The Devil in the Belfry

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"The Devil in the Belfry" is a satirical short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in 1839.


Plot summary

In an isolated town called Vondervotteimittis, the punctilious inhabitants seem to be concerned with nothing but clocks and cabbage. This methodical, boring and quiet little borough is devastated by the arrival of a devilish figure playing a big fiddle who comes straight down from a hill, goes into the belltower, brutally attacks the belfry-man and rings thirteen o'clock, to the horror of the town's inhabitants.


The devil character can be seen as the bringer of chaos to an ordered system. In the context of the story, the devil is a troublemaker who destroys the serenity of tradition. However, in that Poe mocks the town's ridiculous traditions, it can be interpreted that the devil is a violent force of change, originality and creativity in an otherwise stagnant environment.

Some have claimed the story to be political satire making fun of the United States President Martin Van Buren who was of Dutch descent like the inhabitants of Vondervotteimittis. However, aside from Dutch caricatures used for humor, the story does not seem to mock any particular target. In A Companion to Poe Studies it is noted, "Poe introduced numerous details to make contemporaries think of the president. But the story is not therefore a political satire, for Poe said such stories hit out in all directions ... Moreover, Poe's literary play, his pleasure at creating connections, seems more important than is any single 'target' of satire."[1]

The story has also been looked upon as a satire of New York City (originally settled by the Dutch) which has now been "invaded" by the "Devil" (i.e., the Irish): the "Devil" plays on his fiddle an out-of-tune song called "Judy O'Flannagan and Paddy O'Rafferty"—stock character names for Irish Immigrants.[citation needed]

Critics often compare the tale to another New York satire, A History of New-York written by Washington Irving under the pseudonym "Diedrich Knickerbocker."


There are many famous illustrations for this short tale. Just to name two, one is by the Italian engraver Alberto Martini, which is very accurate in describing the final moment and the other is by the Belgian artist James Ensor, that illustrates the moment when the stranger arrives in town.

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