iPoe Challenge review: The Devil in the Belfry

In this 1839 tale (which you can read for free HERE), Poe takes us to the unusual Dutch borough of Vondervotteimittiss where houses are ‘so precisely alike, that one can in no manner be distinguished from the other’. Even the people are identical with the menfolk for instance, garbed out in exaggeratedly Dutch dress; buckskin knee-breeches, long surtout coats, three-cornered cocked hats and heavy shoes with big silver buckles. All in Vondervotteimittiss are obsessed with keeping time, to the point where the menfolk do nothing else but gaze at the clock tower on the House of the Town Council, to ensure time is all kept in perfect order. This in turn ensures that everything else is kept in perfect order.

Arriving upon this idyllic, forgotten, peaceful scene then, comes ‘the most finicky little personage that had ever been seen in Vondervotteimittiss‘. With his long hooked nose, pea eyes, and a wide mouth, the stranger has traveled from the other side of the hills ‘where no good can come from’, and in his curious garb he brings with him a fiddle almost five times his size. Heading for the belfry where the great clock of Vondervotteimittiss is housed, the perfect peace and order in Vondervotteimittiss is all about to change.

OK, so that’s a quick run down on The Devil in the Belfry and on the face of it this is one weird story, even by Poe’s standards. It begs the question – what’s the purpose of it? Well, having no background to the story I can only surmise as to its meaning. But with its outrageous caricatures and whimsical descriptions there’s no doubt that Poe is giving us a slice of the satirical. For what meaning? Heaven only knows! Some have said that Poe is satirising New York City, with the unsettling stranger being representative of the Irish. Other have said the story is satirising a particular US president – Martin Van Buren, who is of Dutch descent.

Regardless of its true purpose I have to rate this story in terms of enjoyment and readability. Readable the story certainly is – in its own quirky way – and it’s its quirkiness which also makes the story enjoyable. The Devil in the Belfry may have been published long before L. Frank Baum arrived on the scene, but I couldn’t help thinking of him when I read this story. Here in the inhabitants of Vondervotteimittiss I saw another people, the ones who would later inhabit the little Munchkin village in the Wizard of Oz. This for me turned the story from being mediocre into something a little better. For that reason alone I’m going to rate the story a full mark higher than I probably would have.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Notable Quote: “Right at the front door, in a high-backed leather-bottomed armed chair, with crooked legs and puppy feet like the tables, is seated the old man of the house himself. He is an exceedingly puffy little old gentleman, with big circular eyes and a huge double chin. His dress resembles that of the boys—and I need say nothing farther about it. All the difference is, that his pipe is somewhat bigger than theirs and he can make a greater smoke. Like them, he has a watch, but he carries his watch in his pocket. To say the truth, he has something of more importance than a watch to attend to—and what that is, I shall presently explain. He sits with his right leg upon his left knee, wears a grave countenance, and always keeps one of his eyes, at least, resolutely bent upon a certain remarkable object in the centre of the plain.”

*This story was read as part of my iPoe Reading Challenge

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).

Comments

  1. Amy (Twitter: amckiereads)
    says:

    Sounds really… different! Thanks for including the link though, I’ve bookmarked it to go back and read it later when I have more time.

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      Different is a good label for it Amy, even for a Poe
      Warmest
      Rob

  2. This was definitely a strange one. Knowing next to nothing about Van Buren (as I assume is the case for many people), it didn’t seem to hold any message at all. And yet, it was somewhat amusing in its strangeness, wasn’t it?

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      Yep, entertaining through it’s oddness Kristen, and one definitely scribed for a particular audience at a particular time.

      I guess not all Poe tales stand the test of time, especially if he has to be topical in his periodical scribblings.
      Warmest
      Rob