Role of the City in Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue and Hoffmann’s Mademoiselle de Scudery

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Role of the City in Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue and Hoffmann’s Mademoiselle de Scudery

Professor’s comment: This student perceptively examines the role of the city as a setting and frame for detective fiction. Focusing on two early examples, Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and Hoffmann’s “Mademoiselle de Scudery,” both set in Paris, his sophisticated essay illuminates the “cityness” or framed constraint that renders the city a backdrop conducive to murder—such as the city’s crowded, constricted nature, promoting vertical rather than outward movement and increasing hostility and the fact that so much urban life occurs at night, a reversal of the natural order and facilitating illicit activity. He compels us to look in new ways
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Yet the thrust of Augustine’s attempt to discern the city, to arrive at a fundamental notion of the city and how the city functions, is perpetuated in the way authors deal with the city and the role of the city in works of literature. The purpose of this essay will be to examine how the city functions in two works of detective fiction: Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue and Hoffman’s Mademoiselle de Scudery. It is, I believe, important not to regard the city as a backdrop or a stage but, rather, as a frame which structures the action within (and narrative of) the texts themselves. The aim of this analysis, then, is twofold: on the one hand, to reflect on the specific framing quality of the city—the textual condition of “cityness”—itself; and on the other hand, to analyze how this quality comes to manifest itself in each of the two works under discussion. It is, above all, the unique manner in which Paris is elucidated throughout the texts, which underscores the essential role the city occupies in structuring the very genre of detective fiction itself.

St. Augustine’s vision of the city as a place in which people come together to work toward a common goal is the most fundamental and useful starting point for our examination of Paris in the two works under examination. The narrator of “Murders in the Rue Morgue”
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