This is probably one of the most interesting and important books I've ever read. Let me say first that (in spite of the tag-line) it actually has almost nothing to do with devils, or "demon possession" as such. I mean, if you're looking for something that deals with actual demon possession, or a piece of lurid fiction dealing with similar subject matter, this book probably isn't what you're looking for. And, if you're NOT interested in demon possession, the tag-line will keep you from reading the book. It also deals with an alleged case of demon possession: that is also true. It's interesting, because at times he makes ironic or even sarcastic comments, and that's normally the refuge of a weaker writer, a writer who sneers at the world, dismisses the very idea of demon possession (or even plain old spirituality) as quaint fantasy. In case you're thinking this is all sort of dark, I should mention that he spends a lot of time emphasizing the positive (what he calls Original Virtue, rather than Original Sin). In case you're thinking this is all sort of flaky, I should mention that he also devotes considerable attention to psychology and psychiatry, as well. The Devils of Loudun was first published in 1952, I think, and when I finished reading it, I thought about all the stuff I read in school, the critical theory that's come out of the academic community and the religious and political discourse that's come out since 1952, and I just felt like something had gone terribly wrong.
Huxleys account of the Churchs investigation into demonic possession in a seventeenth century French town is a disturbing example of institutional abuse, sexual repression, and political ambition. That school term was a bit depressing, what with all the reminders of how incredibly shitty people can be in the interest of doing the right and proper thing. Huxley is adept in describing the complex web of events that led up to Grandiers arrest and trial, and his detailed description of the poor mans execution would make anyone beg off extra crispy fried anything for a few months. The damaging and hysterical testimony of the Mother Superior in particular, was born of the severe sexual, political, and societal constraints placed on women at the time. The community in which the trail and execution took place provides an example of group think and mass hysteria, reminding me how little we have changed in the last three hundred years.
I can't begin to claim to fully measure up to that standard but the reader for whom this book was written would scoff a criticism of the language or presentation as too demanding. Huxley made a deep survey into the theology of the day of the trial. Huxley avoided the historicist fallacy of criticizing the condemnation of Grandier based upon the values and knowledge of his day.
The problem was, even his death did not send the devils away.
Through Urbain Grandier's lustful shortcomings he garners enemies for taking advantage not only the fine prioresses of the region; some of whom are daughters of important men in the clergy, but also manipulating those apart and following the church in a didactic fashion. Through never-ending trials and appeals, enough 'subjective' evidence is garnered to sell the court on the 'fact' that Urbain is guilty of sorcery and was the reason why the Loudun nuns and the prioress were possessed. Throughout the book Huxley pivots from one person/topic to another depending on the point he is trying to bring to lite. If you like Huxley, 17th Century France, or interested in the history of Catholicism or Theology I would highly recommend this book.
it's like an entire intro-level college course on early modern European history, distilled down to one particular case study in one book.
I never thought one could tell this story in such a dry, dull, monotone way as Aldous Huxley did.
The Devils of Loudun is a fascinating historical account, written like a fiction, detailing a scandalous affair in 1630s France.
Huxley is an excellent expository writer (at times a little pedantic) and the book provides a wealth of information on French society of the early 17th Century.
Best known for his novels and wide-ranging output of essays, he also published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts.