bats the belfry

The Devil in the Belfry

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

It is a satirical short story, making fun of the United States President Martin Van Buren and his election methods, by ridiculing the inhabitants of Vondervotteimittis, with their strong Dutch features. 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 and eventually kills the belfry-man.


It can be 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.

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.

Publication history

The story was first published in the May 18, 1839 issue of Philadelphia's Saturday Chronicle and Mirror of the Times.


Between 1908 and 1914, French composer Claude Debussy worked on two one-act operas, one based on The Devil in the Belfry and the other based on "The Fall of the House of Usher". However, only 30 minutes of Usher were completed before Debussy's death. For his adaptation of "The Devil in the Belfry," he said he wanted to create "a happy blending of the real and the fantastic." His version of the devil, he said, would "put an end to the idea that the devil is the spirit of evil. He is simply the spirit of contradiction." The character of the devil was not intended to speak or sing, only whistle.


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