Text: Richard Fusco, “Poe’s Revisions of ‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt’ — a Hoax?,” Poe at Work: Seven Textual Studies (1978), pp. 91-99 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 91:]

Poe’s Revisions of “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” — a Hoax?

RICHARD FUSCO

I

THE textual changes in the two versions of “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” reveal Poe’s craftsmanship, suggest his differing literary personalities, and provide keys to his theories of reasoning — categories which often overlap. The manipulations of prose in “Marie Rogêt” provide insight into Poe’s development of the detective-story format from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” to the archetypical “Purloined Letter.” His revisions always aimed at improvement, and in “Marie Rogêt” these changes were a consequence of Poe’s perception of his public literary reputation. Between the original text, in Snowden’s Lady’s Companion of 1842-43, and the reappearance in the Tales of 1845, his admiration for the ratiocination theme altered, and “Marie Roget” reflected this changed attitude.(1)

The first main textual difference is a footnote included in the 1845 version:

Upon the original publication of “Marie Rogêt,” the foot-notes now appended were considered unnecessary; but the lapse of several years since the tragedy upon which this tale is based, renders it expedient to give them, and also to say a few words in explanation of the general design. A young girl, Mary Cecilia Rogers, was murdered in the vicinity of New York; and, although her death occasioned an intense and long-enduring excitement, the mystery attending it had remained unsolved at the period when the present paper was written and published (November, 1842). Herein, under pretense of relating the fate of a Parisian grisette, the author has followed, in minute detail, the essential, while merely paralleling the inessential facts of the real murder of Mary Rogers. Thus all argument founded upon the fiction is applicable to the truth; and the investigation of the truth was the object.

The “Mystery of Marie Rogêt” was composed at a distance from the scene of the atrocity, and with no other means of investigation than the newspapers afforded. Thus much escaped the writer of which he could have availed himself and had he been on the spot, and visited the localities. [page 92:] It may not be improper to record, nevertheless, that the confessions of two persons (one of them the Madame Deluc of the narrative) made, at different periods, long subsequent to the publication, confirmed, in full, not only the general conclusion, but absolutely all the chief hypothetical details by which that conclusion was attained.(2)

Evidence exists to make suspect these claims. Poe reported that he wrote the story by November 1842which is trueand that the story was published in that monthwhich is misleading. One-third of “Marie Rogêt” was indeed printed by November, but two more installments appeared in the December 1842 and February 1843 issues. The significance of this serialization is related to more inconsistencies in the quoted passage. Stating that the confession of the real Madame Deluc (Mrs. Federica Loss) supports his solution of the mystery is Poe’s fabrication. The public rumors about Mrs. Loss’s dying confession linked Mary Rogers’ death to a complicated series of events in which abortion was a key factor. Her testimony occurred not at a “period, long subsequent to” but between publication of the second and third installments of “Marie Rogêt.”(3) The passage announcing success and the subsequent footnotes boisterously providing actual counterparts to newspaper accounts and people involved in the tragedy were red herrings for an unsuspecting reader. Previous researchers believe that the second version was a hoax, a deliberate attempt to hoodwink Poe’s audience.(4) That is, he took advantage of the average reader’s naiveté to promote his own reputation of superior intellect and, by implication, great literary powers. If this assessment is sound, his philosophy in 1845 could have run: “Every falsehood another man believes diminishes him and makes me his better by default.” The 1845 edition roughly coincided with the appearance of “‘Thou Art the Man!’” — Poe’s burlesque and repudiation of the genre that he himself had created. He expounded his disenchantment in a letter to Philip Pendleton Cooke: “These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say that they are not ingenious — but the people think them more ingenious than they are — on account of their method and air of method. In the ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, [sic] for instance, where is the ingenuity of unravelling a web which you yourself (the author) have woven for the express purpose of unravelling? The reader is made to confound the ingenuity of the supposititious [page 93:] Dupin with that of the writer of the story.”(5) Apparently, “‘Thou Art the Man!’ “ indicated Poe’s contempt for detective stories and, therefore, “Marie Rogêt” might have been altered through the explanatory footnotes into a private joke that reinforces such scorn.

I find quite the reverse from analyzing the two texts. Despite the implications in the opening note, Poe toned down his earlier arrogance in the 1845 version,(6) as is evident in these phrases from the first version that were deleted in Tales:

That an individual assassin was convicted upon his own confession of the murder of Marie Rogêt.. . . (Tales, deleted on p.197,1. 38, previous to “the.”)(7)

Such thoughts as those we may imagine to have passed through the mind of Marie, but the point is one upon which I consider it necessary now to insist. I have reasoned thus, merely to call attention, as I said a minute ago, to the culpable remissness of the police. (Deleted on p. 183, after 1. 33.)

Statement one was derived from Poe’s erroneous identification of the murderer. In contrast to the tone of the introductory footnote, he eliminated this conjecture from the final version. The second omission reduced, in part, his virulence toward the police handling of the case, because he proved to be just as mistaken as they. In 1845, he used generalized statements that would not in themselves emphasize abortion, but that contain possibilities for it:

But in consenting so to accompany this individual, she. . . . (1842)

But in consenting so to accompany this individual, (for whatever purpose to her mother known or unknown,) she. . . . (1845, p.182)

* * *

“We may imagine her thinking thus‘I am to meet a certain person for the purpose of elopement.’ “ (1842)

“We may imagine her thinking thus‘I am to meet a certain person for the purpose of elopement, or for certain other purposes known only to myself.’ “ (1845, p, 183)

* * *

But, as it is my design never to return — or not for some weeks, the. . . . (1842)

But, as it is my design never to return — or not for some weeks — or not until certain concealments are effected — the. . . . (1845, p. 183) [page 94:]

We can see authorial change in attitude between the two versions.(8)

From 1842 to 1845, spelling and style were refined toward more conventional English. “Parfurnerie” became “perfumery”; “segar” became 64 cigar”; visitor, visitor. A second improvement was condensed phrasing. Dupin’s “moody and fantastic reverie” became “moody reverie” (p. 152). “The strong and just suspicion” about Marie’s possessions that were left in the thicketthe most probable location of the crimebecame merely “the suspicion” (p. 190). Still not satisfied with the text of “Marie Rogêt,” Poe altered in his copy of Tales “wild train of circumstances” to just “train of circumstances.”(9) Finally, he joined words and improved punctuation wher ever possible.1°Any thing became “anything”; no body, nobody”; “for ever,” “forever.” To see, or pronounce, these words separately requires more effort, which gives them special emphasis; this emphasis was diluted deliberately in 1845.

Perceptible, too, in some of these revisions is a Poe of dual literary personality.(11) In 1842 he was interested in applying a theory of detection to the real world, but by 1845 he no longer cared about that theory.(12) The evidence above supports such doubleness. The unusual spellings and the volatile phrases suggest that Poe was more intent upon and so observed the bizarre side of events in 1842 as compared with 1845. The emphasis in the split words suggests that he was talking down to his audience, a plausible assumption because in 1842 he intended to prove that the police, the newspapers, and the public were wrong about the Mary Rogers murder. What changed him during these three years from the egotistical, part-time detective-story writer into someone differentand what was this difference?

Three incidents probably effected the transformation. First, the accepted explanation of the Mary Rogers murder was drastically altered. Poe apparently made frantic, last-minute revisions in the final installment of “Marie Rogêt” after Mrs. Loss’s confession.(13) Second, he offered a “solution” to the mystery in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge after a perusal of the first installment. He was ultimately discredited on all accounts except one trivial point.(14) Third, during this period, he was earning a reputation in decoding cryptograms, but in that pursuit, as in the other matters, difficulties arose.(15) Poe must have experienced some sort of artist’s vainglory when “Marie Rogêt” was first published, his theories on Barnaby Rudge stood unchallenged, [page 95:] and his cryptogram solutions were stirring public interest. He might have believed that he could discern truth by imagination and reasoning.(16) The downfall of these three projects may have shaken his confidence. Because of yet another previous difficultythe poor sales of Arthur Gordon Pym — he had returned to writing short stories and had begun to criticize the novel as a form. This literary defense mechanism reappeared in his development of detective fiction when he retreated from reality and reverted to a more purely abstract approach. Such methodology led toward both “‘Thou Art the Man!’”and “The Purloined Letter.” In its revisions, “Marie Rogêt” reinforces the impression of ceaseless change in Poe’s fiction. The shift in emphasis from the primary motivation in “Marie Rogêt” through parody in “‘Thou Art the Man!’” and on to a variation of the ratiocination theme in “The Purloined Letter” liberated their creator’s experimental proclivities.

II

“The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” represented Poe’s fling with the tangible in its basis on a true incident. Failures in the three circumstances mentioned above might have persuaded him not to apply his reasoning power ever again to genuine occurrences. Both “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “Marie Rogêt” were structured upon causal conclusionsa series of interrelated propositions recreating an event that had been shrouded in mystery. Poe’s failure to solve the Mary Rogers case no doubt caused him to mistrust this method and, perhaps, such an attitude prompted the parody in “‘Thou Art the Man!’,” in which the crime was solved by the wildest train of causal reasonings. This method of ratiocination gave way entirely to deduction in “The Purloined Letter”: a conclusion was sought by first looking for what could not, literally, be true.(17) Unlike the previous Dupin stories, this one was not based on newspaper sources. The problem and circumstances were of Poe’s own imagining, and the conclusions resulted from his own plot contrivance. I do not mean that he tried to dissociate the story from reality. He followed the Lockean concept that all invention is based upon experience, believing that ingenuity was based on the ability to organize concepts and experiences rather than upon the ability to create new ones.(18) He was doubtless more interested in his chain of [page 96:] reasoning than in developing the power to discern truth in realityin other words, the method mattered more to him than the result. The consideration of this method is essential to the understanding of the textual variations in “Marie Rogêt.”

In 1842, Poe wanted to indicate how the murder was committed and who committed it. In 1845, he emphasized instead the mental processes of his detective and deleted several conclusions. The importance of the opening footnote now comes into focus. No reader would credit the subtleties of reasoning in “Marie Rogêt” if he knew that Poe had been wrong about the facts. Curiosity would be aroused, though, by a “miracle of literature” that had proven to be true. If, in a footnote, the writer argued accomplishment of this feat, what ordinary reader in 1845 would have disbelieved him? In short, Poe sought the “unity of effect” he had lauded as a necessity in the short story.

A greater appreciation for mathematics in the second version of “Marie Rogêt” places Poe firmly within reality. Remember that the Minister D ——— was praised by Dupin for being both poet and mathematician.(19) Poe’s poetic power is observable in his prose works and needs no elaboration here. Changes in “Marie Rogêt” do suggest his growing understanding of mathematicsmost notably, of probability:

There was sufficient presence of mind to remove the corpse; . . . (1842)

There was sufficient presence of mind (it is supposed) to remove the corpse; . . . (1845, p. 190)

* * *

It was a peculiarity of . . . (1842)

It must have been a peculiarity of . . . (1845, p. 173)

Thus, in the latter instance, the body would not sink at all . . . (1842)

Thus, in the latter instance, the body, as a general rule, would not sink at all . . . (1845, p. 171)

* * *

. . . would not be an increase in a ratio merely direct, but in one highly accumulative. (1842)

. . . would not be an increase in a ratio merely arithmetical, but in one highly geometrical, or accumulative. (1845, p.163) [page 97:]

Poe restated his erroneous conclusions in a probabilist context. Formulated by consistently selecting the most likely alternative, these conclusions detail an occurrence.(20) This description proves false in reality, but still has merits in fiction, and Poe found his creativity stirred by this different approach. His fascination with this method probably inspired him to experiment further in “The Purloined Letter,” in spite of his growing dislike for the detective-story genre.(21)

III

In sum, Poe displays two literary personalities which are noticeable in the two versions of “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.” The first is egotistical, arrogant, and, perhaps, megalomaniac. He failed in his original goal because he placed too much faith in newspaper accounts, and their insufficient facts lead him to false conclusions. In 1845, Poe’s psychological drive to assert his superiority over his audience diminished to the benefit of his artistic genius. “The Purloined Letter,” considered by manyincluding myselfas a paramount example of the ratiocination theme, is a product of the latter period. Freed from a role as the agent of his creator’s reasoning in the Rogers case and in a more conducive intellectual approach, Dupin gains a personality in “The Purloined Letter,” where he becomes a being capable of pursuing revenge for its own sake. Poe’s constant experimentation in theme and form sharpened his craftsmanship by distinguishing the effective literary devices he had created from the bad which he would never repeat. The evolving texts of “Marie Rogêt” could not salvage the tale, although they did provide a partial foundation for the success of this last of the Dupin stories.


NOTES

1.  I wish to thank Professors Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV, of Hahnemann Medical College, and Richard P. Benton, of Trinity College, for information and kind assistance.

2.  Edgar Allan Poe, Tales (New York, 1845), pp. 151-152.

3.  John Walsh, Poe the Detective: The Curious Circumstances behind “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (New Brunswick, NJ., 1968), pp. 47, 51-58. Although Walsh presents both sides to the question of the validity of Mrs. Loss’s confession, William K. Wimsatt tends to discount it in “Poe and the Mystery of Mary [page 98:] Rogers,” PMLA, 56 (1941), 230-248. However, Poe apparently accepted reports of the confession as valid.

4.  Such conclusions are reached by Walsh, p. 72; also, see Richard P. Benton, “‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt’ — a Defense,” SSF, 6 (1968), 150.

5.  L.II:328. In that same letter, Poe criticized Evert Duyckinck’s choices for Tales. He felt that the editorial slant toward the analytic stories did not represent his different types of fiction.

6.  Such a shift in the level of Poe’s arrogance can be explained also by G. R. Thompson s theory of an alternation from serious to humorous Gothic in the tales in Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1970), pp. 18-27.

7.  All quotations from “Marie Rogêt” will be cited parenthetically within the text. Passages from 1842-43 are from Snowden’s Lady’s Companion; 1845 passages are from Tales. The relative position of each passage will be cited using Tales as a standard reference.

8.  On the basis of these and other changes, we may also surmise that the element of sexuality was intentionally kept muted. Such purification had earlier governed revisions in “A Tale of Jerusalem” and “Lionizing,” and a concession to Victorian delicacy was not above Poe the pragmatic editor.

9.  This is now called the Lorimer Graham copy of Tales. The alteration is on p. 152. Permission to use the quotation is through the courtesy of the Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

10.  On the importance of punctuation, Poe wrote: “It does not seem to be known that, even when the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its forceits spiritits pointby improper punctuation. For the want of a comma, it often occurs that an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid.” H.XVI:130.

11.  I am again indebted to Professor Benton for a letter to me describing facets of Poe’s personality. He stresses that Poe the man is not necessarily identical with Poe the writer-critic. A confusion of the two has often appeared in critical articles on the tales of ratiocination. [For an example, see Robert Daniel, “Poe’s Detective God,” Furioso, 6 (1951), 48.] Of all the tales, I believe that “Marie Rogêt” contains the most of Poe the man. In the 1842 version his ego was involved. In similar letters to George Roberts (editor of the Notion) and Joseph Evans Snodgrass (editor of the Saturday Visiter), Poe wrote that the tale would “give renewed impetus to investigation” of the Mary Rogers case while exciting public attention (L.I:200-202). Although the letters were no doubt a sales pitch for the story, Poe probably did think these investigations would occur. But the writer-critic was the master over the man in the effectiveness of “Marie Rogêt” in 1842; and the subordination of the influence of the man was further accomplished in the 1845 version. Any future reference to Poe’s personality in this essay will be indicative of his literary personality.

12.  Poe’s disenchantment with his ratiocination tales has already been indicated in the letter to Cooke, supra, p. 3

13.  Walsh, p. 52.

14.  Ibid., p. 88. [page 99:]

15.  For ampler analysis of the cryptogram efforts, see Charles S. Brigham, Edgar Allan Poe’s Contribution to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger (Worcester, Mass., 1943

16.  Poe had similar misfortunes in his campaign against plagiarism; see Nelson F. Adkins, “‘A Chapter on American Cribbage’: Poe and Plagiarism,” PBSA, 42 (1948),169-210.

17.  Poe had experimented with deduction in “Murders” in Dupin’s conclusion that the murderer was not human based on the testimonies of the murderer’s “voice.” But the primary method in the tale was causal analysis.

18.  Robert D. Jacobs, Poe: Journalist and Critic (Baton Rouge, La., 1969), p. 236.

19.  On the relationship between Minister D, Dupin, and Poe, see Liahna Klenman Babenar, “The Shadow’s Shadow: The Motif of the Double in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter’,” MDAC, 1 (1972), 21-32.

20.  My theory about probability to stir artistic imagination in the writing of “The Purloined Letter” and the second version of “Marie Rogêt” is akin to Benton’s idea (p.150) of Poe’s anticipating the modern practice of model building. The difference between our interpretations is that Benton stresses Poe’s desire to recreate the true events of a mystery, and that I claim that his probabilistic method in “Marie Rogêt” (especially the 1845 version) and “The Purloined Letter” is a key to the understanding of his creativity. For a differing perspective, see Sidney P. Moss, “Poe as a Probabilist in Forgue’s Critique of the Tales,” in Richard P. Benton, ed., New Approaches to Poe: A Symposium (Hartford, Conn., 1970), pp. 4-13

21.  Jacobs explains: “Poe would have had the imagination soar completely beyond actuality and give us emotional experience that by its very nature was inimitable and untranslatable, experience that could be gained by the unimaginative only through art.” See p. 243.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - PAW:STS, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Poe at Work: Seven Textual Studies (Poe and the Art of the Well Wrought Tale)