In early 1841, Edgar Allan Poe was working as an editor for Graham’s Magazine, a popular Philadelphia-based publication, when he submitted to the magazine a story he had been working on, called “Murders in the Rue Trianon.” In the piece, a gruesome double-murder has taken place in a home along the street in Paris. Several witnesses confirm having heard voices in the house, but no one can agree on what language one of the speakers may have been using. There are several more clues, each more confusing than the next. The neighbors are frightened. The police are baffled. But C. Auguste Dupin, a chevalier and rare-book aficionado, solves the mystery at home one day after reading the details in the paper, and tells his solution to a friend of his (who is narrating the story). Before Poe finalized the story, he changed the name of the ill-fated street from Rue Trianon to “Rue Morgue,” to make the whole affair seem a bit more macabre.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was published in Graham’s in April. The magazine paid Poe an enormous sum of $56 for it, which was especially noteworthy given that they had only given him $9 for his poem “The Raven.” Perhaps they had sensed how vanguard the tale really was. Indeed, the story introduced literature’s first bona fide detective character and would soon start a genre revolution. The great Dupin would appear again in two more stories: “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” published serially from 1842 to 1843, and “The Purloined Letter” in 1844.
It is nearly impossible to emphasize Dupin’s impact on the development of modern detective fiction. Not only did Poe create the gentleman sleuth/armchair detective archetype that would become so prevalent in mystery fiction’s Golden Age during the first half of the 20th century, but he also is perhaps responsible for inspiring literatures’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.
In fact, in the first Sherlock Holmes story, the novella A Study in Scarlet (1887), Watson compares Holmes to Dupin upon their first meeting. After witnessing Holmes’s deductive genius, Watson tells Holmes “You remind me of Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”’ Watson also participates in a lineage suggested by the Dupin stories—of Dupin’s supportive narrator/chronicler and friend, who is unnamed. Holmes, though, doesn’t like to be compared to Dupin. “No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin,” he tells Watson. “Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends’ thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour’s silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.”
But Arthur Conan Doyle was clear that the petulant Holmes is indeed indebted to Dupin. Years later, Conan Doyle wrote, “Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed… Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”