Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Murder Most Mediocre

"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."

- Edgar Allen Poe

Oh what a bitter cup! I was prepared for a rare treat when I finally took up a copy of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" this week, but was severely disappointed to discover that my modern literary palette is too coarse for such cautious morbidity. I was expecting something truly macabre and sensational, but instead found only a foreshadowing of my old friend, Arthur Conan Doyle, and his Mr. Holmes.

I suppose I must put this one down to the effect of the 167 intervening years between the story's 1841 publication in Graham's American Monthly Magazine (where Poe was an editor) and today. Perhaps if I had read it then, when the analytical detective was a novel invention, I would have been impressed. But after years of Conan Doyle, Christie, Hammett (though his detectives were not exactly on the same model I suppose), and other 'modern' mystery writers, I simply could not find anything to entrance me in Poe's simple yarn.

This engraving of Mr. Poe was published by Graham's in 1845.

Initial reception of the story was quite favorable, and critics hailed the author as inventive. You see, they had never read Dr. Watson's account of Sherlock Holmes and "the Speckled Band."

In my own defense, I feel I was given false expectations by the illustration on the cover of my book (Harry Clarke, 1919), as well as this other (Aubrey Beardsley, 1890s):


Ever undaunted, I do plan to peruse an 1848 volume of Graham's that I just found on Google Books the next time I have a few spare hours and feel like staring at a screen. . .

2 comments:

slohmie said...

You're right; that illustration looks like a much better book. Maybe you should write it.

At first glave I thought that was an Edward Gorey drawing. I don't think I've ever seen a Beardly illustration so dark and textural.

E.A.U. said...

I'm a huge fan of Beardsley, though I begin to wonder whether he ever illustrated any happy books...but you're right, he usually makes more of the negative space. Perhaps it is a commentary on Poe's rather closed prose...