Subject Structure & Detective Stories
Posted by Ross
Posted on Mon Mar 20 20:32:54 2000
From IP  

Ross, Kaisheng Wang
Professor Liu
Literary Criticism:
Journal #1
Mar 20, 2000

As I read along Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter", the plot and setting in the story some how reminded me

the adventure of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: a confident, nearly arrogant detective (the hero), his loyal

but curious assistant (also the narrator in most cases), an awkward, clumsy police detective or clients in each incidents as the

providers, and the villain as the subject. When Dr. John Watson in the first place met Holmes and was stunned by his

careful observation and plenty knowledge of deduction, he cried out "You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no

idea that such individual did exist outside of stories" (16 Doyle) astonishingly while Holmes' reply was "No doubt you think

that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin. 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." (16 Doyle).

Holmes' comment on Dupin might have indirently reflected some of Doyle's ideas. Yet before analyzing "The

Purloined Letter", I would like to bring up a Holmes story which has similar plot to "The Purloined Letter" called "A Scandal

in Bohemia". The client of Holmes in that adventure was Young King of Bohemia, who had had an affair with a female

explorer during his long journey to Warsaw when he was crowned Prince of the Kingdom. This romance, the love letters,

and the picture with her that she kept had become a threat to the young King when he was going to marry the Princess of

Scandinavian Royal family. Thus the heir of Bohemian monarch had planned several burglaries into his ex-lover's residence,

in order to take to evidences back. Eventually he came to Holmes to ask help after the cover missions were all in vain. In his

investigation, Holmes was informed that this lady of affair, Irene Adler, was going to marry a local lawyer and then leave

England. The situation seemed urgent, therefore the famous detective applied his theory of "When a woman thinks that her

house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most" (226 Doyle), caused an accident fire in

the lady's residence. In the panic, the lady did rush to the fireplace where she hid the letters and pictures secretly. However,

Holmes found out the lady had left England and the love letters and pictures were replaced with the lady's letter to Holmes

the second time he returned to the lady's house with the Young King. In the letter that lady wrote to Holmes, she at first

admired his ability to let her reveal the secret unconsciously while the letter ends like this, "...As to the photograph, your

client may rest in peace. I love and am loved by a better man than he. The King may do what he will without hindrance

from one whom he has cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve a weapon which will always

secure me from any steps which he might take in the future. I leave a photograph which he might care to possess..."

(228-229 Doyle).

I've tried to edit one of my favorite detective stories into a drama, which can be played like any other ordinary drama

on stage. But soon I found detective story a particular type of literature that I couldn't create the same suspense and excitement

just by lines and monotonous rotary of scenes. Perhaps there were still numerous movie or TV drama that named after

Holmes, but they by no means are good translations. It's because the most crucial components of a mystery is the

"unknown" that makes climax. For instance, the hidden villains are unknown to the detectives, let alone the readers; what

the main character, the detective's, mind about is unknown to the narrator; the real identities of the character in the story

(whether they are true heros as the readers can recognize so far or they are just false heros that the readers don't know) is

also unknown. The narrator in the story is often created as a bridge to the detective and the story itself and the readers for the

narrator is able to give more details of the scene, describe the sequences of investigation, and all those works that encloses the

reader to the case at hand which the third person perspective won't convey well. I think that's the reason for the primitive

detective story, either Dupin, Holmes, or The Hardy Boys, has more than one main character. Because in this sense, the

atmosphere of unknown (people always fear unknown) would be easily composed.

Another thing I would like to discuss is the shift of roles in the detective stories. The handout of the class indicates

that the constant identity recognizing is one of writing skills. The handout takes Oedipus for example. This tragic hero in the

first place was seen as the hero for saving his folks but resulted in killing his father and marry his mother which is regarded

as negative. "The Purloined Letter" subtly employs this strategy. The role of Prefect, Minister G, and Dupin change and

combine as the plot goes along. Police Detective Prefect should be conceived as the helper of the Queen, but he ended to be

the provider and false hero of the story. It was also because of him that the readers are able to make distinguished judgement

and comparison between him and brilliant Dupin otherwise Dupin's long-winged theory of psychology and lacking description

would reduce the climax of the story. Dupin's role in the story is more complicated for he is also the helper of Prefect, also

the helper of Queen and revenger of Minister G. And all those unique qualities concluded in his heroic qualities. I think that's

why "The Purloined Letter" and "A Scandal in Bohemia" are identical. The only difference is that at the end of "A Scandal in

Bohemia", the conceived villain seemed to become the victim while the King became negative who Holmes made fun of. This

was really a shock to those readers who are accustomed to story of absolutely positive side and absolutely negative side. The

two stories both create the climax by the process of investigation, but the end was completely different. The revenge glorify

the justice but the conflict between Royal class and ordinary people agitated our examination on labeling a person before

entire understanding.

I was very surprised that Dupin could just use his psychological theory, sitting in a little room, talking with his

companion, and figure out the conclusion. This sounds ridiculous to me. It's no doubt that Holmes also applies much on his

knowledge of psychology, logic, and deduction, but he emphasize more the investigation by himself and the inferences in it.

I've seen much more splendid masterpiece of detective stories than Doyle's, but Doyle did endow the famous detectice Holmes

some other qualities that Dupin lacks. The plot, the narration, the setting are more developed.

Works Cited

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. [Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories Volume I ].
New York: Bantam, 1986.

 Re: Structure & Detective Stories Jason Fri Jun 16 11:05:31 2000
HOME PAGE             Contact Me
Forums Powered By
WWWThreads Version 2.7.3