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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 207

The Devil's Elixirs tells the story of Francis (later known as Medardus, after he becomes a monk). As a monk at Capuchin convent, Medardus is left in charge of a mysterious potion, known as the devil's elixir because it turns someone evil after they drink it. Knowing about the negative effects of the potion, Medardus doesn't dare to drink it. However, he does so on St. Anthony's day after he sees a mysterious painter in the audience during his sermon. The man looks so familiar that Medardus drinks the elixir to confirm that he is not hallucinating. From there on, Medardus experiences a series of unexplainable events; most them include murders and identity theft. One moment, someone is dead, and then in the next scene, they are alive. All these events lead to an incredible revelation: the painter in the crowd is Medardus's father, and he, too, drank the elixir. Medardus's father was trying to atone for his sins. Medardus also discovers his brother, Count Victorin, drank the elixir and has been going around committing vile actions. The book is just an interesting tale of Medardus's family and their attachment to the devil's elixir. It is an interesting read for those that love drama, religion, and fantasy.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1363

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.

Francesco is engaged to the sister of a princess. During the marriage ceremony, the painter reappears. Francesco faints while trying to kill the painter with a stiletto. The next day he leaves, still unwed. It is later learned that the Italian countess gave birth to a son named Victorin. Francesco’s intended bride leaves to become the abbess at Kreuzberg. Hearing these tales, Medardus realizes that Francesco must be his father. At a party that night, Medardus is astonished to see that the princess is accompanied by Aurelia. When Aurelia recognizes him, he is charged with the murder of Hermogen and imprisoned. Later, he is released because his double, a mad monk who greatly resembles him, confessed to the crime. Medardus also learns that he and Victorin are stepbrothers.

Medardus becomes engaged to Aurelia. On the day that he is to marry her, he sees the mad monk being taken to the scaffold. Suddenly Medardus begins to rave. In his frenzy he stabs Aurelia, rescues the monk from the cart, and escapes into the woods. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself dressed as a monk in an Italian madhouse. He was taken there by Belcampo, the hairdresser, who says that he found Medardus in the woods, naked, with a monk’s robe lying beside him.

Medardus goes next to a Capuchin convent near Rome. While there, he learns that Aurelia is alive. He also sees a strange book that a mysterious painter left at the convent. It contains sketches of paintings Medardus saw at the Convent of the Holy Lime-Tree and the history of the artist. He is Francesco, a painter who drank of St. Anthony’s elixir.

Among his works, according to the account, is a painting of the martyrdom of St. Rosalia. One day he met a woman who looked just like the painting. They married, but his wife died soon after their son was born. Then Francesco, accused of sorcery, fled with his child, whom he nourished on the elixir. From Francesco’s son the family branched out and included the Princess von Rosenthurm, the abbess, the first Baroness von F——, Euphemia, and Victorin.

Medardus, now repenting his past, punishes himself so much that he becomes known to the pope, who speaks of making the monk his confessor. Having incurred the antagonism of the papal confessor in this manner, Medardus, realizing that his life is in danger, leaves Rome.

He returns to the Cistercian monastery and sees Prior Leonardus, who says that Victorin came there, claimed to be Medardus, and then disappeared. By piecing together the strange sequences of events, Medardus and Leonardus realize that Medardus and Victorin, two brothers who drank of the elixir, tried to destroy each other. Leonardus also tells Medardus that Aurelia is to become a nun that day, taking the name of Rosalia. This news so disturbs Medardus that while Aurelia is taking her vows he has an impulse to stab her, but after an inward struggle, he conquers his demon and has peace in his soul. Suddenly there is a disturbance in the church. Medardus’s double, dressed in rags, runs to the altar, shouts that Aurelia is his intended bride, stabs her in the heart, and escapes. Medardus rushes to Aurelia’s side. Close by he sees the mysterious painter, who says that Medardus’s trials will soon end. Aurelia regains consciousness, tells Medardus that he and she are destined to expiate the guilt of their family, and then dies. The people in the church, seeing the painter emerge from a picture over the altar, believe that a miracle occurred; they regard Aurelia, now called Rosalia, as a saint.

Medardus, fully recovered, can clearly tell truth from falsehood, and from Leonardus and the abbess he receives forgiveness for his past deeds. Leonardus then asks him to commit his life story to writing. Completing this task, he awaits the time when he will join Aurelia in heaven.

Father Spiridion, the librarian of the Capuchin monastery at Konigswald, appends a note to Medardus’s manuscript. He writes that one night, hearing strange sounds from Medardus’s cell, he investigates and sees a tall man who says that the hour of fulfillment will come soon. Then Medardus dies, one year to the minute from the time of Aurelia’s death. Father Spiridion adds that the painting of St. Rosalia, which the monastery acquired, bore, on the day of Medardus’s funeral, a wreath of roses. The wreath was put there by Pietro Belcampo, who later joins the order and becomes Brother Peter.

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