Arthur Conan Doyle to Edgar Allan Poe: a debt paid with the compliment of imitation

February 12, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism.

In the opening paragraphs of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, you can find these lines that describe the initial impressions of the narrator to his newly-made friend, detective Auguste Dupin:

At such times I could not help remarking and admiring (although from his rich ideality I had been prepared to expect it) a peculiar analytic ability in Dupin. He seemed, too, to take an eager delight in its exercise—if not exactly in its displayand did not hesitate to confess the pleasure thus derived. He boasted to me, with a low chuckling laugh, that most men, in respect to himself, wore windows in their bosoms, and was wont to follow up such assertions by direct and very startling proofs of his intimate knowledge of my own. His manner at these moments was frigid and abstract; his eyes were vacant in expression; while his voice, usually a rich tenor, rose into a treble which would have sounded petulantly but for the deliberateness and entire distinctness of the enunciation. Observing him in these moods, I often dwelt meditatively upon the old philosophy of the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the fancy of a double Dupinthe creative and the resolvent.

What famous detective besides Auguste Dupin could these lines describe?

And then there is in the next few lines a description of Dupin’s ability to discern what the narrator is thinking without a word being said between them.

 We were strolling one night down a long dirty street, in the vicinity of the Palais Royal. Being both, apparently, occupied with thought, neither of us had spoken a syllable for fifteen minutes at least. All at once Dupin broke forth with these words:

    “He is a very little fellow, that’s true, and would do better for the Théâtre des Variétés.”

    “There can be no doubt of that,” I replied unwittingly, and not at first observing (so much had I been absorbed in reflection) the extraordinary manner in which the speaker had chimed in with my meditations. In an instant afterward I recollected myself, and my astonishment was profound.

    “Dupin,” said I, gravely, “this is beyond my comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses. How was it possible you should know I was thinking of ___ ?” Here I paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I thought.

Recall then the beginning of The Adventure of the Dancing Men in which Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson what he has been thinking about and what conclusion he has come to without a word passing between them:

Holmes had been seated for some hours in silence with his long, thin back curved over a chemical vessel in which he was brewing a particularly malodorous product. His head was sunk upon his breast, and he looked from my point of view like a strange, lank bird, with dull grey plumage and a black top-knot.

“So, Watson,” said he, suddenly, “you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”

I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes’s curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate thoughts was utterly inexplicable.

“How on earth do you know that?” I asked.

Holmes proceeds to explain to Watson how he came to know what he was thinking, and it all sounds very plausible both to Watson and to the reader.

Arthur Conan Doyle owes an enormous debt to the fevered imagination of Edgar Allan Poe, as we all do.

Get a FREE copy of Kill the Quarterback

Get a free digital copy of Jim Stovall's mystery novel, Kill the Quarterback. You will also get Jim's newsletter and advanced notice of publications, free downloads and a variety of information about what he is working on. Jim likes to stay in touch, so sign up today.

Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.