See his letters, ed. by C. R. Proffer (1968); his Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends (tr. 1969); biographies by J. Lavrin (1926, repr. 1973) and H. Troyat (tr. 1973); studies by V. Erlich (1969), T. S. Lindstrom (1974), and D. Fanger (1979).
The story opens with a description of the winter scenery of Dikanka, Ukraine, a witch flying across the night sky and the devil stealing the moon and hiding it in his pocket, first playing with it in the sky, which no one in the village notices. Since it is the night before Christmas, the devil is free to roam around and torment people as he pleases, so he decides to find a way to get back at the village blacksmith, Vakula, because he paints hideous portraits of him in the church.
In the village lives a Cossack named Choub, whose daughter Oksana, an extremely beautiful village girl who is loved by all the young boys. She is the object of the blacksmith Vakula’s affection. Choub goes out in the night with his friend Panas to the sexton’s home gathering, suddenly noticing that the moon is not in the sky. In the meantime Vakula is trying to win over Oksana, who mentions that his mother, Solokha, is a witch. Choub and his friend are suddenly engulfed in a snowstorm started by the devil and lose each other. While his friend finds his way to the tavern, Choub comes upon his home, but the blacksmith, who is visiting Oksana, answers him. Choub is confused about why the blacksmith would be in his own house, and concludes its not his house. The blacksmith then sends him away.
When Vakula goes back to Oksana, she tells him she won’t marry him unless he can get for her the slippers off the Tsaritsa’s feet. While their discussion is happening, Solokha is with the devil in her home, when someone knocks at the door. To hide the truth, she puts the devil in a coal sack, emptying out the contents. The mayor walks in and begins to speak with her but no sooner than he does there is another knock at the door. The mayor hides in another bag and the sexton comes into the home. While he is trying to play around with Solokha, there is another knock at the door and she hides him in another sack while Choub comes into the house. Another knock comes at the door and this time it is Vakula, and Choub goes into the sack that the sexton is already in, not knowing he is there, thinking it is something else. After his mother goes outside to speak with another visitor, the blacksmith takes the heavy bags to get them to the forge, wondering why he seems to have lost his strength temporarily, and concluding it had to do with Oksana not loving him. He comes upon Oksana, who again belittles him, and runs off saying goodbye to her, threatening to kill himself.
He decides the only way to win her is to indeed capture the slippers, so he goes to Puzaty Patsyuk, a local Zaporozhian Cossack who was believed to be in league with the devil. He goes to him and asks him to tell him the way to find the devil while Patsyuk eats magical varenyky that fly down into a basin of cream and then into his mouth, Vakula brushes one aside as it rubs cream on his closed lips. After asking Patsyuk about the devil, he remarks that he cannot give directions to the blacksmith to what is already on his back. Vakula doesn’t understand until the puts down the sacks and the devil hops onto his back. Vakula tricks the devil into thinking he will do as the devil asks, then grabs him by the tail and threatens to put the sign of the cross on him until it agrees to help him.
The devil takes him into the sky, leaving the sacks behind, to St. Petersburg. A group of locals begin to take the bags and discover the men inside, while Vakula goes to find the Tsaritsa. He is amazed by the sites of the city, and has the devil, who shrinks into his pocket, transport him into the palace, where he meets up with a few Zaporozhian Cossacks who are meeting her (Catherine the Great). When she comes to greet them, the blacksmith appeals to her and glorifies her slippers, which she finds amusing and agrees to give to him.
In the meantime Oksana gets upset because the villagers have been passing around the rumor that Vakula has killed himself. She knows that Vakula, a good Christian, would not do this, and that night she falls deeply in love with him. She is delighted to see him return and agrees to marry him even before he shows her the slippers. They get married and the story ends with a bishop passing by their beautifully painted house. In the church the blacksmith has made another painting, showing the devil in hell, which villagers spit on and the women bring their frightened children up to say “Look what a kaka (poophead)” (transliterated as: Yaka kaka!)!