Study Guide

The Devil's Elixirs

by Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman

The Devil's Elixirs Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Francis is born at the Convent of the Holy Lime-Tree in Prussia, at the moment that his father is dying. At Kreuzberg, the abbess of the Cistercian convent makes him her pupil. When he is sixteen years old, he becomes a monk at the Capuchin convent in Konigswald and takes the name of Medardus. Medardus is put in charge of the relics of the convent. Among them is a strange elixir. Legend says that all who drink of the potion will belong to the devil, and that if two persons drink of it, they will share the same thoughts and desires but secretly wish to destroy each other.

On St. Anthony’s Day, Medardus preaches a sermon about the elixir. While he is talking, he sees in the audience a painter he saw once at the Convent of the Holy Lime-Tree. The sight disturbs him so much that he begins to rave like a madman. Later, in an attempt to regain his full senses, he drinks some of the elixir.

One day during the confessional, a beautiful woman, in appearance exactly like a painting of St. Rosalia, tells Medardus that she loves him and then leaves. Medardus determines to run away to find her. Before he can escape from the convent, however, Prior Leonardus sends him on an errand to Rome. On the way to Rome Medardus sees an officer leaning over a precipice. When Medardus tries to save him, the officer falls over the ledge. At that moment a page appears and tells Medardus that his disguise is very good. Medardus goes to the nearby castle, where he meets an old man, Reinhold, who seems to be expecting him. Reinhold tells him that Baron von F——, the owner of the castle, has a son, Hermogen, and a daughter, Aurelia, by an Italian wife who later died. The baron then married Euphemia, a sinister woman who is carrying on an affair with Count Victorin, a former suitor. The count is in the habit of disguising himself in order to gain entrance to the castle.

Medardus becomes convinced that he is Victorin. When he sees that Aurelia is the mysterious lady who looks like St. Rosalia, he feels that fate is guiding him. He tries to approach Aurelia, but she runs away. Hermogen witnesses the incident, so Medardus kills him. As Medardus flees from the castle, he hears that Euphemia is dying of a poison she intended for him. Taking refuge in the woods, Medardus cuts off his beard and changes into clothes that Victorin’s page brings him.

When Medardus arrives in Frankenburg, he recognizes the painter who disturbed his sermon on St. Anthony’s Day. After he tries to kill the man with a stiletto, Medardus is rescued from an angry mob by Pietro Belcampo, an odd hairdresser. At the forest house of the Prince von Rosenthurm, Medardus meets a monk who looks like him and who drinks some of his elixir. Medardus later goes to the castle, where the court physician shows him a picture of a person who again looks just like him. The man is Francesco, who, together with a strange painter, was brought to the court by the prince’s brother, the duke of Neuenburg. The duke was engaged to an Italian countess and had married her, but on their wedding night, the duke was found murdered by a stiletto wound. The bride claims, however, that the groom came to the bridal chamber without a light, consummated the marriage, and left. The painter, accused of the murder, escapes, and the countess goes to live in a distant castle.

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(The entire section is 1363 words.)