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Devils of Loudun (Penguin Classics) Paperback – October, 2001

4.7 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Huxley has reconstructed with skill, learning and horror one of the most appalling incidents in the history of witch-hunting during its seventeenth-century heyday. The Devils of Loudun is fascinating, erudite, and instinct with intellectual vitality" Times Literary Supplement "Huxley's analysis of motive, his exposition of the unconscious causes of behaviour, his exposure of the perversions to which religious emotion is subject, his discursions on the witch cult, on mass hysteria, on sexual eccentricity have the brilliance that all his writing has had from the very beginning" Spectator "One of Huxley's best books" Guardian "His masterpiece, and perhaps the most enjoyable book about spirituality ever written. In telling the grotesque, bawdy and true story of a 17th-century convent of cloistered French nuns who contrived to have a priest they never met burned alive ...Huxley painlessly conveys a wealth of information about mysticism and the unconscious" Washington Post --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Aldous Huxley, who was born in 1894 and who died in 1963, was one of the great polymaths of the twentieth century. He was a prolific novelist and biographer.

Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin USA (P) (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141390573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141390574
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,730,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) is the author of the classic novels Island, Eyeless in Gaza, and The Genius and the Goddess, as well as such critically acclaimed nonfiction works as The Devils of Loudun, The Doors of Perception, and The Perennial Philosophy. Born in Surrey, England, and educated at Oxford, he died in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
One of the joys of reading is how one subject can lead to a serendipitous find. Having recently come across a brief reference to the early 17th century barking nuns of Loudon I went in search of a more detailed exploration. In Aldous Huxley's book I found all that I sought and much more.

Urbain Grandier, the local parson of Loudon, is a very naughty cleric who partakes much too much of the sensual world. One morsel happens to be the daughter of his best friend. She becomes pregnant with unhappy consequences for many people. Grandier manages in this way of behavior to alienate nearly every important Catholic in Loudon as well as make an enemey of Richelieu.

When Grandier spurns the local prioress, Sister Jeanne, she claims demonic possession at the hand of Grandier as do 2 of her nuns. Grandier may have been guilty of many sins, but demonic possession was not among them. Exorcists are brought in as much too destroy Grandier as to throw out the devils (7 specific ones inhabit Sister Jeanne alone). The exorcists produce devils in 14 more nuns. The public exorcisms provide great entertainment, reviving the local tourist industry, but eventually produce the trial of Grandier, who in due turn is burned at the stake. The story continues when the Jesuit Surin arrives to finally successfully exorcise Sister Jeanne's demons.

Huxley's 1952 work explores the psychological aspects of demonic possession and exorcism, sometimes brilliantly against the backdrop of the madnesses of his own time. Liberal rationalists had "fondly imagined" an end to persecutions of 'heretics'.
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Format: Paperback
This book received some attention when Ken Russel's movie came out in the early 70's. Before and since it's been pretty much neglected, which is a shame. In my estimation, Huxley is one of the foremost masters of prose writing in the English language. Those who are unfamiliar with his essays should seek them out. His was a mind that ranged far and probed deeply. The incidents portrayed in this book are indeed bizarre. It will remind some of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, in that a group of young women, in this case nuns, fall victim to mass hysteria. A local priest, Father Grandet, becomes the fall-guy and the true victim of a superstition-riddled Inquisition.
I'm sorry to see that this book is currently unavailable. It's really one of the most interesting historical accounts that I've ever read. Actually, Whiting's play, based on the same incident, is also excellent. I have mixed feelings about Russell's film. I thought Vanessa Redgrave was remarkable and Oliver Reed was very good, but Russell went too often over the top as is his wont.
If you can't find this book online, perhaps you will come across it in a used-bookstore or, if you are luckier than I am and have a well-stocked library, you can find it there. You shouldn't pass up the opportunity if you want to have a satisfying and unusual reading experience.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very well researched historical account of hell in this world, by the author of the better known opus Brave New World and The Doors of Perception of Heaven and Hell.
The historical situation of the Catholic Church and the Jesuits, the politics in France during the 17th Century, the downfall of the Huguenots, all constitute the fabric were the personal drama and martyrdom of father Urbain Grandier are sewn.
POLITICAL BACKGROUND: Cardinal Richelieu is directing the policy of France, during the reign of Louis XIII. After Richelieu convinces the King that self-government of small provincial towns must end, the feudal nobility lose their independence by an edict calling for the destruction of their castles and walls, whilst the Hughenots are being crushed by force. One of these towns is Loudun, where the priest (a Jesuit) is Urbain Grandier, an intellectual priest of 35, that knows the meaning and consequences of the edict calling for the destruction of the fortified walls of Loudun. Consequently, when Laubardemont, an agent of the Cardinal Richelieu arrives in the town, he is confronted and stopped by Grandier.
GRANDIER'S VICES: Father Grandier is strikingly handsome and a sensualist. His vows of celibacy have not prevented him from fathering a bastard child with the daughter of Trincant, the town magistrate, and performing an illegal marriage with Madeleine, a young lady with whom he has fallen in love.
THE ANGELICAL DEVIL: The Convent of the Ursulines in Loudun is ruled by Sister Jeanne of the Angels, a young humped back noun, with a beautiful face. She develops an obsession with Grandier and has sensual visions which involve the young priest. When she hears about the illicit marriage, she gets mad and falsely accuses the priest of sorcery and lewdness.
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Format: Paperback
I was fascinated by Huxley's use of this story as a way of trying to explain his thoughts on "man's deep-seated urge to self-transcedence, of his very natural reluctance to take the hard, ascending way, and of his search for some bogus liberation either below or to one side of his personality" - as revealed by our dependecies on religion and in joining mass movements like fascism or communism, as well as sexuality and substance use and abuse.
In Chapter Three he focuses on the religious aspects of these tendencies to "desire - and desire, very often, with irresistable violence - the consciousness of being someone else."
In the Epilogue ["In amplification of material in Chapter Three)"], he expands on these ideas by discussing substance use and abuse: "Alcohol is but one of the many drugs employed by human beings as avenues of escape from the insulated self." He adds to this the use of "From poppy to curare, from Andean coca to Indian hemp and Siberian agaric, every plant or bush or fungus capable, when ingested, of stupifying or exciting or evoking visions....seems to prove that, always and everywhere, human beings have felt the radical inadequacy of their personal existence, the misery of being their insulate selves and not something else.."
He then continues with the "crowd delirium" of mass movements:
"The professional moralists who inveigh against drunkeness are strangely silent about the equally disgusting vice of herd-intoxication - of downward transcendence into subhumanity by the process of getting together in a mob." leading to "The final symptom of herd-intoxication is a manical violence.
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