Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story A copy of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." (Vanda Mesiarikova/Wiki Commons/ Samuel Stillman Osgood/National Portrait Gallery)
Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story
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Edgar Allan Poe introduced the world to C. Auguste Dupin. He hit on a winning formula.

Dupin was Sherlock Holmes before Sherlock Holmes. He a genius detective. He first appeared in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” It was first published in 1841. That story is the first locked-room mystery. The game's afoot. That's what Holmes might say. Poe didn't give Dupin a nifty catchphrase.

The roots of the detective story go as far back as Shakespeare. That's according to historians Helena Markovi? and Biliana Oklop?i?. Poe’s tales of rational crime-solving created a genre. The historians say his stories are a mix. They have crime. And they have a detective narrative. It revolves around solving a puzzle. The puzzle is a “whodunit.” It invites readers to try to solve the puzzle too.

The key figure in such a story is the detective. Poe’s detective is also in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.” And he is in “The Purloined Letter.” They set the stage for that character. Dupin is a gentleman of leisure. He has no need to work. He keeps himself occupied. He does so by using “analysis.” He helps the real police solve crimes. The real police in the stories are not able to do their job. This is like Inspector Lestrade. He is an officer in Scotland Yard. He is in the stories with Holmes.

Dupin smokes a pipe. He is odd. This is like his literary descendant. He’s also very smart. He is rational. He's a kind of superhero. He uses powers of thinking. This lets him accomplish great feats of crime-solving. The story's narrator is his roommate. He follows the detective around. But Dupin’s roommate is not like John Watson. He remains nameless. He is known as “I.” This is in all three stories. 

Poe introduced a number of elements in the Dupin tales. One was the friendly narrator. That would remain common to detective stories. That's according to Markovi? and Oklop?i?. 

“The elements Poe invented are many. They include the reclusive genius detective. His ‘ordinary’ helper. And the impossible crime. They also include the incompetent police force. The armchair detection. The locked room mystery, etc. All have become firmly embedded in most mystery novels of today,” the historians write. 

Arthur Conan Doyle was the creator of Sherlock. He acknowledged Poe's influence. "Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?" he wrote.

Poe’s formula appealed in the nineteenth century. That's because detective stories promised that reasoning could hold the answer to every question. At the same time they had spooky overtones. This appealed to nineteenth century readers. They were fixated on the occult.

The detective story was particularly appealing. That's because it promised that “intellect will triumph. The crook will be confounded by the rational sleuth. Science will track down the malefactors and allow honest souls to sleep at night.” That's according to Ben MacIntyre. He was writing for The Times of London.

MacIntyre also wrote about nineteenth century anxieties. They were about the Industrial Revolution. New ways of living supported the idea that evil was anonymous. And it was everywhere. There were two instincts. They said that "faith in reason and mistrust of appearance" are what made Victorians love detective stories. It is a love that endures today.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How might literature be different without the works of Edgar Allan Poe?
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