Both Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were known as writers of mystery and detective stories. Two of these stories are “The Purloined Letter” by Poe and “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Doyle. In both works, the detectives search for an item that is being used to blackmail another individual. In the work by Doyle, the King of Bohemia wants a photograph of him and a former love interest to be retrieved; he fears that if it were publicly revealed, it would prevent his future marriage to a Scandinavian princess. In the work by Poe, a detective is discussing one of his cases in which a letter with potentially damaging information was stolen from its rightful owner; it is being used to blackmail the owner. These items must be located in order to prevent the items from becoming public knowledge and therefore ruining the reputations of the characters in the story. While both of the stories obviously have a similar story line, they actually use a slightly different method of deduction in the stories.

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Deduction is a form of top-down reasoning; it is commonly used in detective work, and therefore detective stories. In the Doyle story, one of the first deductions is that the visitor is actually the King of Bohemia and not one of his agents. This is a rather easy deduction in the story. The individual wears a mask to hide his appearance. The construction of his sentences in his communication indicate that he cannot be Russian or French. His attempt at disguise is not adequate. The King needs help retrieving a token of his former affection from Irene Adler, an American.
Holmes and Watson develop an elaborate scheme to determine the location of the photograph. They know that Ms. Adler cannot carry it on her so it must be in her home. They stage a fire, knowing that she would attempt to save her most precious item from the home. This is deduction. Individuals often save what matters most to them. They deduced that this would be the picture. They were correct.

In the story by Poe, the detective also must locate the letter that in this case was stolen from the rightful owner. They know who stole the letter, an important official in the French government. In both stories, they essentially know that the object they want must be located within the apartment of a specific individual. However, while in Doyle’s case, the apartment could not be searched, the apartment was searched in Poe’s story. The narrator describes how the apartment was searched in a thorough and systematic manner. Every inch was examined. Even the cushions of the chairs were examined by putting pins through them, in an attempt to feel for the letter. The deduction in this case is different. It appears that the letter is not “hidden” in the apartment. If the small places and all the potential hiding places were examined and did not locate the letter, then the letter would have to be hidden in place view. This is an obvious way to hide an item. People rarely notice things that are in their daily line of sight. They overlook them and do not expect that anyone would place anything valuable or potentially damaging where anyone’s eyes would see it. In this way, people can “see” the item on a repeated basis, but will not actually notice it. Hiding things in plain sight is an excellent way to disguise the importance of a valuable item.

Both involved a form of deduction. However, the first story, by Doyle, involved deducing that the person would not hide the photograph in plain site; people do notice photographs and examine them. The second story involved realizing that it is easy to hide an envelope in plain sight. These are commonplace items that rarely attract the attention of visitors and guests. The deductions both required knowing human nature. However, they also required deducing what type of location would be the best for each item.

  • Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Purloined Letter.”