Edgar Allen Poe and Humor
Edgar Allen Poe is most often recognized, and certainly most famous, for his poem “The Raven” as well as other decidedly dark and often gothic poems and stories, stories such as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Telltale Heart” “The Cask of Amontillado.” He also wrote many others mostly involving rather macabre, dark topics and characters as well as heavy themes such as insanity, madness, incest, murder and revenge. While this reputation is certainly well earned there is another side of Poe that is not quite so obvious. Poe was also a master of humor, especially in the use of parody and satire. One might ask how is it that a writer with such an inclination towards the darker side of humanity can possibly write humorously, and do it with such skill. Poe’s brand of humor is decidedly different than that which the mainstream contemporary audience is used to and can readily understand, but it is there if one cares to look closely. The style of Poe’s humor is not like that of the mainstream humorous writers in that he does not use the common comic strategies, but he instead “was able to turn his wit on the masses of society or their rulers with trenchantly satiric effect” by creating situations so ridiculous and outrageous that it becomes hysterical (Budd 133). Or as John Bryant says “he was a satirist specializing in burlesque, parody, and hoax. Humor was not his style, nor benevolence his manner; … Poe’s barbed humorous stories are driven by caricature rather than character” (88). Some of Poe’s more humorous stories are “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” and “A Predicament,” and maybe not so obviously “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
In a close look at “How to Write a Blackwood Article” one can see one of these outrageous situations and the various different ways that Poe uses satire and parody to create his own brand of humorous story while taking a shot at a rival magazine. In the story a woman, Signora Psyche Zenobia, whose real name may very well be Suky Snobbs, is getting advice from the great Mr. Blackwood on how to write an article of the same stature as those in the Blackwood magazine, an esteemed literary magazine of the time. Among Mr. Blackwood’s advice is to find a situation or “such a scrape as no one ever got into before” to get herself in and then proceed to write about the “sensations” she is experiencing (Poe 341). In the process of writing these sensations she is to use a certain few literary techniques in order to ensure her writing is of Blackwood quality.
Some of the situations he uses as past examples are a man who is buried alive and writes about it as well as the man who was baked in an oven and also wrote about it. Poe is essentially the degrading stature of the magazine by comparing the articles it prints to these idiotic stories and his rather pompous and pretentious character who is totally serious as he gives her this advice, much as is the real life...