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The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley
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The Devils of Loudun (1952)

by Aldous Huxley

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English (15)  Italian (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All (18)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Hard reading along with many long phrases in French.
  busterrll | Feb 11, 2017 |
A history of a situation similar to that in Salem which has fascinated so many; only in this case, the antics of the bewitched were turned to the persecution of one man, a man of questionable moral fiber and bad behavior who was nonetheless innocent of the charges for which he was condemned. The writing is elegant in a way no longer in fashion among writers of non-fiction, more's the pity. The author has given an in-depth study of the situation, along with a psychological analysis that is probably at least somewhat out of date, based as much of it is on Freudian theory that was more fashionable at the time this work was written. It is marred somewhat by the insistence of the author that ESP and PK have been demonstrated to be true, and the rather moralistic spirituality with which he approaches his subject, assuming as he does that the existence of a higher power is obvious to all but the benighted (which seems weird for the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, but Aldous Huxley was well known for his sympathies toward spiritualism). A long book that didn't feel overly long on a topic that is now obscure, but still interesting. It would be interesting to have an up-to-date look at this incident, by someone who did not assume that the 17th century approach to female sexuality was appropriate, and could recognize that the frequent bewitchings in convents might not be hysteria, but just women who weren't allowed to be people. Definitely a worthwhile read. ( )
1 vote Devil_llama | Jun 3, 2016 |
Oliver Sacks mentions this work in his new book Hallucinations for its depictions of groups experiencing mass delusions. I do not know if Arthur Miller read this when working on his play The Crucible, but I have my suspicions.
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Huxley’s way of looking at the affair suggests, that accusing Urbain Grandier being in league with the devil was ridiculous. But the priest should not have refused to become spiritual advisor of a convent. The nuns and their Mother Superior most probably had fallen in love with the handsome man, well-known for a lot of sexual relationships, ending in a state which modern psychologists would explain with collective hysteria. Grandier was condemned for witchcraft. Before he was burned alive at the stake, all bones of his pretty limbs were broken under severe torture.
  hbergander | Feb 15, 2014 |
My trade paperback copy of Huxley's Devils of Loudun has the subject classification "religion" on the cover. I suppose that's fair, but it hardly registers the scope of this highly digressive microhistory of alleged diabolical possession in a 17th-century French convent, and the indictment (et sequae) of the local parson as the instigating sorcerer for the outbreak. There are many discussions of the political situation, reflections on the nature of mysticism, and expositions of psychological phenomena that are introduced in an effort to contextualize and explain the events treated in the book. Although Huxley sometimes provides a level of detail that seems almost novelistic, he has clearly done exhaustive archival work to accurately represent the historical events involved. (His Latin quotes are translated in footnotes, but not his French.) He credits the now-derogated notions of Murray's Witch-Cult in Western Europe, but they are really peripheral to his subject and his conclusions about it.

There is an "Epilogue (in amplification of material in Chapter Three)" where Huxley presents a theory and catalog of "Grace-substitutes" by which individuals seek to escape the prison of their individuality. This lively essay is the author's contribution to a conversation that runs from Plato's "Phaedrus" through Aleister Crowley's "Energized Enthusiasm." It is possible that Huxley may have read the latter (or received its thesis in conversation with Crowley), and he seems unaware of the connection of his musings with the former.

The story is not told in a way that invites the modern reader to look back on the cruel and blinkered deeds of earlier centuries with any sense of superiority. In fact, there are multiple points where the author pauses to observe that the 20th century far exceeded that earlier age in its ruthless destruction of individuals singled out by the machinations of despotic power:

"The soul is not the same as the Spirit, but is merely associated with it. In itself, and until it consciously chooses to make way for the Spirit, it is no more than a rather loosely-tied bundle of not very stable psychological elements. This composite entity can quite easily be disintegrated by anyone ruthless enough to wish to try and skillful enough to do the job in the right way.

"In the seventeenth century this particular kind of ruthlessness was unthinkable, and the relevant skills were therefore never developed" (209-210).

Which is not to say that Huxley romanticizes the truly horrific episodes that he recounts, nor that he detaches them from human weaknesses that afflict us and our societies today.

It is tempting to compare Huxley's European Devils to The Crucible by Arthur Miller, a play about the Salem witch trials written only a year after Huxley's book. Miller's drama was expressly a parable about the Red Scare and McCarthyism, while Huxley's 20th-century comparanda are overt totalitarianisms such as Nazism and Stalinism. Also, Miller's play takes the form of a straightforward tragedy centered on John Proctor. Within the historical narrative offered by Huxley, there is a tragedy with parson Urbain Grandier at its focus, a grim comedy starring prioress Jeanne des Agnes, and even a strange romance about the mop-up exorcist Jean-Joseph Surin. (Huxley himself explicitly classifies Surin as a tragic figure contrasted with the comical Jeanne in pp. 280-282.)

Director Ken Russell's production of Huxley's book as the film The Devils (1971) has been cinematic unobtainium for decades, with a restored video release appearing in the last year or so. I have not seen it, despite my fervent wish to do so. Now having read the book, my appetite for that is only increased. The Devils of Loudun is recommended on its own strengths, for its historical interest, for the gripping passages of storytelling, and for Huxley's sage appraisals of the human condition.
8 vote paradoxosalpha | Jul 14, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aldous Huxleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bratby, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hawinkels, PéTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Book description
Haiku summary
The nuns talk dirty,
the priest is burned at the stake.
Are there demons loose?
(LeBoeuf)

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099477769, Paperback)

1643: In one of history’s most sensational cases of mass possession and sexual hysteria, Urbain Grandier, a handsome seducer of women, and priest of the parish of Loudon, was found guilty of being in league with the devil and burnt at the stake. Huxley gives a vivid account of this bizarre tale of religious and sexual obsession.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:57 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"Aldous Huxley's acclaimed and gripping account of one of the strangest occurrences in history. In 1643 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" -- www.amazon.com… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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