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The Devils of Loudun

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,920 ratings  ·  178 reviews
In 1634 Urbain Grandier, a handsome and dissolute priest of the parish of Loudun was tried, tortured and burnt at the stake. He had been found guilty of conspiring with the devil to seduce an entire convent of nuns in what was the most sensational case of mass possession and sexual hysteria in history. Grandier maintained his innocence to the end and four years after his d ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published April 7th 2005 by Vintage Classics (first published 1952)
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Elanna I just read the 1970 Chatto & Windus edition. It is very clear and most passages are translated. It is not a novel, though. It is an essay on a…moreI just read the 1970 Chatto & Windus edition. It is very clear and most passages are translated. It is not a novel, though. It is an essay on a real story from the Seventeenth Century, and Huxley is not the only one who wrote about it. This explains the chapters about mistycism, and the Appendix.
Maybe the edition I read is difficult to find in America. I borrowed it from the library in Galway, Ireland...(less)

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3.91  · 
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 ·  1,920 ratings  ·  178 reviews


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Sam Ruddick
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 suspect it was billed as "A True Story of Demon Possession" in order to boost sales. It's lamentable for several reasons. One is simply that it misrepresents the book. I mean, if you're looking for something that deals with actual demon possession, or a piece of lurid fiction dealing wi
...more
William2
Oliver Sacks mentions this work in his book Hallucinations for its depiction of groups experiencing mass delusions. I do not know if Arthur Miller read this when working on his play The Crucible, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Nandakishore Varma
Not about devils, really, but about mass hysteria and the psychological roots of religious ecstasy, mania, and spirituality itself. This is the story of the philandering priest Urbane Grandier of Loudun, in 17th Century France, who was burnt at the stake for causing the demonic possession of a whole nunnery. The problem was, even his death did not send the devils away.

If you read this as horror aficionado looking for devils (like I did in my early twenties), you are going to be disappointed. (No
...more
Susan
Feb 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first read this book in high school and it made a great impression on me. Huxley’s account of the Church’s investigation into demonic possession in a seventeenth century French town is a disturbing example of institutional abuse, sexual repression, and political ambition. I’ve never found such a riveting account surrounding the torture and execution of the priest Urbain Grandier. (Admittedly, I haven’t looked very hard.) At the time I first read this work I was also researching a paper on chur ...more
Jeffrey Taylor
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book requires much of the reader and makes no concession to popularity. It speaks to a reader devoted to truth and careful analysis who holds the author and the reader to superlative standards. 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. The abundance of data, however obscure, would be expected not criticised.

Huxley made a deep survey into the theology o
...more
Mark Joyce
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
A challenging read, not least because it deals with some of the worst of human behaviour in a way that is depressingly recognisable. It's challenging too in the sense of straddling multiple genres, which can be a great thing in literature but is problematic when it comes to history.

Huxley takes, to put it mildly, quite a few liberties with the source material. His skill as a writer compounds the difficulty of knowing when one is reading genuine source-based historical narrative versus literary
...more
Benjamin Stahl
The Devils of Loudun is a fascinating historical account, written like a fiction, detailing a scandalous affair in 1630s France. A priest is falsely accused of cursing a convent of nuns, causing them to be possessed by demons. Addressing the catastrophic dangers posed by religious hysteria, this book is by no means an attack on the Christian faith. Rather, it is an incredibly insightful meditation on the pious life, the ordeals of the devout, and the mysterious workings of God. Equally disturbin ...more
Jeremy
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Devils of Loudun. This book left me speechless; contemplating days after I had finished it. Huxley's insight into the theology of Christianity is whole in its entirety. There is no stone left unturned in this gruesome account of alleged demonic possession which led to numerous botched exorcisms. The incident Initially onset by townhood pranksters, turned into political ammunition for taking down a Catholic priest who once considered himself the hierarchy of Loudun. Through Urbain Grandier's ...more
Ulysses
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tasty combination of history, theology, and psychology, rolled up in a greasy tortilla of religious hysteria and garnished with Huxley's twin trademarks of (1) haughty contempt for the stupidity and gullibility of the unwashed masses and (2) sexsexsex. Conceivably a reader could be pretty scandalized/mortified by the content of this book... but really, who these days thinks that people didn't treat each other like total shite in the 17th century, that organized religion hasn't historically bee ...more
Juxian
Nov 25, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-like, horror
I read the story of Loudun demonic possessions in so many renderings. It's just the kind of a story that shocks and fascinates with every its turn, that compresses so much of the darkness and nastiness a human is capable of. It's the case when a true story is more complex and amazing than any fiction can be.
I never thought one could tell this story in such a dry, dull, monotone way as Aldous Huxley did. I mean how - how can one suck all life out of a story that is overfilled with passions.
Okay,
...more
John
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A fascinating account of a reported case of devil possession in Loudun France in the early 17th Century that resulted in the execution of a Priest who was most certainly not guilty. Cardinal Richelieu plays a prominent role in the course of events.

Be forewarned that this is not a straightforward retelling. 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. But Huxley was also interested
...more
Gordon Howard
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent book - occasionally gets "into the weeds." A fascinating story. Don't skip the epilogue - it has some excellent insights on important issues.

Here is the best quote from the book.


"In the briefly liberal nineteenth century [learned men] found it difficult not merely to forgive, but even to understand the savagery with which sorcerers had once been treated. Too hard on the past, they were at the same time too complacent about their present and far too optimistic in regard to the future -
...more
Erik Graff
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Huxley's, The Devils of Loudun, reading as easily as a well-written novel, purports to be the true story of a seventeenth century case of witchcraft in France. At one level it is the biography of Urbain Grandier, the Catholic priest so condemned. On another, it is an examination of mass psycho-sexual psychosis as represented in such cases--and of the religious bases for the underlying repression. On yet another, it is a mystery, exploring the possible motives of the main players in the drama in ...more
Mark
Nov 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: history buffs, conspiracy fans, Ken Russell fans
Shelves: non-fiction
Chronicles the events around Loudun, France that Ken Russell portrays (in his particular fashion) in the infamous film (one of my favorites), "The Devils." It seems that politically-motivated scare tactics have been around for a long time, whether WMDs, Al Qaida or the Devil, itself. Gets things done.
Scull17
Huxley as historian/storyteller in this book is just superb; but Huxley the psychologist, sociologist and theologian lost me a little bit. I do feel I learned a lot about not only religion and superstition in 17th-century France, but about politics and the heavy hand of Richelieu, as well. 3.5 stars.
Eric
Jan 23, 2009 added it
At times overly detailed/pedantic, this book nonetheless warrants the effort. An interesting look into the religion, superstition, and power struggles that defined an epoch. Especially interesting from the point of view of mental imprisonment.
Amy
Batshit crazy. Fascinating portrayal of politics and "possession" in 17th Century France. Felt it lost its way in discussions of spirituality, but characterisation and psychology were sound. Some wonderfully dark, comedic touches throughout e.g. description of nun doing the splits.
Rory Tregaskis
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
The title is ambiguous as to which devils it is referring, metaphysical devils, or the ordained criminals in the catholic church charged with exorcising them. Huxley's account of the possession of 17 nuns in a 1630's French town and the torture and sadistic execution of the parson accused of bewitching them is very even handed. He says there's no reason to discount the existence of malevolent discorporate conscious entities, or demons, but in this case the corruption of Catholic church makes us ...more
Kate
It happened in 17th-century France: nuns possessed by demons, a controversial priest accused, and exorcists brought in to investigate.

This is a nonfiction novel, based on historical evidence, but embellished by Aldous Huxley's notions of what the people involved thought and experienced. Writing after World War II, amid the Red Scare, Huxley explores the texture of life in the early modern era while drawing implicit parallels to his own day.

The Devils of Loudun came out in the year before The Cr
...more
Brett
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
What is this book, exactly?

It exists in some netherworld between fiction and non-fiction. It's history and philosophy and theology. It's a book about mass delusion, politics, torture, and redemption.

It's interesting though it reads sometimes as unfocused. When I started it, I was under the impression that I was picking up a work of fiction (though based on historical happenings) in the same vein as Huxley's other fiction. And sometimes the way that Huxley talks about the inner thoughts of the hi
...more
Jason
Jun 16, 2019 rated it liked it
"Moby Dick" contains an infamous chapter titled Cetology in which Herman Melville pauses his plot so he can share whale facts. While marine biology can be fascinating, Melville's digression stops his story cold.

Aldous Huxley makes the same mistake repeatedly in "The Devils of Loudun."

"Loudon" ostensibly tells the true story of Urbain Grandier and Jeanne des Anges. Grandier was a charismatic, arrogant and well-connected priest. He also lacked discretion with his female parishioners -- impregnatin
...more
Danielle
Pretty good! For those who are wondering, this read like part story and part book report. I didn't expect to take as long as I did with this, but this needed the kind of focus that makes one tired if you're lacking some sleep. And it ends strong with the Epilogue. Definitely worth a read if you have an interest in this subject or how it pertains to psychology or sociology. Also good ole Huxley put a bibliography in the back! I love when this type of stuff has been researched and wants to show yo ...more
Patrick
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing work. The Epilogue alone is an amazing critic of Huxley's and our own time.

After some time away I will study chapter three and the epilogue more deeply.

This book is the work of a thoughtful and well read scholar.
Gabriel LLanas
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tst-reading
This book is worth it for the epilogue alone. A fascinating look at crowd dynamics and religious fervor.
Carrie
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is twice the size it should be, not enough interesting history for the page count.
Kevin Richards
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating Study of Corruption

I knew of the case from other accounts, but here we have an examination of the very human, and still very relatable, motivations that manifested within the specific environment and period. Readers come away with greater knowledge of the theories of the day as well as modern explanations of what was believed to be supernatural. The dramatic unfolding of the tragedy is at times comic in that its dogmatic insistence is so transparent even at that time. It is then redo
...more
Tom Buchanan
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So many enemas good God!
Scarlett
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book will likely remain one of my all time favourites - an in-depth study of a case of 'possession', accusations of witchcraft, plus a fascinating and dogged discussion of spirituality - what's not to like.

Huxley took a period I had studied, that I had read about in black and white, and transformed it into full colour. Every surrounding character was well drawn, and the motivations were compelling and comprehensible, although often repulsive. Huxley vividly illuminates the personalities an
...more
Steve Cooper
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I found a Vintage Classics paperback version of this book in the Warsaw airport a while back, 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
...more
Owain
Oct 02, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book pushes the boundaries of how much tedium I can endure in fiction. It's drier than the Mojave Desert. Despite the subject matter being interesting Huxley manages to suck all the excitement out of it like the Hungry Caterpillar munching its way rapidly through a pile of cotton wool. I don't understand how a scene where a guy is wrongly accused of witchcraft and burned alive at the stake can be made so undramatic and dull.

My constructive criticism to Huxley (if he wasn't dead) would be to
...more
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Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. He spent the latter part of his life in the United States, living in Los Angeles from 1937 until his death in 1963. Best known for his novels and wide-ranging output of essays, he also published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts. Through his novels and es ...more
“The world' is man's experience as it appears to, and is moulded by, his ego. It is that less abundant life, which is lived according to the dictates of the insulated self. It is nature denatured by the distorting spectacles of our appetites and revulsions. It is the finite divorced from the Eternal. It is multiplicity in isolation from its non-dual Ground. It is time apprehended as one damned thing after another. It is a system of verbal categories taking the place of the fathomlessly beautiful and mysterious particulars which constitute reality. It is a notion labelled 'God'. It is the Universe equated with the words of our utilitarian vocabulary.” 15 likes
“Sex can be used either for self-affirmation or for self-transcendence — either to intensify the ego and consolidate the social persona by some kind of conspicuous ‘embarkation’ and heroic conquest, or else to annihilate the persona and transcend the ego in an obscure rapture of sensuality, a frenzy of romantic passion, more creditably, in the mutual charity of the perfect marriage.” 11 likes
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