A Deal with the Devil Critical Essays

Eden Phillpotts


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

A Deal with the Devil is one of many late Victorian and early twentieth century novels written in the manner of Thomas Anstey Guthrie (1856-1934). Using the pseudonym F. Anstey, this English humorist and satirist wrote novels in which a fantastic device appeared in an otherwise realistic contemporary narrative, such as a father and son switching personalities or someone accidentally bringing a goddess to life. In Eden Phillpotts’ book, Daniel’s Faustian bargain is the sole fantastic element, and all action and conflicts emanate from it.

An implicit though central conflict is that between the two main characters, Daniel and Martha Dolphin. The latter epitomizes Victorian propriety yet must care for an old reprobate who, after his deal with the devil, reverts to his profligate youthful ways. Because Martha is the narrator, not only does her point of view color everything, but her increasing despair and weariness also pervade the novel. She ages while her grandfather becomes younger; as he increases in vigor, their frenetic nomadic life exacts its emotional toll on her. Martha is the utterly loyal Victorian woman; she advises, suggests, and protests, but ultimately accepts Daniel’s plan to spend almost all of his money during the ten years of the New Scheme (as Martha has dubbed it), though her expected inheritance will be gone. She supports him throughout their peregrinations and becomes his surrogate mother during his second childhood.


(The entire section is 515 words.)