The Devil and Daniel Webster

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The Devil and Daniel Webster is a short story by Stephen Vincent Benét. This retelling of the classic German Faust tale is based on the short story "The Devil and Tom Walker", written by Washington Irving. Benet's version of the story centers on a New Hampshire farmer who sells his soul to the Devil and is defended by Daniel Webster.

The story was published in 1937 by Farrar & Rinehart. In 1938, it appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and won an O. Henry award that same year. The author would adapt it in 1938 into a folk opera with music by Douglas Stuart Moore, a fellow alumnus of Yale University, member Wolf's Head Society, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and winner of a Pulitzer Prize. Benét also worked on the screenplay adaptation for the 1941 RKO Pictures film.


Plot summary

The story is set in New Hampshire during the Antebellum era, some years after the Missouri Compromise of 1820, but before the Compromise of 1850.

A local farmer, Jabez Stone, is plagued with unending bad luck, causing him to finally swear that "it's enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil!" Stone is visited the next day by a stranger, who later identifies himself as "Mr. Scratch" and makes such an offer (in exchange for seven years of prosperity), to which Stone agrees.

After the seven years is up, Stone manages to bargain for an additional three years from Mr. Scratch. However, after the additional three years passes, Mr. Scratch refuses to grant Stone any further extension of time. Wanting out of the deal, Stone convinces famous lawyer and orator Daniel Webster to accept his case.

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