From adolescence to the grave, Poe lived a tormented existence — visited by ghosts of disappointed hopes, haunted by death in love, by stupidity, by the almost madness of many of his gestures, by the vain expectation of success, security and happiness. In an indifferent world that valued money more than poetry, he found solace only in the annihilation of himself.
This is how Philip Lindsay defines Edgar Allan Poe in his biography of the American writer. From his description emerges the portrait of a sad and hallucinated man, perpetually dismayed, unable to flashes of joy. This is, in fact, the image that springs from Poe’s most famous horror stories — the almost autobiographical William Wilson, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum etc.
In fact, alongside these famous tales of terror, in which the atmosphere is actually tense and hallucinated, less well-known stories coexist, which can be defined without hesitation as humorous. We will examine six of them — The Man who was Used up, The Spectacles, Le Duc de L’Omelette, Bon Bon, X-ing a Paragraph and Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences — trying to extrapolate the main characteristics of humor from them.
Poe was also interested in humor from a critical point of view. In 1836 he reviewed Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes for the Southern Literary Messenger.
Seldom in our lives have we laughed as immoderately over any book as over the one now before us.
Poe is capable of laughing, and also of making people laugh, proof of this that the Georgia Scenes review is not only an essay on humor, but it is also a humorous essay. To extol Longstreet’s culture, Poe states that he is
learned in all things appertaining to the biped without feathers.
Poe greatly appreciates Longstreet’s humor, especially for its realism, for the author’s ability to reproduce genuine sketches of Southern life. However, it is immediately obvious that Poe’s interest lies above all in some of Longstreet’s tales, which he particularly enjoys reporting. One of these contains a skit in which a traveler unwittingly attends the rehearsals of a play, believing it to be the truth. He therefore runs to the rescue of a wretch from whom criminals would have plucked an eye. Another skit that Poe likes is that of a school teacher who was savagely beaten by his pupils who were not granted the Easter holidays. Yet another is the reproduction of a popular game in the…