Purloined Letter: why the minister's seal?

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There seems to be a problem in The Purloine Letter, namely that the minister sealed the camouflaged letter (addressed to himself in a woman's hand) with hid own seal. This is not discussed in the story and was brought to my attention by an editor's note which attributes the error to the minister: but how can a fictional character make a mistake that is not discussed in the story? Could it be that Poe himself overlooked this detail?

Thanks, JMC

-- Anonymous, July 30, 2002


Hmmm. Dupin does not seem to note the obvious discrepancy of a letter addressed to D with D's own seal. In making the letter look different the minister makes an error that close examination should rouse a suspicion. Both Dupin and D, therefore Poe, might seem more than a little foolish considering the great detail that goes into the rest of the story.

-- Anonymous, July 30, 2002

At least the unintentional irony that both the police with their doomed method and Dupin with his exquisitely reasoned out philosophy are too thorough to catch the obvious. That would be a good rationalization but did any reader or Poe discuss the little lapse? Poe was a joker but not likely to ruin Dupin or his tale with for the sake of being too clever. He would have corrected or boasted about a discovered "error" in some way.

-- Anonymous, July 30, 2002

The editor's note you alluded to is probably Mabbott's one for his 1978 posthumous Harvard edition. This scholar was probably right when attributing the error to the Minister, and not to Poe. But when so commenting, he may seem a little bit ambiguous. Nevertheless, we may assume the extreme vigilance of Poe for details of this sort. In fact, we may take, I think, the supposed mistake as perfectly consistent with Minister D--- 's excessive cunning, and thus, finally, observe the real cause of his "mise en échec" by Dupin. Just the exact mirror-image of Prefect G--- 's failure, because of farfetchedness in the rationale of his own researching methods. The "morale" of this genial story may, from this point of view, speak again about the Truth not in the Well, as Poe liked to repeat. And the hero, Dupin, is the man who dares trust simplicity before complexity, a patent simile of the near to come lecturer on "Eureka". Naturally, I may err too... Yours sincerely, Raven's Shade (Belgium).

-- Anonymous, August 01, 2002

Just these few words more in order to prolong my former hasty answer to your pertinent reflection. When read in French, by French people (Poe was very well acquainted with the traditional - British! - images and "clichés" of French culture's specificities), Minister D--- 's subterfuge does not at all seem incongruous with his firm and sly will to dupe the Police. It evokes, indeed, almost immediately, some love-affair between himself and some girl(or lady) who must have been in sufficiently close intimacy with him as to have been autorised to use his own seal for addressing him a letter -- a break up one, for example! If the case, let us praise, then, the forceful symbolism introduced by the tear of the so faked purloined missive. We may even guess (why not?) that this document's importance could also come from a love-affair implicating the royal she-personage... And about the Truth not in the Well: what a marvellous symbol Poe imagined when stageing the Policemen's total failure in spite of their usage of magnifying glasses and microscopes, and the splendid triumph of Dupin... through the dark glasses of his own green spectacles! Let us relish one more time Poe's magic crafstmanship and art in constructing a story! Nothing gratuitous, and never too emphasized, nor specified! Always to suggest, and never to tell too explicitly! The reader must at all time be invited to think, and to complete the proposed narrative according to his own sense and sensibility. And when we doubt the consistency of this subtle author, we should always first wonder if being ourselves sufficiently consistent. Perhaps, with this apparently simple tale, a new proof of one of the essential keys for fully apprehending dear Eddie's conspicuous genius... Yours, Raven's Shade (Belgium). P. S. Thanks for your stimulating question. (And sorry for my poor grammar!)

-- Anonymous, August 03, 2002

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