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

4.7 out of 5 stars 52 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.

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.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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 (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,696,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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: Hardcover
I found a Vintage Classics paperback version of this book in the Warsaw airport a couple of weeks ago, and reading it caused me to immediately buy several more of Huxley's books. The story and characters are well-explained in other reviews here, and each stage of the story is bookended by Huxley's very useful thoughts on the big-picture religious, political, and philosophical context.

However; if you focus only on the story of Grandier's martyrdom, presented in (perhaps too) realistic shades of grey, you may wonder why the author continues for so many pages afterwards. Is it an exercize in revenge as Grandier's persecutors go mad one by one? Not at all, you realize as you read on. The second story of this book for me is the most interesting, and I believe it may have been what drew Huxley to write the book in the first place.

Sister Jeanne des Anges and Joseph Surin both allowed themselves to be 'possessed by devils' for very different reasons. Their decision, the mechanism they thus set in motion, and the karmic fallout are all carefully detailed; and Huxley dwells in a very caring way on this Jesuit mystic who was lucid and capable of profound insight, yet at the same time considered mad by all his colleagues.

Like Hesse, Huxley uses Jungian concepts to open a vibrant speculative world that, in this book, provide an extended postscript with more of a feeling of reality than the sensationalistic, impossibly literal 'main' story of Grandier.
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