For my final project, I created a digital edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The story was first published in 1841 and is generally considered to be the first true detective story. It introduces elements of detective fiction that are common today, including a brilliant, eccentric detective; an admiring sidekick; bumbling or incompetent police; and a seemingly impossible crime. Despite this outsized influence on detective fiction, the general public may not know of Poe’s contributions to the genre so my digital edition is intended for a general audience who will definitely be familiar with Sherlock Holmes, but may not know that his character was based on C. Auguste Dupin from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
Because “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was written over 150 years ago, it contains references to games that are no longer popular, and includes phrases in both Latin and French which are not as commonly understood by Americans today. In my annotations, I translated many of the Latin and French phrases used in the story into English, and also explained classical references that may not be widely known today. For example, the story’s epigraph references the Sirens from Greek mythology, but a general audience may not be familiar with the story of the Sirens so I provided some background in my annotations to explain the relevance. Similarly, readers today may not know what “whist” or “draughts” are so I provided an explanation of these games in the annotations and an explanation of how the narrator was using those games to highlight the attributes needed by a successful detective.
I also used annotations to provide biographical information about Edgar Allan Poe (via hyperlink) and context for the story, explaining, for example, why this story was considered the first modern detective story, and why Poe, a distinctly American writer, might have chosen Paris as the setting. My annotations also show how this detective story connects to Poe’s gothic horror stories since general readers might be familiar with those, pointing out, for example where descriptions of the settings (the “grotesque mansion” in which Dupin lived), Dupin and the narrator’s strange behavior (their nocturnal ramblings in an “infinity of mental excitement”), and the extremely graphic and bloody crime scene (the daughter’s corpse stuffed into the chimney head down and her decapitated mother).
My annotations also explain how Poe characterized this and his other two Dupin stories – as his Tales of Ratiocination, by which he meant a combination of scientific reasoning and intuition, and point out much of what makes “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (and the two detective stories to follow) significant. In this story, Poe invented many elements of detective fiction that are common today and in the annotations, I point out where these elements are first introduced (for example the reclusive, brilliant detective, admiring sidekick, incompetent police and locked room mystery) and tie them to characters the general public are probably familiar with (mainly Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but also Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot).
Finally, because my digital edition is intended for a general audience, I used annotations (and the landing page) as an opportunity to provide information that I thought would be fun or interesting for a general reader without necessarily adding to an understanding of the story. For example, in my annotation on the description of the scene of the murders, I provided a hyperlink to a dollhouse miniature that recreated the crime scene. In another annotation, I explained that the Edgar Awards, which are presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America, are named after Edgar Allan Poe to highlight Poe’s contributions to this genre. While it seems obvious that these awards are named after Poe in the context of this project, a general reader may not have realized this when purchasing an Edgar Award winning mystery. And on my landing page, I provided a hyperlink to the 1932 movie version of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” because after reading the story, I thought the reader find a movie version interesting and entertaining.