Agent Kels reopens the investigation!

Back to Double Investigation in the Rue Morgue

Dear investigator,

I felt before I read you, and even more so as I progressed in the reading, that you had Dupin in your sights. I had also thought for a moment about incriminating Dupin, but that is where I must, if I may, form an objection - the objection of someone who would be well advised not to incriminate him, since one has to sacrifice to find who has the most to gain from this crime: and that man will be me.

Let's say that I can't burden Dupin, not because the reader that I am is repulsed by the idea or by some idea that I have of the character: that is something that I considerably ignore. But for another reason, which, if analysed properly, would equate… to the same thing. And I can no longer ignore it.

A beautiful vicious circle; indeed, if I exonerate Dupin, it's because this presupposition is fundamental to the very preservation of the novel, I mean its raison d'être in the Poe system. I believe - and this is the invincible affection that governs me - that Poe is too clever a genius to hazard both the meaning of the demonstration of his character (which I believe, like you, to be the main interest of this text) and the authority of this same character by integrating him, as an actor, into the embedded plot of fomenting and perpetrating crime. To put it another way, I believe it is necessary - for Poe-tic reasons - to keep perfectly watertight the two levels of the murder narrative (the elaboration, by the hypothetico-deductive method, of the scenario as Dupin presents it, even if in an intentionally falsified manner: the possible world of abductions) and the reality of the state of the world as constituted by the diegesis. 

Everything depends, in short, on a wager. And in this game, if you and I each bet for the worst, you will be more confirmed than me in this enterprise. I bet that Dupin is an arrant deceiver, in that he completely disables the judicial framework (the attempt by the competent authorities to put on trial an actual state of affairs, that is the verification of the facts), by a parody of the investigation itself, the aim of which is to falsify any verification of the facts. For me Dupin lures justice in two stages: 1° by showing its flaws; 2° by pushing it to "false calculations", or by making it believe in its own solution. As for you, you are betting on a falsification intended to avoid any compromise in the case. You take the principle of cui bono all the way back to Dupin, when I rest it on the sailor himself (my murderer). If I hold this position, it is because I accept to believe that Dupin is a parodist (an avatar of Poe himself) whose goal is to separate the possible world of fiction from the real or actual world. It is enough for me that Dupin has intentionally and artificially operated in extremis the meeting of the possible world of his abductions with the real world by making the narrator and then the police believe in his ideal culprit. But for you this reason is not enough, and you still need, in this perspective, to reconcile these two contradictory states of the world with firm certainty, a reconciliation that ultimately abolishes fiction itself.

Specifically, I do not believe I am sufficiently motivated to assume that Dupin coaxed a sailor to ask him to play a role. My hypothesis was more economical, which, moreover, arriving at the same result, did not involve the same manoeuvres on the part of the detective. In my opinion, Dupin did indeed charm the sailor; and he did so not otherwise than what the text says: through the advertisement in Le Monde. To suppose that he went to meet him, in the tightened sequence of days and nights that the narrator and Dupin share, seems to me too risky a hypothesis. It is precisely the advertisement that gives another example of Dupin's power of suggestion: he pushes his man to reason, as a checkers player would do, according to false calculations, but likely calculations that only hold up to this bet. What is interesting here is that when Dupin gives the narrator the scenario of his sailor's ratiocinations, he doesn't really give a full explanation of how he himself developed his proxy reasoning.

Let's bet (says Dupin) that there is only one man;

1. fitting the description of a sailor (there are some in Paris) ;

2. who moreover is a Frenchman (=susceptible to read the ad, and therefore a resident of Paris),

3. but still recently engaged on a Maltese ship (which, and this is the only hypothesis that I venture, he may know by experience or by recent hearsay (?) But Dupin himself has doubts about this hypothesis); 

4. BUT YET still quite crooked (a good example of a generalisation of the type: All sailors are liars - and if not all of them, many of them. Cf. Marie Rogêt);

5. and, above all, venal enough (sailors are not very rich; and if sailors are crooks, then they can be venal) to be made to PASS for the sailor in question.

And this without any risk, as I indicated in my article, for the following reason: a sailor satisfying the above conditions is even less rare than 

6. the same sailor actually owning an orangutan. 

The sailor thinks exactly like Dupin: I'm a sailor, I'm French, I joined a Maltese ship OR I can pretend to be (after all, nothing in the short story, in the character's description, proves it), we're rare in Paris to fit this description, it's true that I don't have an orangutan but I can try my luck and present myself before the real owner of the beast, because I need money, etc...

 All this without counting on the fact that Dupin, as a perfect psychologist, knows that the one who will answer the ad has just tried to rob the Lespanaye ladies (so it's not unlikely that he's trying to commit a new crime) and that something like the Demon of Perversity could lead him to make himself known rather than to be forgotten. It's therefore less a venal than a venal coupled with murder that he's looking for. I think that he gives the sailor the opportunity to confess his crime in a symbolic way: Dupin does not invent the orangutan for nothing, he knows that this beast both gives the sailor an alibi and serves as a symbolic doublet. The sailor intuitively recognises himself in the orangutan, and can claim to be his master because he knows confusedly that there is a similar beast in him and that this beast has justly committed the murder, while its other half had only venality as its vice. 

The sailor is a composite of thief and murderer, man and beast. Some foreboding, even confused, indicates to the sailor that he is more legitimate than any other to claim the beast as his due. This is why I have shown that in him the venal man (the thief who seeks to claim the rights to the orangutan of the announcement) is at the same time the one who has full right to his beast. Therefore the thief will not rob anyone by recognizing his rights over his murderous twin. In short, the great ape is a bait that simultaneously stimulates lust and recognition - a kind of Aristotelian anagnorisis, where the character recognizes himself in a blurred image of himself. Think of the short story of the Black Cat where it is precisely a kind of resemblance to oneself that the murderer recognizes in the beast, a sympathy between "the natural man" and "the brute beast", the same sympathy he shares with his wife - whom he will kill. Or let us look again at William Wilson, and his superb final page, where the narrator kills his own double: “Not a thread in his garment, - not a line in his whole face so characterized and so singular, - that was not mine, - that was not mine; - it was the absolute in identity!” 

There is, moreover, a striking analogy between the duality of the sailor, attested by the duet of two duellist voices, and the one that the narrator notices taking place in Dupin himself. Same motif: two distinct voices:

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 Dupin --the creative and the resolvent.

 In short, on this point, as you will have understood, I retain the true meaning of Dupin's inductions (but whose content is not fully revealed) and do not consider that they are only false reconstructions intended only to impress the narrator. Thus you pose as absolutely specious the discoveries concerning the opening of the windows (the episode of the nail head). For my part, I continue to believe it - and it is this adherence that is problematic. If I no longer believe it, I will conclude with you. If I don't, I clear Dupin. That is to say, if I recognize that Dupin is a manipulator, I don’t question his hypotheses and I reserve the theory of manipulation only to identify the real culprit (the sailor) and not in order to exonerate oneself. For accusing the sailor is, as we have seen, an act that is always implicit: this is what I consider to be deception.

 You convince me when you invoke Thou art the man: but can't we form another hypothesis? Did Dupin really bring the tuft of hair himself, or was it not simply taken from the hair or beard of our sailor ("His face, greatly sunburnt, was more than half hidden by whisker and mustachio.") That the police did not find the hair in the hand certainly seems strange; but it is a few tufts of hair in a clenched hand: nothing to do with the thick scalp found in the hearth. In the economy of the text, one could consider that the scalp clue is striking enough, horrible enough, to make one overlook the discovery of a few hairs in a corpse's hand - a corpse whose same atrocity, or butchery, has everything to distract attention from this kind of "detail" .

 But if one assumes that Dupin himself provided the evidence, this would not mean that it serves to exonerate him (and his accomplice Lebon); it is enough first to incriminate the orangutan, that is to say in my theory, to accuse the sailor in effigy.

 Let us note once again that the portrait of the sailor corresponds point for point to this beast, such as one imagines it to be: armed with the cudgel, hairy, of great stature. "[He] appeared to be otherwise unarmed." The police correctly imagined that the murder could have been caused by a cudgel:

 Whole body dreadfully bruised and discolored. It was not possible to say how the injuries had been inflicted. A heavy club of wood, or a broad bar of iron --a chair --any large, heavy, and obtuse weapon have produced such results, if wielded by the hands of a very powerful man.


 He was a sailor, evidently, --a tall, stout, and muscular-looking person, with a certain dare-devil expression of countenance, not altogether unprepossessing. His face, greatly sunburnt, was more than half hidden by whisker and mustachio. He had with him a huge oaken cudgel, but appeared to be otherwise unarmed.

 Another interesting element in the sailor's story could be enough to overwhelm him. How is it likely that the orangutan used a razor that, to look at our man, must not have been used for long?

 Razor in hand, and fully lathered, it was sitting before a looking-glass, attempting the operation of shaving, in which it had no doubt previously watched its master through the key-hole of the closet.

 When could the beast have watched its master shave, when he has sideburns and whiskers big enough to eat half his face?

 It's obvious to me that the sailor's extrapolated too much. Stories of orangutans wielding razors and other household objects are well known. The sailor knows what the murder weapon is: by lending it to the monkey, he confesses - the Imp of perversity obliges - the modus operandi of the case.

 As for the links that obscurely unite Dupin and Lebon, your analyses - and the fascinating onomastic perspective you open up - leave me dreaming: yes, Dupin is obviously interested in the case (and this alone validates your entire argument). But, I confess, from my perspective, I can't manage to explain it any other way than this: Dupin simply has a reason to exonerate an innocent man - the only thing he does in truth (for he does not exonerate a murderer any more; he simply cannot be accused of the murder. The extenuating circumstances are not yet known).

 Finally, I will express my extreme satisfaction at seeing you mention and wield "Ockham's razor", the meaning of which I wonder, by pure intuition, might not be worth developing further - if Poe had ever inscribed this reference as a watermark, which in my opinion would deserve examination - of a metacritical allusion to the economy of hypotheses of any good investigator.

 But, if you assume that the sailor is an accomplice, wouldn't you be unnecessarily multiplying beings? I believe that in a short story already saturated with characters (you have pointed out the incongruity of the number of witnesses of foreign nationality), this economy can be made. And note that it is a double economy: because accepting that the sailor is the murderer is 1° saving the orangutan; 2° saving a simple actor. The razor would not be there by chance: it is the razor that allows us to carry out, in the sailor's own person, the grooming necessary for the investigation, I mean to separate the true from the false... while separating into two halves the sailor's unitary personality (one composed of man and beast).

 There, a little at length, my views. I think that the double wager that our two theories constitute is quite revealing of the way in which texts of this genre bring their own interpretation into play.

 Yours sincerely,

 Agent W.K.


 To quote this article: William Kels, "relance de l'enquête", Intercripol - Revue de critique policière, "Grands dossiers : double investigation dans la rue Morgue", N°001, December 2019. URL: criticism/police-criticism/who-is-the-morgue-street-killer/suite-to-the-report-of-the-agent-julliot.html. Accessed March 22, 2020.