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The Murders in the Rue Morgue

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

by Edgar Allan Poe

Cunning and Cleverness Quotes

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Quote #1

The analytical power should not be confounded with simple ingenuity; for while the analyst is necessarily ingenious, the ingenious man is often remarkably incapable of analysis. The constructive or combining power, by which ingenuity is usually manifested, and to which the phrenologists (I believe erroneously) have assigned a separate organ, supposing it a primitive faculty, has been so frequently seen in those whose intellect bordered otherwise upon idiocy, as to have attracted general observation among writers on morals. Between ingenuity and the analytic ability there exists a difference far greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination, but of a character very strictly analogous. It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic. (3)

The narrator often expresses an interest in overcoming the apparent divide between reason and creativity. But one thing missing from this combination is emotion and empathy. What value, if any, do feelings have in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"?

Quote #2

"We must not judge of the means," said Dupin, "by this shell of an examination. The Parisian police, so much extolled for acumen, are cunning, but no more. There is no method in their proceedings, beyond the method of the moment. They make a vast parade of measures; but, not infrequently, these are so ill-adapted to the objects proposed, as to put us in mind of Monsieur Jourdain's calling for his robe-de-chambre — pour mieux entendre la musique. The results attained by them are not infrequently surprising, but for the most part, are brought about by simple diligence and activity. When these qualities are unavailing, their schemes fail. Vidocq, for example, was a good guesser, and the persevering man. But, without educated thought, he erred continually by the very intensity of his investigations. He impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole. Thus there is such a thing as being too profound." (52)

(The reference to Monsieur Jourdain in the above passage is to a character in the satirist Molière's play The Bourgeois Gentleman. The line is: "Monsieur Jourdain's calling for his dressing gown — in order to better listen to the music.") Dupin gives the police credit for being hard-working and rational, and Vidocq (see "In a Nutshell") credit for being "a good guesser." But it's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears up in here: the police are too rational, Vidocq, too imaginative – and Dupin is just right (if he does say so himself). How are we supposed to take Dupin's arrogance and smugness? Does this influence how you feel about his character?

Quote #3

"You will say that I was puzzled; but, if you think so, you must have misunderstood the nature of the inductions. To use a sporting phrase, I had not been once `at fault.' The scent had never for an instant been lost. There was no flaw in any link in the chain. I had traced the secret to its ultimate result, -- and that result was the nail. […] `There must be something wrong,' I said, `about the nail.' I touched it; and the head, with about a quarter of an inch of the shank, came off in my fingers. The rest of the shank was in the gimlet-hole, where it had been broken off. (72)

We have here a small-scale example of the logic Dupin uses when he thinks "Ourang-Outang" and then interviews the sailor for evidence. Dupin has examined all of the other possible ways of entering and exiting the death room and found them to be impossible. Thus, he is certain that the killer(s) came in via the window. So he looks carefully at the nail to find that there is a broken nail. There's scientific method in this: Dupin presents a hypothesis and then goes out and gets proof.

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