“I am acting badly,” thought Yevgeny, ”but what’s one to do? Anyhow it is not for long.”
Leo Tolstoy is known for epic novels that brilliantly dissect society, but the novella The Devil may be the most personally revealing—and startling—fiction he ever wrote. He thought it so scandalous, in fact, that he hid the manuscript in the upholstery of a chair in his office so his wife wouldn’t find it, and he would never allow it to be published in his lifetime.
Perhaps that’s because the gripping tale of an aristocratic landowner slowly overcome with unrelenting sexual desire for one of the peasants on his estate was strikingly similar to an affair Tolstoy himself had. Regardless, the tale—presented here with the two separate endings Tolstoy couldn’t decide between—is a scintillating study of sexual attraction and human obsession.
LEO TOLSTOY was born into the upper levels of the Russian aristocracy (his mother was a princess) in 1828. After a licentious youth, he joined the army to fight in the Crimean War, and published his first novel, Childhood, while serving in an artillery unit. After participating in some of the deadliest battles of the century, such as the Siege of Sebastopol, he quit the military in disgust. But the experience proved the inspiration for some of his greatest writing, including Sebastopol Sketches and War and Peace. After the war, he traveled throughout Europe but was disillusioned by Western materialism and returned to his family estate, Yasnaya Polyana. There, he married, fathered 13 children, founded a school for young peasants, and wrote Anna Karenina. But in 1879 Tolstoy underwent a spiritual crisis, and denounced the Orthodox church, private property, and the demands of the flesh. His extreme asceticism inspired a widespread, cult-like worship, but it also exacerbated a decades-long tension with his wife, Sofia. In 1910, after an argument with her, he fled the estate, only to die shortly thereafter at the nearby railroad station.