so I’m going to just come back around from what Sarah’s been sharing and say, you matter. You matter. Is that what you were trying to say, Sarah?
Sarah Harrison 1:40:27
Yeah. You matter.
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