Edgar Allan Poe’s Less Successful First Detective.

New rue morgue new final

It is often claimed Edgar Allan Poe invented the modern detective story in “The Murder in the Rue Morgue.”

When the character of C. Auguste Dupin first appeared in 1841, the word detective did not yet exist.

Poe claimed this new type of story was a tale of “ratiocination”- in which the main concern of the plot is to think and solve problems in a logical way – ascertaining truth through observation and data.

In the tale a woman and her daughter, living in the Rue Morgue, are killed in the middle of the night.

A newspaper reports, “Above the fireplace they found the dead body of the daughter… on the neck there were dark, deep marks which seemed to have been made by strong fingers… Behind the building they found the body of the old woman. Her neck was almost cut through, and when they tried to lift her up, her head fell off.”

After reading the news story Dupin exclaims, “A mystery it is, yes. But there must be an answer. Let us go to the house and see what we can see!”

The detective clears the falsely-accused bank clerk Adolphe Le Bon of  the double murder by using what the narrator calls “his unusual reasoning power.”

Dupin notes that no gold was stolen – robbing Le Bon of his motive.

He notes the murderer would need superhuman strength to force the daughter’s body up the chimney.

He formulates a theory – in which the murderer could have entered the room and killed both women – involving a climb up a lightning rod and a leap to a set of window shutters.

The detective discovers  an unusual tuft of hair and comes to the sensational conclusion the crime was committed by an orangutang.

“Dupin” originated from the English word dupe – the hero is a man who uncovers a deception.

“Rue Morgue” is the template for a traditional heuristic voyage – in which both the detective and reader acquire knowledge as the story progresses.

Through evidence and reasoning the mystery is eventually solved.

Arthur Conan Doyle said Poe’s Dupin stories “are a model for all time” – and an inspiration for Sherlock Holmes because solving mysteries did not rely on chance or co-incidence.

It’s surprising, therefore, that a year before “Rue Morgue” was published Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd” appeared in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine.

In the story a man in a London coffee shop, convalescent from a serious illness, finds himself  “in one of those happy moods which are so precisely the converse of ennui –moods of the keenest appetency, when the film from the mental vision departs.”

The shop is on one of the “principal thoroughfares in the city” and he spends the afternoon reading the paper and watching the other people.

“Merely to breathe,” he says, “was enjoyment.”

He stays until the “the lamps were well lighted,” and “two dense and continuous tides of population were rushing past the door.”

The narrator becomes absorbed in identifying the details of the mid-Victorian crowd outside the window – merchants, tradesmen and pick-pockets. He dissects and recognises everything in a self-satisfied way. All are identified and dealt with.

Then he sees a decrepit old man whose expression transfixes him. A face of “vast mental power, of caution, of penuriousness, of avarice, of coolness, of malice, of blood-thirstiness, of triumph, of merriment, of excessive terror, of intense -of supreme despair.”

The narrator rushes out into the night and follows the man through the city.

“He entered shop after shop, priced nothing, spoke no word, and looked at all objects with a wild and vacant stare.”

As morning approaches he watches the man enter a gin-house and walk amongst the drinkers.

The narrator follows the old man all of the next day and “as the shades of the second evening came on, I grew wearied unto death, and, stopping fully in front of the wanderer, gazed at him steadfastly in the face. He noticed me not, but resumed his solemn walk.”

He concludes that “This old man… is the type and the genius of deep crime. He refuses to be alone. He is the man of the crowd.”

But there is no crime. As with the old man’s meandering journey there is no discernible plan or obvious intent.  We are left, like the storyteller, with a series of disturbing events.

It is an an anti-detective story. A post-modern detective story that pre-dates the actual first detective story.

A criminal without a crime. A blank human being.

In the beginning the narrator is able to minutely dissect every member of society. By the end he knows nothing.

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An audio version of this blog is available here:

(Thanks to Charles Turner for his help in this)

Note – The illustration used is fake – Poe’s head is superimposed on the body of an unknown doctor or medical student from a c. 1890s cabinet card. Details –http://fringepop.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/medical-cabinet-card-circa-1880s.html

 

“Green Tea” and The Horror of Psychological Horror

There are no monsters in real-life, right? No ghosts, vampires or werewolves? So to avoid being laughed at some supernatural writers choose to go down the psychological route.

As is the case, for instance, in the short story “Green Tea,” written by Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (text here.)

In the tale – first published in Charles Dicken’s magazine All the Year Round in 1869 – Jennings, an English clergyman, is haunted by a small spectral monkey that is invisible to everyone else.

The reverend’s subsequent descent into terror and despair are recorded in the papers of German physician, Dr Hesselius.

Hesselius is of the opinion that his patient’s downfall is self-inflicted. He gives two reasons for this diagnosis. They are

1) Jennings is given to excessive consumption of green tea.

2) Whilst drinking the hot beverage Jennings obsessively reads books on paganism – into the early hours.

For Hesselius, the reverend’s choice of hot drink is central to his downfall. The story is called “Green Tea” – indicating the key role the substance has in the story.

When Le Fanu’s tale was published tea-drinking had become popular in Britain. But there was still a mistrust of oriental tea growers and packagers – particularly those involved with green tea – who were often accused of adulterating or contaminating the product. It’s foreign-ness makes the reverend’s favourite beverage suspiciously exotic – and dangerous.

As for the second reason, a fondness for “pagan”  books – Hesselius admits he shares his patient’s (at the time relatively novel) interest in non-Christian philosophy. So reading them hardly seems a reason for the poor man’s life-destroying delusions.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the reverend isn’t really guilty of any serious wrongdoing -apart from drinking tea and staying up late. Certainly not enough to warrant his terrible hallucinations and torments.

But in the light of Hesselius’s diagnosis it’s hard to avoid somehow blaming Jennings.

Which is one of the cruel things about this type of psychological horror. Monstrous, even.


An audio version of this blog is available here:


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Illustration from Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Green Tea,” by Edward Ardizzone, 1929

Choosing From The Word Pool

“All speech acts are goal-oriented.”

That phrase lodged itself in my brain during a linguistics lecture I once attended.

Every thing we say, every word, is to achieve some kind of goal.

I’ve found this idea particularly useful when writing dialogue.

When someone speaks there is a pool of alternative words they can to dip into to describe something.

Let’s say a character is talking about children.

They could choose use a variety of descriptions – for instance kid, brat, squirt, rugrat, tyke, urchin or munchkin.

Each choice has a different psychological effect – brat, for instance, has negative connotations – it implies a child is badly behaved.

Of course a character can choose to speak in a responsible, measured, neutral way. But if they are angry, sad or manipulative there are plenty of charged words to scoop out of the vocabulary pool.

Each choice they make is a way of achieving that goal – and laying bare their soul.

An audio version of this blog is available here:

 

What Our Monsters Might Tell Us

There are monsters around this time of year.

Creatures of folklore and horror fiction.

All of them presumably had creators at some point -people  who had to puzzle and make creative decisions about their monstrous imaginary progeny.

Which made me ask a few rhetorical questions to myself, starting with this one – what kind of monster would you make, if you were writing a story?

What everyday fears would it exploit in your readers?

Would you start by calculating what would scare you the most?

Did something make them a monster? A tragedy, a mistake – or were they just born bad?

Would it be male or female? Why?

Living, dead or undead?

What horrible things would the monster do to its victims?

Would they be guilt-ridden after a bad deed  – or so implacably evil they don’t care?

How does this monster kill people – maybe in the way you would be most afraid to be murdered?

Or are they human, a villain with monstrous qualities – maybe based on a person in your life who you don’t like – a bully from your childhood perhaps.

And would this villain have the surname of a teacher you didn’t like at school – or maybe an annoying work colleague?

Does this person live in a near-derelict house on the outskirts of town?  Or a white picket-fenced house in the leafy suburbs?

I’ll stop now – but you get the drift – the monsters we create in our own imagination tell us a lot about ourselves.

An audio version of this blog is available here:

Grammar -What Is It Good For?

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the innocent, care-free days of English grammar were coming to an end. Grammarians had made strenuous efforts to “ascertain” the language and bring order to a riotous body of previously lawless syntax.

There were dissenting voices. Liberals like Joseph Priestley wrote in 1762 that it was “absurd” to set up anyone’s conversation “as the invariable rule” as “the custom of speaking is the only just standard of any language.” People, he reasonably thought, will carry on making up “what innovations they judge to be expedient and useful.”

He was a lone voice. Dr Johnson claimed his dictionary had “laboured to refine our language to grammatical purity, and to clear it from colloquial barbarisms, licentious idioms, and irregular combinations.”

By Jane Austen’s time the newly regimented language had produced a repertoire of deviant linguistic usage with which the author could occasionally satirise the failings of her characters.

By the twentieth century people were starting to question the legitimacy of grammar. Modernist avant-garde writer James Joyce famously decided to wage war on the English language. Of the 24,048 words in the final part of “Ulysses” there are only 2 full stops and 1 comma.

Writers like E.E. Cummings, William Faulkner and Samuel Becket continued to experiment.

Gertrude Stein claimed, “Punctuation is necessary only for the feeble-minded.”

Despite modernist and post-modernist experimentation a respect for grammar, syntax and punctation has remained an unavoidable part of professional writing. If, for example, a journalist makes a mistake (and a sub-editor misses it) a proportion of the readership will either write in or comment underneath the article.

Modern guides to authorship still advise learning from style books.

A manuscript submitted to a publisher that is full of playful grammatical errors runs the risk of being misunderstood – and rejected.

Many fiction writers, like Jane Austen before them, try and confine bad grammar to the reported speech of colourful characters.

It’s safer.

*If there are any grammatical errors in this blog post feel free to list them in the comments section.

An audio version of this blog is available here:

Henry Interviewed by Lizzy Stevens

Interviewed by Amazon and Fictionwise best-selling author Lizzy Stevens.

http://lizzystevens.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/guest-blogger-henry-anderson.html

Please tell us about your latest book.

“The Mouth” is a sci fi adventure story about a teenager whose town is burned down and family killed. His only chance of survival is to travel through a dangerous device called “The Mouth” that opens doors into other worlds.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m currently writing an urban fantasy about a police officer who uncovers some secrets in a strange town. I’m hoping it might turn into a series.

How do we find out about you and your books?
A good place to start would be my website at https://henryandersonbooks.com. I’m on Twitter at https://twitter.com/handersonbooks and my Facebook is: https://www.facebook.com/henry.anderson.books. My Amazon author page is: http://author.to/henryanderson

Why did you decide to write Science Fiction?
I feel like science fiction/fantasy chose me – in the sense that it interests me. I think speculative fiction can make you look at familiar things differently.

How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?

Quite a lot. I try and smuggle experiences in so it’s not too obvious it’s autobiographical. Life events like recently surviving cancer change you as a person and consequently as a writer.

When did you first think about writing and what prompted you to submit your first ms?

They made a “Planet of the Apes” TV show when I was a kid and I was captivated by it. I wrote a story set in that world – I was about eight. I’ve written things on-and-off since then – I had some plays performed. A recent health scare spurred me into action. My first novel submission was to Solstice Publishing a few months ago.

Do you have a set schedule for writing or do you just go with the flow?

I go with the flow. I take my trusty laptop with me wherever I go. I spend an unhealthy amount of time in coffee shops. I have a very low minimum word count. Some days it comes easier than others.

What do you do to relax and recharge your batteries?

I took up archery a couple of years ago which makes a change from writing. I read a lot. Also I listen to audiobooks a lot.

What truly motivates you in general? In your writing?
Anger and fear. And love.

Where do your ideas come from?
I wish I knew. Somewhere in a primitive part of my brain.

Do you feel humour is important in science fiction and why?

Humour is definitely an important part of storytelling. I tend to write darkly humorous situations if not out-and-out comedy.

What kind of research do you do?

I have always enjoyed going into libraries, so I still do that a bit. The Internet is a massive resource. But, being honest, I do as little research as I can get away with.

Tell us about yourself
I’m an English graduate and former journalist. I live in a village in Kent. I like painting in oils and writing.

Do you have a favorite author? Favorite book?

The author I most enjoy reading is P.G. Wodehouse. His prose brightens up any day. Evelyn Waugh said: “The gardens of Blandings Castle are that original garden from which we are all exiled.”

My favourite book is probably “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I like adventure stories and it’s a masterpiece.

How many books have you written, how many have been published?
I’ve written a few short stories and plays. This is the first novel. I’m very excited Solstice is publishing it.

After you’ve written your book and it’s been published, do you ever buy it or read it?
I think Leonardo da Vinci said : “”Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Eventually you have to abandon it somewhere and drive off. Kind of like literary fly-tipping.

Which comes first, the story, the characters or the setting?

I usually think of a setting first – to test the characters.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?

The thought that someone might actually read your stuff is pretty amazing.

Are there any words of encouragement for unpublished writers?

On bad days any writer feels despair that what they are doing might be worthless. Ignore those feelings and keep writing. Write. Write as if your life depended on it!

Lizzy Stevens links:

http://lizzystevens.blogspot.co.uk

http://twitter.com/LizzyStevens123 

 

While you’re here, why not check out my interview with author Penny Estelle:

http://pennyestelle.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/henry-anderson-stops-by-pennys-tales.html

The Nurse Who Would Not Meet My Eye

The nurse would not meet my eye.

Somehow that seemed fraught with meaning.

“I am so dead,” I thought.

I stood outside the door of my oncology consultant.

The waiting area behind me had a central garden with a fountain in it. Dozens of men and women sat patiently marking time before attending the periodic  life-or-death consultations that are the lot of a cancer patient.

Things hadn’t looked good for a couple of months. I had a failed major surgery due to the inoperable size of the tumour in my colon. They had moved to plan B, chemotherapy.

At that time a kindly locum GP had gently told me that some people choose to discontinue treatment if it made their last days too uncomfortable.

Now, the nurse who ushered me into the oncology consultant’s room wouldn’t look me in the eye.

“I am so dead,” I thought.

I reflected, as I walked in, that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. The prognosis wasn’t good. And as a grown-up in early middle-age I was just expected to cope with the fact I was dying. I had learnt recovering from surgery that there was no special treatment from busy medical staff on the hospital wards. There were a lot of people in my position. Everybody dies. The best of us manage to put a brave face on it.

All through that time I kept telling myself, “Live for today. You are alive today. That’s all that matters.”

I tried to imagine death as sleeping – a painless sleep – an anaesthetized  blackness.

Live for today is a good mantra that works most of the time. But I imagine even the bravest of us cannot contemplate our own death without just a little fear.

I felt it as the nurse ushered me into the room without returning my gaze.

“I am so dead,” I thought.

The consultant looked very dour, which confirmed my worst suspicions.

That day it was a Spanish woman, in her late twenties I guessed.

She opened an enormous file and leafed through its pages until she got to the latest CT scan results.

Unexpectedly, a broad smile spread over her face.

“Excuse me a moment.”

She left the office for a minute.

Then she returned, still smiling broadly.

“This is very good news. You have responded extremely well.  It looks like it’s operable.”

So the nurse not meeting my eye had been utterly meaningless. A tiny, subjective human detail. She hadn’t known anything. The doctor hadn’t even read my file before I came in.

In the objective – the real – world the growth in my body had shrunk to an operable size – thanks to science, research money, and good doctoring.

The nurse looked over at me and  met my gaze. She was smiling too.


An audio version of this blog is available here:

A playlist of music that loosely influenced “The Mouth”

“The Mouth” is out now. To celebrate, here are some songs that vaguely inspired it.

UnknownPlaylist is available on Spotify

1. “Slow boat to China” performed by Freddy Martin. It didn’t survive the final draft but this was playing on the gramaphone in the collaborator’s living room.

2. “I Fought the Law” by the Bobby Fuller Four. The Clash famously covered this song in the 70s. The Bobby Fuller Four’s earlier version is more upbeat and has the same defiant tone.

3. “Hold On” by John Lennon. One to listen to when the shit is hitting the fan. Sometimes all you can do is hold on.

4. “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols. At the time the song was considered nihilistic. Johnny Rotten claimed: “You don’t write ‘God Save The Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.”

5. “Lord Grenville” by Al Stewart. There’s a wistful tone to this historical folk-rock song told from the viewpoint of a disillusioned sailor. Grenville was a British sea captain who sailed his crew towards a hostile Spanish fleet of 53 vessels.

6. “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan. Conciousness-raising may not work immediately but sometimes,  as in the case of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter,  it is worth keeping the faith.

7. “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” performed by Henry Hall and his Orchestra. It’s probably just me but I’ve always found this a tiny bit sinister.

8. “War on Freedom” by Killing Joke. Freedom is always under attack.

9. “Everybody’s Fool” by Evanescence. The song is about the unreal perfection of airbrushed celebrities – but there are people around who keep everybody fooled.

10. “I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You” by Jens Lekman. This is the kind of love song people might sing to each other in a dystopian future.