The devil upon two sticks

I read a very old and intriguing novel, The devil upon two sticks, by French author Lesage.

Even if this book is written more than 300 years ago, it has a very familiar feeling, outlook, and many of the things presented are still applicable today.

The wrap of the story is the myth of the limp devil, one of the devils in ancient tales which is responsible for lust. Named Asmodee, after the demon Asmodeus, he is freed by a young man, Don Cleophas, and takes his liberator unto a journey of a night and a day around the city of Madrid, observing the life and actions of the people in the city.

In this way, we are actually presented with plenty of short stories, the life of many people in this town, at the time of the writing, in 1707. We can see how the people used to live, what was important for them, how they treated matters of life, death, marriage, inheritance, money, and so on.

Actually the novel is a comprehensive moral fresco of the 18th century. We see certain patterns that are definitive for this era: the morality of women, which is of utmost importance, even widowed or divorced women, have a high standard of apparent morality, for which men get to duels, killing and insults, but the real morality behind them, is almost completely missing: women commit adultery, spend their nights in secret with different men, without any remorse. The only thing that matters is the image outcome in society.

Thus as a picture of a society, we see people wanting to become rich overnight, people wanting to steal, to find a suitable betrothed, and moral and class rules are opposing them at every turn.

One story that was central in the novel is the story of a man trying to fool a young girl into becoming his lover, with promises of marriage, all with a twist involving her brother, her father, in the end with a happy ending, where the treacherous man really is sorry for his actions and offers to marry the girl. I have a feeling that this probably never (or almost never) happened in real life of the 18th century.

Another interesting story is the story of a murderer who falls in love for a widow, only to get caught by pirates, sold as a slave and freed together with his lover, to be with her at the sight of their best friend committing suicide, only to fall off his horse and dying in the end.

The Devil upon two sticks is a funny interesting novel, presenting short stories of people’s lives more than three centuries ago, with aspects that are still very applicable today, and some that have changed and evolved. It is an interesting imagination exercise for people today, to try to understand how people used to think, many years ago.

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