The Devil upon Two Sticks

by Alain-René Lesage

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Places Discussed

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*Madrid. Capital of Spain whose secrets are stripped bare by the grateful Asmodeus, the demon of luxury, after Don Cleofas delivers him temporarily from captivity in a phial in an alchemist’s laboratory. While they look down upon the city Asmodeus makes the roofs and walls transparent so that Don Cleofas can see all the mean, lewd and ridiculous activities that people ordinarily conceal from their neighbors. Don Cleofas finds the demon while fleeing four men hired by his lover Donna Thomasa to force him to marry her, but he is somewhat surprised to learn that his own propensity for sin is not merely reflected but exaggerated in the great majority of his fellow citizens. Although Madrid is almost as grandiloquent a center of culture and civilization as Paris, its pretensions amount to little more than an architectural veneer overlaid upon barbarian motives and desires.


*Alcala. Town northeast of Madrid, famed for its university founded by Cardinal Ximenes. Don Cleofas is a student there, as is Don Pedro de Crespides, who is likewise engaged in a romantic excursion to the city.

Don Lewis de Crespides’s house

Don Lewis de Crespides’s house (krehs-PEE-dehs). Primary setting of the first interpolated tale, which offers the back-story of the wedding taking place there. It is one of many houses from which silken ladders are let down from high balconies to enable secret lovers to climb up to the bedrooms of young ladies.

La Chicona’s house

La Chicona’s house (lah CHEE-koh-nah). Secondary setting of the first interpolated tale, lent by the procuress to Count Belflor in order that Leonora may be lured into the supposed sickroom where Belflor is concealed behind the curtains. La Chicona is visited there by her colleague La Penrada, who keeps a catalog of handsome foreign visitors, which she peddles to interested widows. One of her neighbors is a printer who produces libels in secret; another has a room tapestried in crimson cloth where young women flock to the bedside of an indisposed inquisitor, bearing gifts of medicine. Three doors away is the palace of a deeply indebted marquis, whose steward labors in a book-lined room to repair his master’s fortunes by plagiarism.


Prison. Asmodeus and Don Cleofas follow Donna Thomasa and the survivors of the fight between her hired bravos into the prison so that Asmodeus can reveal the stories of the other people justly or unjustly confined there.

Casa de los Locos

Casa de los Locos. Madhouse that provides as much raw material as the prison for Asmodeus, who delights in relating how each lunatic was driven insane—accounts which provide a new basis for assessing the mentality of many other citizens who deserve to be confined there.


Church. Splendid edifice filled with monuments to the illustrious dead, whose impostures are uncovered by Asmodeus while they lie in their tombs, or walk abroad as phantoms, as easily as those of the living. It is after visiting it that Don Cleofas first sees Death approaching Madrid with his scythe at the ready.

Monastery de la Merci

Monastery de la Merci. Reception-point of three hundred Spanish slaves ransomed from Algiers by the Fathers of the Redemption, whose belated homecomings are cynically anticipated by Asmodeus.

Don Pedro de Escolano’s house

Don Pedro de Escolano’s house (PEH-droh deh ehs-koh-LAH-noh). Magnificent residence reduced to ashes by an accidental fire. The owner’s offer of a huge reward for anyone who can rescue his sixteen-year-old daughter, Seraphina, provides Asmodeus with a means of rewarding the generosity of Don Cleofas.


*Valencia. City in eastern Spain, one of several far-flung settings featured in the interpolated...

(This entire section contains 644 words.)

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tales. Other settings include Siguença, the once-independent kingdom of Castile and Mezzomorto’s palace in Algeria. These are, however, far less significant than the sites included in the exemplary “cross section” of Madrid.


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Bjornson, Richard. “The Picaresque Hero Arrives.” The Picaresque Hero in European Fiction. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977. Comments on Lesage’s adaptation of Vélez de Guevara’s story and notes the dramatic significance of changes, including the transformation of the devil into a spirit presiding over the foolish as well as the evil.

Green, Frederick C. French Novelists, Manners, and Ideas from the Renaissance to the Revolution. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1964. Describes The Devil upon Two Sticks as a preparatory work for Lesage’s greater novel, Gil Blas. Explains why the novel was popular with Lesage’s contemporaries.

Mylne, Vivienne. The Eighteenth Century French Novel: Techniques of Illusion. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1965. A chapter on Lesage provides insight into the novelist’s creative process and principal themes. Notes his use of stock situations and local color to vivify the narrative of The Devil upon Two Sticks.

Showalter, English. The Evolution of the French Novel 1641-1782. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972. Comments on characterization, the role of the narrator, and influences that shaped Lesage’s novel; notes the author’s success in using this improbable story as a means of illuminating a “moral truth.”

Symons, Arthur. Introduction to The Devil on Two Sticks. London: Navarre Society, 1927. Discusses the literary background upon which Lesage draws for his story. Highlights the novelist’s use of his tale as a satire on the supposed progress of civilization.


Critical Essays