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The Devils of Loudun Paperback – July 28, 2009
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"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.
From the Back Cover
Aldous Huxley's acclaimed and gripping account of one of the strangest occurrences in history
In 1632 an entire convent in the small French village of Loudun was apparently possessed by the devil. After a sensational and celebrated trial, the convent's charismatic priest Urban Grandier—accused of spiritually and sexually seducing the nuns in his charge—was convicted of being in league with Satan. Then he was burned at the stake for witchcraft.
In this classic work by the legendary Aldous Huxley—a remarkable true story of religious and sexual obsession considered by many to be his nonfiction masterpiece—a compelling historical event is clarified and brought to vivid life.
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Top Customer Reviews
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'. Instead, as he observes "from our vantage point on the descending road of modern history, we now see that all the evils of religion can flourish without any belief in the supernatural, that convinced materialists are ready to worship their own jerry-built creations as though they were the Absolute, and that self-styled humanists will persecute their adversaries with all the zeal of Inquisitors exterminating the devotees of a personal and transcendant Satan...In order to justify their behavior, they turn their theories into dogmas, their bylaws into First Principles, their political bosses into Gods and all those who disagree with them into incarnate devils. This idolatrous transformation of the relative into the Absolute and the all too human into the Divine, makes it possible for them to indulge their ugliest passions with a clear conscience and in the certainty that they are working for the Highest Good."
In the last third of the book he explores the nature of Sister Jeanne's possession, the possession of her exorcist Surin, and the manner of her recovery. The modern mind has some difficulty here. Clearly Surin and possibly Jeanne believed in the reality of demonic possessions (it is worth noting that many learned men, including those behind Grandier's fall and most Jesuits did not believe in the authenticity of these possessions). At the same, Jeanne is also play-acting at times as she concedes in her own subsequent writings. They believed in the Devil, they believed in possession, but understood that the Devil could not overcome the will of the possessed. Huxley paints a poignant, if oddly amusing, scene when he describes how Surin ordered Jeanne's devils to discipline themselves - in other words to flagellate Jeanne. Two of the devils lay on the whip with gusto, but Balaam and Isacaaron abhorring pain, would barely swing the whip and yet the possessed Jeanne would scream in agonized suffering.
An absolutlely fascinating read by one of the great minds of the 20th century.
My only problem with the book- I suppose- and this is a minor one) is that Huxley often wander off into personal comment and philosophical musings about the nature of good and evil and other personal asides which I think add nothing to the narrative; indeed I think they detracted from the flow of the story. Still, all in all, this story of a judicial murder and one is tempted to say mass hysteria in Baroque France well deserves its reputation as a classic of the genre of historical fiction or - rather- dramatized history in the tradition of Capote's "In Cold Blood."
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.