Historical farce that pits a middling London poet against a very gentlemanly Devil.
The foppish, fatuous poet is the narrator of this debut novel, and the title character is his foil, though the Devil turns out to be less of a presence than either the title or the setup would seem to promise. At the outset, Lionel Savage, a poet of some following but little literary distinction, discovers that he is all but broke. When the butler who raised him informs him of this, he responds, “Nonsense, Simmons. I don’t buy anything except books. You cannot possibly tell me I’ve squandered my fortune upon books.” Alas, he has, and he must remedy his situation quickly in order to continue to circulate in the high society to which he has become accustomed. It’s his good fortune—or is it?—to find himself matched with a beautiful heiress whose family apparently wants her to marry a poet, and he’s apparently as good as any. Yet six months after the nuptials, he has yet to consummate the marriage, share more than a few words with his bride, or write an acceptable poem since their courtship. “If you have ever written, you will know that it is either an arduous business or a simple one, but rarely in between,” he explains. “For me it used to be the one but is now the other.” At one of the society parties his wife throws to ease her frustrations, he encounters the gentleman of the title, explains his dilemma, and lends the Devil a book. That very night, his wife disappears. What follows encompasses his adventurously wanton sister, his wife’s famous explorer brother, an inventor suspected of treason, a wise bookseller, and the aforementioned butler, all of whom are attempting to answer two questions: did the narrator make a bargain with the Devil to take his wife? If so, how can he get her back?
Though the poet discovers plenty about love, friendship, and art in his quest, this novel is mainly slapstick, played for laughs.