The Purloined Letter Podcast
Welcome to The Purloined Letter podcast episode!
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” is one of the first detective stories. Set in Paris, the story features amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin and his unnamed sidekick, who narrates how Dupin solves what Poe called “perhaps the best of my tales of ratiocination.” The story, published in 1844, is an excellent mystery, minus the Gothic horror of “Rue Morgue.” Together, Poe’s stories form the foundation of the mystery story as we know it.
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Purloined Letter Podcast Transcript
Sarah Harrison 0:00
Welcome to Tea, Tonic & 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 0:15
and I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea or a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:15
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:15
and join us on a chronological journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:16
Carolyn, what are we talking about today?
Carolyn Daughters 0:16
Today we are talking more about Edgar Allan Poe in today’s Purloined Letter podcast. The Purloined Letter is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It’s one of three short stories starring his protagonist C. Auguste Dupin, an amateur detective who lives in Paris.
Sarah Harrison 0:16
Awesome. Do we have a sponsor today?
Carolyn Daughters 0:23
We do have a sponsor. Our sponsor today is CarolynDaughters.com. Because I’m Carolyn Daughters, I will tell you, my team and I lead brand strategy workshops. Teach persuasive writing engine courses are day long courses and we also provide marketing consulting for small businesses in Denver and nationwide.
She’s really good. I have actually worked with her. We met through work. I’m giving Carolyndaughters.com a thumbs up for all your marketing needs.
So, let’s start our Purloined Letter podcast discussion. “The Purloined Letter” is theoretically a quick read. If you read it from beginning to end, we’re talking about an hour.
Sarah Harrison 1:49
I did feel like it was quicker than “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But maybe I’m wrong. Am I wrong? Was it quicker?
Carolyn Daughters 0:20
It’s different. And I want to explore why that is. This story stars a character we saw in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” C. Auguste Dupin, and his unnamed narrator, his buddy who lives with him and hangs out with him.
It has been, like, seven years, since “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” where they had just met. Now it’s seven years later, and they’re still just hanging out. [Our Murders in the Rue Morgue podcast episode preceded this Purloined Letter podcast episode.]
They’re smoking in the evenings. They’re quiet and reflective. And they sit in their sitting room, and one day the inspector comes in and presents a mystery to them. He’s called Monsieur G——, the prefect of the Parisian police.
Sarah Harrison 2:25
That’s a weird thing. All these novels just have a first letter and a line that follows it. What’s the deal with that?
Carolyn Daughters 2:29
In the 19th century, the novel is meant to be a form that was true. You were supposed to tell true and real stories. If you use an initial and have a line after it, then the idea is that, even though this is fiction, you’re protecting an identity of a real person. If a novel is real and true, then we can’t just throw all of these names onto the page because that would be a terrible thing to do. We’d be exposing a lot of people. It’s as if we’re protecting identities and we’re also even protecting the year when it happened. We learn the story starts in the autumn of 18–, so somewhere between 1801 and 1844 when the story was written. The story launches with G– coming in the door and presenting this case to the only person he can think of who is a consulting detective, Auguste Dupin. In this story, we’re going to see a lot of really interesting conventions that I personally find fascinating. We know what happened, and we know who did it.
That was really interesting. What I was thinking about in terms of a mystery story, is that we’re starting at the beginning. I like doing that. Things are still finding their groove, and writers are experimenting. Kind of like we are with this Purloined Letter podcast.
Exactly. And there is still a mystery. Edgar Allan Poe does something many authors are going to do in the future. He’s maybe the first among the first. He’s going to say there is still a mystery, but it’s not the mystery, you think. We don’t have to figure out who stole this letter. We don’t have to figure out what this letter says. We want to figure out where it’s located. Poe dispels all those other potential mysteries right off the bat by having G– tell Dupin and the unnamed narrator, “This is the deal. This is what happened. This the letter was stolen.” And now we’re left wondering how we find this letter.
Sarah Harrison 6:57
We have at least 12 different questions about this story. And I know there’s more, because each question has like five sub-questions.
Carolyn Daughters 7:05
Yes, we actually came up with about 142 questions. And I found a way to lump them into 12. You can find these questions on our Purloined Letter podcast page on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Each story or book we discuss in our podcast has its own page. And on that page, we include information about the book.
Sarah Harrison 7:29
There are lots of places to weigh in on the website. We would love to hear what you have to say. One of the things I was super struck with in reading this story is that the narrator, who is basically Dupin’s roommate, seemed so condescending toward the inspector. From the opening paragraph onward.
Carolyn Daughters 8:33
Let’s read it. “At Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18-, I was enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in company with my friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or book-closet, au troisième, No. 33, Rue Dunôt, Faubourg St. Germain.” He goes on to say, “We gave him a hearty welcome; for there was nearly half as much of the entertaining as of the contemptible about the man, and we had not seen him for several years.”
And that’s just the beginning. The narrator is pretty condescending towards the guy. s I was reading the story, I was like, well, what makes you better? The narrator would throw in these questions, and Dupin would disagree with him and set him straight. And then the narrator just goes off and solves the mystery without the narrator’s help at all. I was like, Well, it seems to me like our unnamed narrator is feeling superior without actually being superior. I was wondering if people do this generally? The answer is probably” yes.” Maybe the question should be: When do we feel ourselves more knowledgeable based more on our associations than on our actual knowledge?
That’s a great question. I’m so glad we’re discussing this in our Purloined Letter podcast episode. So like these two guys are on the fourth floor. Because the first floor is zero. The higher up you go in a building, that probably means the less money you’ve got. This is not a penthouse suite. They’re just sitting there. They’re smoking. They’re meditating. They’re in the little back library. They’ve got time on their hands. Neither of them seems to work. Dupin seems like a dilettante. And then the narrator seems like the dilettante’s friend. What would you call that? A hanger on?
Sarah Harrison 11:06
I don’t know. He’s just this adoring, trailing after him, raving type.
Carolyn Daughters 11:14
The narrator doesn’t even seem to have a personality. He doesn’t seem to have interests of his own. He just seems in lockstep, really, with Dupin. And by virtue of that, he seems to think, well, Dupin is obviously intellectually superior, so by extension, or connection, I’m also intellectually superior.
Sarah Harrison 11:50
I wasn’t seeing any sort of justification for how the narrator was writing about himself. And so, whenever I am critical of someone, I’m like, well, Sarah, how do you do that? And I’m like, Well, I probably do that a lot myself. And if I do that a lot, maybe all humans do. Or maybe I’m a worse than average human, if that’s possible as well.
Carolyn Daughters 12:17
So this really smart guy says hey, you can not only be my friend, but we can live here together, and we will spend every waking minute together. We’ll keep weird hours and at night, we’ll wander the streets. We discussed this in our Murders in the Rue Morgue podcast, and I think it’s worth discussing in this Purloined Letter podcast as well. Or just sit and meditate and smoke. And the narrator thinks that, by extension, because he was chosen by Dupin to be his friend, he must also be amazing. As you pointed out, there’s nothing the narrator ever figures out on his own. The narrator doesn’t seem a jot brighter than the inspector.
Sarah Harrison 13:02
He just asked basic questions. I think, well, I’m friends here with Carolyn, so sometimes I think I know a little bit more about marketing than I actually do know. I guess, in a sense, you do have a level of insight that you maybe wouldn’t have without these associations.
Carolyn Daughters 13:43
You’re around somebody who knows something. And by extension, you’re like, I feel like I’m in this inner circle. But then the danger comes in, right? You attach yourself to the superstar who’s smarter than everybody else. And by extension, you’re part of that circle. You’re one of the bright ones. And Mr. G– marches in, and he’s entertaining. He says “entertaining, but not contemptible.” Just somebody to laugh at. You don’t take him seriously. You don’t respect him or his knowledge, and yet he seems to know exactly as much or maybe even more than the narrator.
Sarah Harrison 14:45
I always like questions that make me evaluate my self-perception and question it, I suppose. Like not giving myself more credit than I deserve or more insight than I really have. Like, okay, I have this little weak tidbit of knowledge, but that doesn’t make me an expert by association. I guess that drew me in.
Carolyn Daughters 15:15
Now, if I were living in Paris at the time of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and I hung out with them and Gertrude Stein, I might think pretty highly of myself whether I’d earned it or not. I might not be able to write three words in a row that made any sense, but I still might think that I must be amazing because I’m friends with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. I would hope that that wouldn’t be the case. I would hope that I wouldn’t be like that. But you could see how somebody could be like that.
Sarah Harrison 15:48
Well, and how do you not be like that? Because, really, what mechanisms do we have to value where we’re at in a continuum?
Carolyn Daughters 16:02
So, Sarah, when we started this Purloined Letter podcast episode, you mentioned that this story felt easier to read or faster to read.
Sarah Harrison 16:16
At the beginning, it did.
Carolyn Daughters 16:23
That is a very common response from people who’ve read “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and then next read “The Purloined Letter.” I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts about the Murders in the Rue Morgue podcast episode and this Purloined Letter podcast episode.
Sarah Harrison 16:38
What about the story felt more accessible to you? Was it that you had read a Poe story already?
Sarah Harrison 16:54
That’s what I thought at the beginning, I thought, Oh, well, reading that last one put me in the right headspace to just get the flow sooner. But then I hit the middle. And I was bogged down in the swamp of language again, which I don’t say in a negative way at all, because it’s excellent language. If anything, I think the problem is my own. So it definitely had a different flow, but it still had challenging moments. What was your take on that, Carolyn?
Carolyn Daughters 9:59
In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” it felt like the most challenging part launched the story. Here, we started with, two guys hanging out and greeting a guest. We were hit with a lot of dialogue, and dialogue, generally speaking, is easier to follow, I think. And Poe was a smart guy, right? So when he gets into the thought processes of how Dupin’s brain works, it’s easy for me to get lost in that a little bit. Whereas dialogue launches “The Purloined Letter.” I’m going to argue that this is an easier entry point. You can become psychologically invested in the story so that when you get to the denser part, you don’t abandon it. Whereas some readers could potentially abandon “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” because they feel the story is impossible to understand.
The way we’re talking about the story in this Purloined Letter podcast episode feels very different from The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The stories feel so different. Was that a calculated move on Poe’s part to start with dialogue and get his readers invested?
That’s a great question. I don’t know a lot about the biographies of writers per se. And I don’t know a lot of what steered a writer one direction or another in their writing. That, I think, would be a great thing to know, because the two stories feel so very different.
Sarah Harrison 19:15
Well, I’m glad it wasn’t just my imagination. And it would be really cool if it was on purpose. Without that deeper literary knowledge, I’m just a book lover. But I go in there and I think well, this is your own ineptitude, Sarah. But then the fact that the float changed and if Poe’s actually doing this on purpose, perhaps in response to feedback, well, that adds an extra level for me. Maybe it’s not entirely my own ineptitude. It’s broader humanity’s ineptitude.
Carolyn Daughters 11:30
One of the questions in this Purloined Letter podcast episode has to do with the story’s flow. Sarah this particularly intrigued you. You noted that “Murders in the Rue Morgue” started out dense but then got easier to read, whereas “The Purloined Letter” started out simple but then got dense. Was it intentional? In other words, was Poe attempting to set up the two stories this way? Or was it was all the same to him? Because he’s a super intelligent guy. And he was telling story the way he wanted to tell it. And you also have a quote here from Jane Austen, who said, “I do not write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.” Talk about what do you mean here.
Sarah Harrison 19:52
To me, that quote was a bit of insight into the fact that maybe Jane Austen knew that her writing could be fairly complex. And she was unapologetic about it. That’s where I’m always wondering, are authors doing this on purpose? Or is this just the way people talked back then? And if they’re doing it on purpose, I go on to be like, well, that’s not how writers write anymore.
Carolyn Daughters 21:26
So stories today don’t feel like they have that level of complexity?
Sarah Harrison 21:29
Yeah. In general, people are like, your novel needs to flow with your writing needs to flow. And if you get down to like a journalism level, it’s extremely intentional. I remember from my journalism classes, it was very slick. You do not write above an eighth grade level, that is the rule. You structure your paragraphs with the most important sentences at the beginning, then the middle, and then the end is just repetitive, and it doesn’t matter if people trail off or don’t finish. That’s the style that’s taught. I wonder if there’s any space for an Edgar Allan Poe today to write? Or would he just be so clunky that he would be dropped immediately? What are your thoughts since you are actually a writer?
Carolyn Daughters 22:22
I think his style would probably more closely reflect the style of the age in which he was living. So if he were living today, he would be just as smart, but he would probably write differently. Keep in mind, also, he is one of the guys figuring out what a short story looks like. It’s not to say that people didn’t write short stories before Poe. But he’s one of the forbearers of the form. He’s figuring it out. In this day and age, the short story is a common form. Because he’s Edgar Allan Poe, he would have the depth and breadth of all of the short stories that had been written in the last 170, years and he would bring that to bear on whatever stories he would write. I think it helps to go into Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories knowing that they’re complicated, I think you need that headspace like, this is going to be a bit of work, but it is valuable and worthwhile. I think it’s helpful to go in with that thought. Using Jane Austen as an example, I would tell my students that she is one of the funniest writers in the world. Honestly, I laugh throughout Jane Austen. And there are people who read Jane Austen and didn’t laugh one time. My belief is that they didn’t know it was funny. But if you go in understanding that it’s funny, then you can be poised and ready to recognize and embrace the funny when you see it. But if you’re not looking for it, it just escapes you.
Sarah Harrison 24:26
Is there a writer that you can think of, maybe a successful modern writer today, that is writing with the level of complexity that Poe did?
Carolyn Daughters 14:26
That is that’s a tough one. I’d have to think about that. I believe the answer is probably yes. In fact, I feel like there is a short story writer that I introduced to a book club 10 years ago. [Lorrie Moore, Birds of America] Her stories are incredible. We were going to read the book of short stories for the book club. And I was the only one who in the book club who read them. They said, I couldn’t even get through one. There are books where it takes some effort to get through them, but it can be worthwhile when you do. Also, this is part of the 19th century form to some degree. I mean, some people find Dickens very complicated, for example. Comparatively, I think he’s easier to read than Edgar Allan Poe,
Sarah Harrison 15:05
Well, Dickens was another one that kind of trips me up. You start reading Bleak House. And there’s an objective narrator. That part was pretty dense. I found myself rereading, which is how I know that it’s was dense. But then when you get to the part where Esther’s talking, and it just flowed right along. And I said, oh, Dickens is doing this on purpose. [Our Bleak House podcast episodes will follow this Purloined Letter podcast episode.]
Carolyn Daughters 26:42
That’s a great point. Every author we’re reading is talented enough to be very intentional with what they’re putting on the page. We’re not reading “fly by night, threw together a manuscript and somehow it’s in print” kinds of authors. We’re reading ones who knew full well what they were putting on the page and how people were going to respond to what they were writing. A case in point would be Bleak House, which has two forms of narration in it. One is first person, Esther Summerson. And she’s much easier to read than the omniscient narrator who narrates the other parts of the book. We can presume the same with Poe, keeping in mind that he’s helping to create this form. First of all, there’s not a rich body of detective stories that he’s borrowing from, for one thing. And for another, he’s playing with the short story form, generally. So he’s doing a lot of heavy lifting. And he probably had intention with regard to his voice, but, still, he’s the smartest guy in the room. He’s gonna write the way that he writes.
Sarah Harrison 28:12
Yes, maybe people aren’t writing like Poe. And it might also cost them some commercial success. I think it did cost Poe a little bit too. He wasn’t as wildly successful as Dickens.
Carolyn Daughters 28:39
I think Poe’s detective stories were much more popular in Europe. He’s experimenting with forms and he’s obviously experimenting with language and with characters. This idea of the narrator friend who follows him everywhere he goes and dutifully records every single detail of the case — we’ve seen that convention over and over again since. He’s doing incredible amount of work here. But then we get to another the questions that we had, which is his vocabulary, which is quite complex.
Sarah Harrison 29:19
I looked up some words. Listeners, if you have not read the story yet, you can still listen to this Purloined Letter podcast. This is an educational hour. I mean, I went in thinking, I’m ready. Let’s do this. There’s a lot for me to learn from Poe.
He just starts off with meerschaum. It’s some kind of opium drug or a type of clay used and pipe making. I was like, wow. And then there’s “ratiocination.” Am I saying that right? Ratiocination?
Carolyn Daughters 30:05
Ratiocination. It’s not a common word.
Sarah Harrison 30:08
It’s the process of exact thinking or reasoned train of thought. And “admeasured” was killing me. I was like, how is that different from “measured”? So I looked it up, and it was different. I’m a huge word lover. If you think of measured versus admeasured, it’s very specific, especially around like the dimensions of a vessel. When I apply that to how they were using it, which was about intellect, and then you’re thinking about your intellect as the dimensions of a vessel, it’s perhaps a volume, it’s predetermined.
Carolyn Daughters 31:14
The word usage brings a level of nuance that you don’t get if you just say “measured.”
Sarah Harrison 31:26
So then that’s where my brain went with this is. Are we losing a level of nuance? I sometimes will get this criticism, like, why would you say this word when you can just use that word?
Carolyn Daughters 31:40
Sure. It can sound pretentious, right?
Sarah Harrison 31:43
It can. Like you’re trying to talk over someone, but maybe you’re just trying to speak precisely.
Carolyn Daughters 31:50
So how do we determine the difference? Say someone asks about “The Purloined Letter,” and you say, “Ratiocination is important in the story.” At what point are you being precise in your language, and at what point are you pretentious?
Sarah Harrison 32:25
I would say this question before that question. Maybe before you get to the knife’s edge there. I don’t think as a society we’re close to that yet. It doesn’t have to be a big word, one of the ones that gets used in my daily life a lot is “use” and “utilize.” And other people ask why you would use “utilize” when you can just say “use,” like they’re synonyms. The main thing is, “utilize” has a different definition. But when we have an idea, maybe subtleties and nuances are important.
Carolyn Daughters 33:08
Maybe communicating an idea is the most important thing. There’s a manner of speaking that can feel pompous, or like, Hey, I’m trying to make a point about how smart I am. Maybe in some cases, someone’s just trying to use the right words. I mean, this is the Purloined Letter podcast — even the word “purloined” can seem pretentious, right?
Sarah Harrison 33:38
Right. In the moment, we have to make a decision. Like, they’re just being pompous. My question is from the other side. Are we losing the ability to communicate well because we don’t want to sound pompous or be taken that way. Or is that a totally unfounded fear?
Carolyn Daughters 34:14
I have this question a lot for myself. When I’m talking, I often in my head before I speak change the words so that they’re easier to consume.
Sarah Harrison 34:29
Carolyn Daughters 34:30
I do that because I don’t want to seem pretentious. But I also sometimes feel like I’m treating my audience like they’re not very bright, though I’m surrounded by very bright people. So why am I trying to make my language more accessible and easier to digest?
Sarah Harrison 34:55
There’s consequences to that if you go back to kind of the newspaper article style. If you’re writing for an eighth-grade audience, great. Then someone with an eighth-grade education will get what you’re saying. If someone has a much higher level of education, you’re just talking down to them. And the price of that is maybe we don’t learn how to talk at that level if we’re always busy talking down to everyone.
Carolyn Daughters 35:36
These are the sorts of questions we grapple with. And really, they’re born of these kinds of stories that make us think. Let’s talk for a second in this Purloined Letter podcast about something we mentioned, which is — the mystery is kind of strange. We know who stole the letter. We know what happened. We never find out the names because they’re always a letter with the dashes. And we don’t find out what the letter says. The mystery ends up being about this other thing entirely, which is where is the letter?
Sarah Harrison 36:28
Where’s the letter? I thought it was cool. Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought he did imply what was in the letter. It’s something from her lover that she’s keeping secret from her husband? I don’t know, was she the queen? She seemed like she must have been the queen. An insanely large reward and a political consequence. What other woman had that much power in the 1800s?
Carolyn Daughters 37:11
She’s a high-class woman in the government or the queen or a member of royalty or something like this. I always think mysteries are interesting this way. So there’s a contemporary mystery, which is a brilliant story by Donna Tartt called The Secret History. And in The Secret History, I think it’s on page one, it could be paragraph one, but certainly on page one, she basically tells you that Bunny, one of the main characters in the story, is dead. So you’re thinking, okay, you’ve already told me the guy dies. She also for the most part tells you who did it. So then the question becomes: how did this happen? I like when a writer tells you a few things to intrigue you and then points you in the direction of the real mystery. And the real mystery doesn’t have to be a full-fledged whodunit. Sometimes when you really have a super smart story, it’s about how this thing happened. And in this case, Edgar Allan Poe is really giving us the launching pad for this. Where is this letter? It’s not about who is robbed. It’s not about figuring out who robbed her. It’s not even about the exact content of the letter. We never get to read that letter, even though we have a general idea of what’s in it. It’s about where is the letter?
Sarah Harrison 39:16
I thought that was built up really cleverly. Poe walks you through the logic. The narrator’s asking these questions, and they turn out to be the wrong questions, because he’s not as great as he thinks he is. But they working through these questions. And like, logically speaking, you’re like, that guy has to have a letter. It has to be close at hand. But where? So you were mentioning that that concept is kind of foundational is that, what you were talking about in Donna Tartt’s story, or are there other things that are foundational here too?
Carolyn Daughters 39:56
For sure, but the idea of hiding in plain sight takes us to our next question I want to cover in this Purloined Letter podcast episode. Dupin talks about this game played on a map, where one player picks a city or a river or some major landmark on that map, secretly. In their mind, they know what it is, they might even write it down on a sheet of paper to prove it later. And then the rest of the players have to guess what that thing is, that landmark that was chosen. The smaller thinkers, the ones that are not as experienced and who really aren’t as savvy as some, end up choosing these very small print map items, like a tiny little creek that runs through a tiny little town. And the more experienced players choose the big cities and the big rivers and the large print places, because they’re excessively obvious and therefore people don’t see them.
Sarah Harrison 41:02
Yes! I wanted to talk about that in this Purloined Letter podcast. People don’t always see the excessively obvious. It’s hidden in plain sight.
Carolyn Daughters 41:13
This is a theme in the story where G– comes in, the inspector, and he needs help. He and his guys have torn apart this guy D–‘s place. They’ve torn about apart the neighbors’ places. They’ve looked in every nook and cranny. They’ve gone everywhere. They did things that I didn’t even know were possible in that day and age. Like, under carpets and in walls.
Sarah Harrison 41:47
They’re talking about, like, the rung on the back of a chair and hollowing that out. I didn’t think about it, but I guess back in the day, maybe there were no safe deposit boxes or places to keep things. People were hiders. And the police were really expert at finding hidey holes.
Carolyn Daughters 42:07
As the inspector describes it, they’re using fine, long needles, they’re using microscopes. When I was reading this, it never occurred to me anybody was doing this kind of investigation in the early 20th century, let alone in the 19th century. And the inspector can’t figure it out. He says, it’s got to be here, it must be somewhere accessible so that D– can get it quickly in case he needs to use it to his advantage. So it’s not as if he stored it in another town. It has to be very close at hand. But he can’t figure it out. That idea that something is right in front of you, and we don’t see it, I think that idea is really comes to the fore in this story, and becomes a very popular theme in mystery and thriller novels since.
Sarah Harrison 43:09
That’s cool. We’ll look forward to more of that. I think that’s probably a theme of living, as well. But one of those thing that we will be blind to, something right in front of our faces that we don’t see. Poe really ascribes a lot of it to a type of intellect. He has these long discussions of intellects and their types and how they work. I don’t know if he’s right or not. But it’s certainly interesting to think about.
Carolyn Daughters 43:41
It gives you a little window in the Edgar Allan Poe’s brain.
Sarah Harrison 43:46
This Purloined Letter podcast episode is giving me a window into his brain for sure. And again, it’s one of those things is well worth thinking about. We don’t usually think about intellect in those sorts of ways. Those types of things that he is thinking about. And again, after a while, after a period of research, things aren’t new anymore. They fall into these habits or ruts. And maybe that’s something in plain sight, as well. You look back at this and say, wow, there’s just a totally different way of looking at something then than we ever do.
Carolyn Daughters 44:19
Also, Dupin knows his opponent, right? It’s this guy D–. If this is just your average everyday opponent, if this was the narrator, I’m sure it would have been very easy for anybody to find what the narrator would hide. No offense, narrator. But when you’re working against somebody with significant intellect, you’ve got to think like they think, and if this were a game being played on a map, D–, the guy who stole the letter, is an experienced game player. This is a guy who hides in plain sight. He’s a super smart guy. You have to know who you’re up against. You don’t have to pull out all the big guns if you’re working against somebody who’s not as exceptionally bright as your adversary or the adversary in “The Purloined Letter.”
Sarah Harrison 45:20
He was mentioning making this intellectual leap.
So it’s like, you’re gonna hide something. And you’re looking for hidey holes, and you’re the inspector G–, you just become so excessively good at finding all the hidey holes. It was an intellectual leap to put it in plain sight. One of the games he brought up is an even and odds game with the marbles. It’s a game, but all the game is, is basically guessing what your opponent is going to do next. So this is funny. Just a brief aside form our Purloined Letter podcast episode — I didn’t know if it’s still a game, so I looked it up. And apparently it’s in Squid Game, a Korean show. There’s a junior high student giving a tutorial on how to play even and odd marble game. I listened to her give this tutorial from Squid Game. We still call it even and odd, and it’s a marble snatching game. It sounds exactly like this. Maybe I’ll put the link up if you want to. I thought it was really cool. And you might want to play it and see how you admeasure your opponent’s intellect.
Carolyn Daughters 47:00
Part of this is the reading of microexpressions on faces. Is that right?
Sarah Harrison 47:06
That was fascinating. That sent me down a googling hole also. There’s this kid — and I wondered like, is this kid you? Was this you as a kid? Was he remembering his childhood? But what the kid said was he wins by mirroring his opponent’s face. And then he knows what he’s thinking. And I was like, wait a minute, that clicked a little something in my brain. I was like, isn’t that correct? So I started googling, mirroring and mirror neurons. Essentially, I’m no expert in this. I’m not a biologist. But it is a thing that we do. But mirror neurons weren’t discovered until the 1990s. So that he was talking about this concept. I was like, whoa. Either he was very at the forefront or it’s just one of those things that were known but had not been discovered yet. What was your take on this mirroring, intellect measuring bit?
Carolyn Daughters 48:17
All of that I find fascinating. And I’m not going to pretend I understand it. But I do like the idea of reading microexpressions on people’s faces. Card players must do this, right? Some people are able to see evena subtle twitch or the way people respond to something. And then they almost know what that person is thinking. Or it’s a game of choice, left, right, white, black, marble, or what have you. To me, that’s fascinating for even a child to be able to do that. Some people have that skill. And certainly some people don’t have it or have it to some degree and hone it over a long period of time. I love that idea of Dupin having the skills. But over time, his job, from what I can tell, aside from smoking and meditating, seems to be studying people and human nature. He likes to walk the streets at night and see what people are doing. And I guess the more you do that, the more that is your job, the more you become an expert at that job.
Sarah Harrison 49:40
I like that a lot too. We were watching a documentary last night, and the documentarian was interviewing someone. And you’d see their commentary and then it would always cut back to the documentarian’s face. And you could you could tell she’s trying not to have a facial expression, but you knew, like, she’s not buying that one. Or she’s really empathetic on that one. And that one she’s trying to look like she doesn’t have an opinion. Which I think we talked a little about bit last time. I’m interested in reading microexpressions, but I’m also interested in trying to have none. When I’m Sarah “flat face,” then I want to be impervious to the Dupins of the world.
Not even an eyebrow twitch.
Right. Like, What is she thinking? That’s my goal. I don’t know if I’m accomplishing it. But I try.
Carolyn Daughters 50:39
Interestingly, thought I understood Dupin from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Like, I got him to the degree one can. I’m not as smart as Dupin, but I thought I understood him. And then the Dupin here is so interesting. He ends up making quite a bit of cash. I did some research and I got nowhere it was a rabbit hole of craziness. I couldn’t figure out what this amount of money was in the day and age that he was living? But it seemed pretty large.
Sarah Harrison 51:18
The inspector implied the reward was extremely large. And whatever he gave Dupin, like 50,000 francs, was like a small portion of it, but enough for Dupin to be like, Give me that.
Carolyn Daughters 51:33
In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” we heard that Dupin was not as well off as maybe he had been at another point in his life. And maybe the same with the narrator. Like they’re a little bit down and out, but not so down and out that they have to take a job. They can hang out all day. But he seems motivated by money in a way that he wasn’t in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” And then also a little revenge. We learn that he has a past with this guy, D–, who purloined the letter. What I wrote here is “money, money, money with a side of revenge.” This was a new side of Dupin. So I was like, okay, he’s more complicated than I gave him credit for.
Sarah Harrison 52:21
That was interesting, too. And again, that’s something that came up in Bleak House. It’s a different way than we work today, which was giving the police rewards. Like in Bleak House Inspector Bucket is on the case because there’s a big reward, and why shouldn’t he get the reward? A very wealthy person had their letter stolen, and there was a huge reward on the down low for whoever could find it. G– walked in there, like not making any bones about it. He’s like, there’s a huge reward, and I want it. I guess I felt like, well, why shouldn’t Dupin get some money? Why should he just help this person who’s in essence using him to get the money? [Our Bleak House podcast episodes will follow this Purloined Letter podcast episode.]
Carolyn Daughters 53:13
Then we find out Dupin has the letter? And it’s not even like he reached out and said, hey, it’s here., let’s negotiate. He’s just hanging out.
Sarah Harrison 53:24
He knew he would come back.
Carolyn Daughters 53:25
He was waiting for him to come back and say, I really need your help. “Oh, you mean for that letter? I have the letter.”
Sarah Harrison 53:34
Well, he wanted to get the money. He’s not going to put his cards on the table until the money’s in his hand. Which to me seems smart. He didn’t like this guy D–. But he also said he didn’t politically agree with him. And he wanted like the woman to have the power, politically speaking. He was pleased, not only to be an agent of that, but to get some money out of it.
Carolyn Daughters 54:02
And it felt like he had some sort of history with this guy, D–.
Sarah Harrison 54:07
He said he did him a bad turn in the past.
Carolyn Daughters 54:21
Some of my reading suggested these guys might be doppelgangers or brothers?
Sarah Harrison 54:26
Carolyn Daughters 54:28
Because their let their names start with the same letter Dupin and D. They seem to know each other well, they think alike, they’re both super bright. These are the guys who play the map game and pick the thing right in plain sight. Are the mastermind detective and the mastermind criminal two sides of the same coin?
Sarah Harrison 55:09
I thought, well, that doesn’t make sense. He walks into D–‘s hotel room, which was a whole other strange thing. He walks into D–‘s hotel room and just chats him up and locates the letter. He comes back the next day or week or whatever it was and chats him up again. He says he doesn’t recognize him. And so I thought, they couldn’t be brothers. But I guess it depends like, when did they get separated? Now that you’re saying that, and I’m thinking again, what was the bad turn that this guy did to him? He’s really rich, Dupin is really poor? Maybe as a brother, he stole an inheritance or something when they were young.
Carolyn Daughters 55:57
Kind of poor. Because the really poor people are actually working.
Sarah Harrison 56:02
They have some kind of income. The incomes that people had in these Victorian novels are fascinating on a whole other level. The poorest people of the poor only have one housekeeper that comes twice a day and makes them dinner. Or they live in.
Carolyn Daughters 56:25
Yes. With some exceptions, we’re not hearing stories about truly poor people.
Sarah Harrison 56:36
There are some really poor people in Bleak House, but they’re not the main characters.
Carolyn Daughters 56:41
And the really poor people in Charles Dickens novels don’t have housekeepers. Many characters in Dickens novels and other novels of the period refer to themselves as poor or middle class when they have only one housekeeper. In Pride and Prejudice, the family is not rolling in cash, but they have servants.
Sarah Harrison 57:10
Same with like Little Women. They’re on hard times, but they have their live-in housekeeper that does everything, so she can go about being charitable, which is awesome. I think it’s aspirational, personally. I believe I should be middle class have more household servants.
Carolyn Daughters 57:26
When you’re hard on your luck, and you have very little money, and you have servants, it’s helpful sometimes to take a step back and say, “my servant doesn’t have servants.” We can lose track of that, and then start thinking about characters in Jane Austen’s novels. I’m not talking about Emma, but in Pride and Prejudice, they’re not on hard times, but they’re not wealthy. Or in Little Women, they’re not wealthy, they’re there on hard times. Well, they still have somebody who comes in, and that somebody doesn’t have somebody.
Sarah Harrison 58:14
It’s a totally different level.
Carolyn Daughters 58:16
I think at this point Dupin and the narrator can get a servant.
Sarah Harrison 58:22
I think they might have one.
Carolyn Daughters 58:26
I think if they don’t have one, they can afford one now. I don’t know what that servant will do.
Sarah Harrison 58:37
I’m a little sympathetic with Dupin here. Here comes the inspector looking for his paycheck. And he knows Dupin likes to solve stuff for the love of solving stuff. And so won’t you just solve this altruistically and give me the money How often does that happen in real life? I think a lot, especially in the arts. “Oh, you love photography? Do you want to do this for your portfolio?” You probably run into that, too. People ask you to do things that you do well and that you like doing. Just don’t make me pay you.
Carolyn Daughters 59:20
Every week I get multiple requests from people who want me to “just do this one small thing.
Sarah Harrison 59:28
Yeah. It will only take a bit of your time.
Carolyn Daughters 59:32
People are like, this is how long it’s gonna take you to do the thing that you’re expert at. It should take you only 10 minutes. And I’m like, okay, that’s an hour, easy.
Sarah Harrison 1:00:03
Carolyn Daughters 1:00:06
During COVID, I helped a lot of people because I knew a lot of people out of work. I helped dozens of people with their resumes and their websites, and I just did it on the house. But it became challenging at some point when people needed things done on a specific day. I need you to do this on Tuesday by noon.
Sarah Harrison 1:00:32
Carolyn Daughters 1:00:33
Yes. And I had to also prioritize myself and my own work. It gets it gets tricky. Anyway, back to the Purloined Letter podcast — when when G– marches in, and he’s like, “Hey, I’m looking to make a big payday. Can you help me solve this?” Dupin does help him solve it. He does all the hard work, but he demands his payday at the end. And rightfully so.
Sarah Harrison 1:01:00
I thought was clever. I liked that he locked it down, got the money, and handed over the letter. Win win. You have something here about inertia, tell me what you’re thinking about that.
Carolyn Daughters 1:01:17
The scientific principle of inertia states that things like to be still, inert. The idea in the story, I think, is that it’s easier for a small body to get moving than for a large body. We can apply that to people’s brains, or thought processes, small thoughts and large thoughts. The thing that got me thinking — Dupin says a person with a big brain will have more trouble getting started on something than a person with a small brain. And I thought, it’s so easy to just jump onto a bandwagon or jump onto an idea fleetingly introduced us. And then we’re like, yep. And we charge down that road. The harder thing is to pause and think about the information being shared. What’s the source of the information? How credible is the information? How timely, how relevant? Are we actually putting that information, that idea, on trial for its life? Or are we nodding our heads? I just thought that was such an interesting idea that Dupin introduces that it got me thinking.
Sarah Harrison 1:02:36
I like that. And I remember that part of the story, but I don’t exactly remember how he was applying it in the story.
Carolyn Daughters 1:02:47
I think it was probably attached to the idea of things being in plain sight. Where I think I have a sense of what needs to be done. I think I have a sense of where to find this letter or where it could possibly be. And my solution is to charge through this house and plow through the walls and the carpets and the chairs and tear everything apart. Whereas Dupin figured a lot of it out from his armchair.
Sarah Harrison 1:03:23
That’s true. And it’s interesting. I think he did apply to like big brains and big intellects. But I think also even just like, bigger ideas, more complicated ideas need more space to marinate.
Carolyn Daughters 1:03:39
The marination is either important to an individual or it’s not. And to Dupin, I think it’s pretty important.
Sarah Harrison 1:03:49
Not to put myself in his category. I just made me remember when I was in high school in art class before I could paint anything. Man, I would spend weeks just sitting in there, thinking. And my art teacher would come by and be like, Sarah, whatcha working on? Everyone’s halfway through. And I’m like, I’m thinking about it. Not that I was having my brilliant, earthmoving ideas. Maybe I’m just a slow thinker but it took me a while to marinate through whatever concept I wanted to work on before I could get going, Maybe I’m just a slow starter.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:31
The two smartest people I know. Dupin and Sarah.
Sarah Harrison 1:04:36
Or slow starters.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:41
Slow starters anonymous.
Sarah Harrison 1:04:43
It should have some kind of club.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04:49
We’ll have to find out if this club exists. It’s different than procrastinators, because the slow starter is not necessarily a procrastinator.
Sarah Harrison 1:04:57
No, you just have excessive marination time on the front end. Another question in this Purloined Letter podcast: is it possible for readers to solve the mystery? That was interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 1:05:08
I think that’s a question that I asked after “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and I also asked here. We are meant, I think, to be in awe of Dupin. And rightfully so. I was and I am. But I don’t know that the reader could have figured this out.
Sarah Harrison 1:05:32
No, certainly not to that level. We should probably ask this question in every single book. We’ll start here with this Purloined Letter podcast. I definitely knew it would be in plain sight. I went through the conversations. I knew it was obviously, in plain sight, that’s where this is going. But the level of detail like, he took the letter, he folded it inside out, he put his own seal on it, he roughed it up to look dirty. Actually, all of that, to me, seemed a little over the top. If this guy’s so clever, then why would he have gone to the level of making it so obviously different from everything else about how he handles his correspondence. But maybe that’s just because, he’s not quite as clever as Dupin.
Carolyn Daughters 1:06:22
Or he evaluated his competition, his adversaries, and he knew this is all I have to do, and they will ignore it. The fatal flaw here is Dupin visits the guy who stole the purloined letter. And D–, the thief, underestimates his opponent, because he doesn’t understand why Dupin is there.
Sarah Harrison 1:06:52
He didn’t know Dupin was his opponent. I guess they were chatting, and he says he enjoyed the conversation. He was so happy to see him the next time, which was funny to me. Because he doesn’t know who this guy is. Imagine just walking into some politician’s hotel room, chit chatting. They’re really happy about it. And then you do it again.
Carolyn Daughters 1:07:14
They have some sort of history. Now, D– may not be as emotionally invested in what that history is as Dupin. But it feels like Dupin bears a grudge, and there’s some score. He’s going to settle here.
Sarah Harrison 1:07:31
Definitely. But without even knowing details like in the day and age, the letter was also the envelope. I wouldn’t have thought of that, folding it inside out or something. It was a pretty cool premise. And one thing I’m liking about this chronological order is you see a lot of overlap between what you see in Poe and concepts in other books, including Bleak House. Bleak House is our next book.
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:22
Sarah, how many pages does your copy of Bleak House have?
Sarah Harrison 1:08:33
If you can get a copy with footnotes, I highly recommend it. Sometimes it’s helpful. My copy is 740 pages without footnotes.
Carolyn Daughters 1:08:46
This is a big book. It’s a page turner. It’s a social commentary, and the legal system is torn apart in fascinating ways.
Sarah Harrison 1:09:41
It is. I’ll let you know, I was getting to bed late because I was staying in the bath too long reading the book.
Carolyn Daughters 1:09:48
Yes. Which is where the book ended up.
Carolyn Daughters 1:10:07
I’m looking forward to Bleak House. It’s my favorite Dickens novel.
Sarah Harrison 1:10:11
Carolyn Daughters 1:10:12
I love it. The mystery in it is interesting. We’re going to see one of the first if not the first police detectives. He’s going to be the basis of police detectives for decades to come.
Sarah Harrison 1:10:26
He’s such a weirdo.
Carolyn Daughters 1:10:28
Inspector Bucket. Dickens is for the most part, with exceptions, pretty intentional with the naming of his characters.
Sarah Harrison 1:10:41
Maybe don’t go in with that thought, though, so that you’ll be as mystified as I was when you’re reading Bleak House.
Carolyn Daughters 1:10:50
Dickens is one of the funniest writers you will ever read. And he is a biting satirist.
Sarah Harrison 1:11:15
Very dry. Very sarcastic.
Carolyn Daughters 1:11:17
He can rip apart a society. If this about him, go in ready for the this scathing attack, and the humor, and the lively relationships, and the characters you actually care about. He does an amazing job of of helping you care about them and understanding why you should go in. These 19th century novels are no joke and stories like Poe’s. We’ll be talking about that in all of our first-year podcast episodes, not just this Purloined Letter podcast episode. They’re a little bit of work, but I think the rewards are immense. I think it’s just the best thing in the world to actually spend some time and linger and really read them.
Sarah Harrison 1:12:07
I agree. I’ve always been a classics reader. Both Poe and Dickens I was introduced to in junior high. I always have loved them. Please comment, please share your thoughts. Please ask your own questions about these books.
Carolyn Daughters 1:12:44
And visit our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Visit our Facebook and Instagram pages @teatonicandtoxin. And subscribe to our podcast so you never miss an episode.
Sarah Harrison 1:12:58
Wherever you get podcasts, it’s probably there. We do want to give a couple of listener awards this month. We have awards for Nathan Harrison …
Carolyn Daughters 1:13:17
And LuAnne Sloan. They both listened to our very first podcast. As you’ve probably picked up on, we’re figuring things out as we go. We’re gonna get better and better and better. Not only did they both listen to the whole thing, they provided feedback for us.
Sarah Harrison 1:13:35
Thank you for listening to our “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” episode and for listening to this Purloined Letter podcast episode. We’ll see you next month!
February 11, 2024
Barbara Nickless is a Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling crime novelist who joined Sarah and Carolyn in their makeshift studio for a heartfelt discussion about her writing and research process, her travels, and her latest book, Play of Shadows. Amazing woman, amazing writer. You’ll love her.Listen →
January 29, 2024
Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett joins us on a second episode to discuss The Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles, and all things Dashiell Hammett. Color us honored, which I envision as pleurigloss with a hint of alpha plaid. What a DELIGHTFUL conversation. Folks, you want to hear what Julie has to say. Trust me.Listen →
January 21, 2024
We could have interviewed Julie M. Rivett for days on end. She’s fascinating in her own right, and she shared AMAZING information about her grandfather, Dashiell Hammett. This one’s a must-listen, folks. Well, they’re all must-listens in our biased opinions, but this one belongs at the top of the must-listen list.Listen →