This edition of the Storytellers Channel’s newsletter features Chris Semtner, Curator, The Poe Museum, writing about Poe’s Devilish Humor and highlighting an artifact from the museum’s collection.
We’ve opened an office here in Richmond and we’re so excited about our upcoming retreat with Elizabeth Ellis and the unexpected opportunity to present Andy Offutt Irwin and Darci Tucker at the HATTheatre. Tickets are still available for both, see below.
The Storytellers Channel
Edgar Allan Poe’s Devilish Humor
Poe had no patience with the Transcendentalists, and they thought he was immoral. This idealistic philosophical movement believed in people’s innate goodness and the presence of the divine within people and nature. These Transcendentalists, who counted Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller among their ranks, used their writing to educate and edify the public. Emerson dismissed Poe as a “jingle man.” Poe wrote that Emerson “belongs to a class of gentlemen with whom we have no patience whatever—the mystics for mysticism’s sake.”
While Poe enjoyed ridiculing the Transcendentalists, they criticized him for not trying to teach with his writing. In fact, Poe told everyone that a good poem had no business trying to instruct anyone. Writing, to him, should be entertaining, not educational. But, in answer to their call for him to write a story that taught a moral lesson, Poe wrote his only tale with a moral—his comedy “Never Bet the Devil Your Head.”
The story takes shots at the Transcendentalist clique from beginning to end, but Poe later confessed that he really had no problem with them. He wrote that “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” was “a mere Extravaganza levelled at no one in particular, but hitting right and left at things in general.”
The story begins on a light-hearted note before suddenly arriving at its gruesome finale with the appearance of a gentlemanly Devil. Critics have long found it difficult to appreciate Poe’s unusual combination of horror and humor. One, Thomas Ollive Mabbott, said the story “conforms very well to the author’s peculiar ideas of what constituted humor” but that “relatively few readers share his belief.” Today’s audiences, however, are more prepared to appreciate Poe’s mixture of horror and humor.
This was not the only time Satan made an appearance in one of Poe’s tales. A philosopher-eating Devil joins a cook/philosopher for dinner in “Bon-Bon,” and, in “The Duc De L’Omelette,” a clueless aristocrat plays cards with the Devil in the fires of Hell.
What’s Going on at Storytellers Channel
A lot’s going on over the next two weeks. There’s one place left for the Elizabeth Ellis From Plot to Narrative retreat to be held at the Whippoorwill Manor Farm in Madison, VA June 8-10. If you want to strengthen your craft as a storyteller this is a grand opportunity to work with a great storyteller and teacher among other committed storytelling “students”. The event is $350 for the all-included weekend.
Elizabeth Ellis Retreat
I’m producing the event for the Virginia Storytelling Alliance.
Second, Andy Offutt Irwin and Darci Tucker are passing through Richmond on June 13 and will be giving a 7:00-9:00 concert at HATTheatre 1124 Westbriar Drive, Henrico, VA 23238. The HAT is an intimate little space off Patterson Avenue in metro Richmond’s Far West End, right before you enter Goochland County. Tickets are only $20, to see thesenationally recognized talents that you usually have to venture to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN to see. We hope to see you there.
Andy Offutt Irwin and Darci Tucker Storytelling @ The HATTheatre in Richmond, VA
This Issue’s Poe Museum Artifact: Autography from Graham’s Magazine, January 1842
In his Autography series, Poe pretends to analyze handwriting based on the signatures of famous writers and politicians of his day. It was really just an excuse to ridicule his most prominent rivals.
This installment from the series contains Poe’s assessment of the above mentioned Ralph Waldo Emerson begins with a critique of the Transcendentalist as someone who is weird merely for weirdness’s sake. Poe states that the idealistic “twaddle” Emerson writes is of no use to anyone. The notice is not entirely negative. Poe adds, “His love of the obscure does not prevent him, nevertheless, from the composition of occasional poems in which beauty is apparent by flashes.”
Of Emerson’s autograph, Poe writes, “[Emerson’s handwriting] is bad, sprawling, illegible and irregular — although sufficiently bold. This latter trait may be, and no doubt is, only a portion of his general affectation.”
Given the harsh treatment Poe gave some of the other writers he reviewed, Emerson got off fairly easy.
Be sure to visit the Poe Museum.