Edgar Allan. Poe and H. L. Mencken’s Uses of Humor in Negative Reviews

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Both Edgar Allan Poe and H. L. Mencken can write reviews bursting at the seams with sarcasm and humor. These pieces of criticism speak novels about their judgment of these works that don’t “make the cut” of perceived greatness, and of the types of people who would indulge themselves with them. However, Noël Carrol does not speak about the use of humor in arts criticism, for good or for bad. If we are to use Carrol’s definition of arts criticism, then we can’t judge the effectiveness of Poe and Mencken’s use of humor in criticism, or whether it belongs at all. The question, then, is if humor has a place in the world of arts criticism, and how effective it is at conveying the critic’s judgment and evaluation of the work. As Poe and Mencken…show more content…
Immediately, his review is oozing with sarcasm. “Have you tears?,” he asks, “Do you leak easily? Then wrap yourself in a shower-bath curtain… for the tale wrings the lachrymal ducts with exquisite and diabolical art” (170). And, throughout the criticism, he continues to creatively exclaim how he’s filled with tears and “nights of weeping” (173). Though he conflicts with Carrol’s rule to always consider the artist’s intent of the piece, in this case to write a sappy, escapist romance novel, he does so to prove a very strong point: in his view, the artist’s intent is stupid. Where Carrol values the intent of the artist, Mencken wants reality and truth, which he doesn’t get from Innocent. Why write escapist ‘wastes-of-time’ that prove no quality or benefit to society, when you could write the next great Moby Dick or 1984? By using sarcasm to deliver his conclusion instead of just lambasting the novel, he makes it okay for the readers to laugh at it too, and wonder what the value was that we saw in it anyways. Though an effective tool in “Lachrymose Love,” Mencken’s positive review of Theodore Dreiser in his essay, “A Modern Tragedy,” lacks as much of a sense of humor. He demonstrates a similar viewpoint on what the import values are, praising the novel as “a criticism and an interpretation of life” (245), which does not try to outdo itself with fancy language and over-the-top emotions as compared to Corelli. But, to reach

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