Using the Critical Perspective

It may be that the critical perspective of Poe which Rufus Wilmot Griswold and others set in the mid-nineteenth century has helped block our view of Poe's humor, but If we can partially blame that kind of literary criticism for obscuring Poe the satirist and hoaxer, we can also thank another brand of criticism for leading a charge to uncover those gifts in this century.

Perhaps the quickest measure of the success of that movement is the inclusion of Poe in The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose. While admitting that "Poe was hardly a key figure in the development of humorous prose in the United States," editor Frank Muir recognizes a body of humorous work in the Poe canon.

The first critic this century to note Poe's humor was James Southall Wilson who saw the parodic intention of the plans of the Folio Club in 1931. (Wilson 217). In recent years, however, there has been an avalanche of material on humor in Poe. In 1983, David Galloway made a collection of what he called comedies and satires and persuaded Penguin to publish The Other Poe. In his critical introduction, Galloway says that the nineteen pieces he publishes are not the only ones which betray Poe's satirical outlook.

In the same year The Other Poe appeared, Dennis Eddings published The Naiad Voice: Essays on Poe's Satiric Hoaxing. He includes fifteen essays by as many authors which claim to find some kind of humor or hoaxing in pieces as diverse as "Ligeia", "The Assignation," "The Imp of the Perverse", "The Angel of the Odd," "Hans Pfaal." Arthur Gordon Pym," "Tarr and Fether," and "The Island of the Fay." Others have independently suggested irony in "Eiros and Charmion", bugaboo in "The Man That Was Used Up," satiric vampirism in "Berenice" and hoaxing in "The Masque of the Red Death."

By listing a number of critical materials, I do not mean to endorse them as a group; but I do say that when added to the testimony of history, the critical perspective verifies the perception of a pervasive humor in Poe's work.