MEPHISTOPHELES: The Devil in the Modern World by Jeffrey Burton Russell

MEPHISTOPHELES: The Devil in the Modern World

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The last in a series of four books telling the history of the concept of radical evil embodied in the Devil. Earlier volumes were praised for their scholarship and astuteness and also for their sense of the poignancy of the ordinary person's bafflement by the intrusion of evil into their lives. For Luther, the Devil was an immediate presence--see a literal translation of Ein Feste Burg. Shakespeare noticed the heart's desire for evil for evil's sake, an evil transcending our conscious errors and feelings. Milton's Paradise Lost is discussed for 32 pages--""the last convincing full-length portrait of the traditional lord of evil."" Thereafter for the atheists, matter produces mind, and mind creates the categories of good and evil. The romantics reversed the symbols--traditional Christianity had created a god who was really an evil tyrant. But the obstinate problem persists. Recently, says Russell, some psychologists have begun to look for a concept akin to the old one of evil to describe some phenomenon they encounter--personalties so completely founded on lies that traditional sociological and psychological understandings are irrelevant. The demonic quality of the arms race becomes clearer, Russell says, when we ask for whose good are these preparations for holocaust. The value of this book by a historian lies not in this last-page comment but in the 300 pages of descriptive analysis of the ways in which this basic question figures in the work of, among others, William Blake, G. Vico, Hume, Schleiermacher, Baudelaire, Mark Twain, William James, Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann, Freud and Jung. The author's use of this issue opens up the works discussed and incites the reader to explore.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0801497183
Publisher: Cornell Univ. Press