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.
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About the Author
Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) is the author of the classic novels Brave New World, Island, Eyeless in Gaza, and The Genius and the Goddess, as well as such critically acclaimed nonfiction works as The Perennial Philosophy and The Doors of Perception. Born in Surrey, England, and educated at Oxford, he died in Los Angeles, California.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is more about human nature than the life of Urbain Grandier, but the setting of Mr. Grandier's life provides no better fodder for such a discourse. Huxley enlightens us on the subject of man through the best medium possible: sarcasm. And the sarcasm's subtleties make it all the more humorous. The Devils of Loudun is no easy read, but for the interested, it is an outstanding compilation. I would strongly recommend it for any student (professional or otherwise) of philosophy.
This is among the most memorable books I have ever read. I saw the movie made based on this book while I was a student. It captured the political sensitivities to which I had evolved as a student from the 60s and 70s studying psychology in the context of Viet Nam and Watergate. When shortly afterward I found the book, I was immediately captivated by it even more than the movie had done. I am now a practicing psychologist and behavioral scientist, and I have still never found a better account of the extremes of human maliability and influence portrayed in fiction. I have re-read the book twice and will read it again (and this is rare for me, with so much remaining to read and life so short). I have recommended and even presented it to graduate students to generate critical thought. This is a book for the ages.
I attempted to read this book during an ironically trying time in my life, stumbling through it haphazardly and impatiently. Rushing through and skimming it as if it were some type of knowledgable life force I absolutely had to obtain on some metaphysical battle ground. The words, plot and storyline seemed to be innately existing in my mind all ready, the premise, crux and everything within blasting right through my brain as if invisible. I don't remember much of the book, I may have read it, I may have not in my rush to return it to the library shelf. One thing is clear, the library shelf held a lot of charm, and I revisited the book a year later to check on its safety, and there it was, still on the shelf, safe and secure. This book is pure magic.
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'. 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.