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on 6 December 2000
I read this a couple of years ago........ This book is written in Huxley's usual learned style. I would find it difficult to classify it solely as a novel or an historic piece of non-fiction. It's main subject is that of a supposed mass possession of a town in France and the subsequent burning of it's promiscuous clergyman. However, Huxley deals with all facets of this: Life in France at the time of Cardinal Richelieu, especially pertaining to the persecution of Hugenots; Mass possession and hysteria; Concepts of the Holy Trinity; Religious experiences; as well as insights into other aspects of life at the time. It is not an easy read, sometimes with chapter long (though very interesting) digressions, but this is something expected from a man like Huxley. Not all the passages of Latin and French are translated, so if you are not a francophone or classicist, this may frustrate you. With numerous references to works dating back a few hundred years, it is well-researched and the citations provide a bibliography of interesting texts. I recommend this book to anyone interested in some of the topics mentioned above, or anyone (like me), who cannot get enough of Huxley's inimitable style. By the way, there is a film based on this book, called The Devils, which, whilst not being a definite classic, is also worth a watch. (Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave star.)
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on 20 December 2002
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.
THE CONSPIRACY: Grandier's enemies (Laubardemont, Trincant, Father Mignon and others) grasp the false accusation as the means with which the destruction of the priest can be achieved. They accuse Grandier of sorcery and sent for an exorcist, Father Barre, who starts performing a series of exorcisms never seen before in France. The methods used by him and his assistants to extract the devils reputedly within the bodies of the nuns are base and sadistic. From Sister Jeanne's altered mind come the screams and the behavior that affect the other nuns. From there, collective hysteria spreads and as the nouns bask in their notoriety, their fantasies become more and more unreal. Those who oppose this infernal circus, on the grounds that the exorcists are the ones depraved, deliberately provoking the nouns, are arrested by Laubardemont, who wants to see the matter through. Both Richelieu and his agent are aware of Grandier's innocence but the raison d' Etat calls for the destruction of the young priest.
THE TRIAL AND MARTYRDOM: Not surprisingly, based on the hysterical accusations of the nouns, Grandier and Madeleine are arrested. Grandier is brought to trial and found guilty of sorcery. He is viciously tortured, vainly, in order to extract a confession of his guilt. When Grandier is burnt alive at the stake, in the public square of Loudun, finally the walls of Loudun can be demolished.
BALANCE: A very stirring and moving account of these tragic events, dotted with a psychological analysis of the protagonists of the drama and some insightful reflections about the ruthless workings of politics, this is my favorite Huxley's book. NOT A NOVEL. A SAD HISTORY.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 October 2005
Aldous Huxley recreates in a masterful evocation the historical events in Loudun: 'hysterical' nuns accuse the secular priest Urbain Grandier of being a sorcerer. He is condemned and burnt at the stake.
The author depicts masterly 'the superstition, fanaticism and professional self-interest of the ecclesiastics in the affair. 'Their goal was 'to justify the future use of inquisitional methods in every case where hysterical nuns could be induced by their confessors to accuse the enemies of the regime.'
The hysterism was faked. Physisians found no evidence of possession by devils, only sometimes 'furor uterinus'.
The grueling but deeply moving execution of the priest as well as the crowd delirium during and after it with fighting for relics, is a brutal but formidable evocation worth the magical paintings of a Hieronymus Bosch.
Huxley gives also a deadly blow to the nostalgics and sentimentalists of medieval village life. That life 'was an enormous horror ... a society that periodically lynches its witches proclaims its faith in magic and fear for the devil.'
He draws also a perfect comparison between the methods of Richelieu's totalitarian dictatorship and more modern political regimes and show trials for 'all the evils of religion can flourish without any belief in the supernatural; convinced materialists are ready to worship their own Absolute, and self-styled humanists will present their adversaries with all the zeal of the Inquisition.'
His ironic style becomes sometimes very cynical: 'For the totalitarians of our more enlightened century there is no soul and no Creator; there is merely a lump of physiological raw material moulded by conditional reflexes and social pressures into what is still called a human being. This product exists for Society and must conform to the Collective Will which is merely by the dictator's will to power.'
This is a formidable historical and very topical recreation of a most exemplary medieval trial.
I also recommand highly Ken Russell's movie 'The Devils', as well as the works of Jean Delumeau on the Middle Ages and William Manchester's masterly 'A World only lit by Fire'.
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on 9 November 2015
For me it is one of the best books in my library.
I have found this book very inspirational and
very thought provoking. At times very brutal,
it will illuminate the darkest parts of humanity.

No wonder, many film directors have used
this material in their films, one way or another.
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on 2 April 2015
Recently have taken to Aldous Huxley as i enjoyed Brave new world and have now read Island and doors to perception. The Devils of Londoun is not as engaging ad the previously mentoned books but still a good read.
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on 8 December 2011
I've just finished this fantastic book. Actually it is part of the research I assign myself for my writing. In this case it is a pleasurable task.
The Devils of Loudon is not only a masterful account of the mass hysteria that surrounded the so-called possession of the nuns of Loudon, it is a book that goes much further than that.
One understands better the grasp of any sort of totalitarian regime and how those sorts of ideologies gain followers.
This book is one of the greatest books I have ever read and I intend to re-read it many times.
It has a message that should be scrupulously studied if we ever wish to better understand the world in which we live.
I cannot recommend it highly enough!
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on 15 January 2016
Bought this book years ago in paperback after watching the film in 1971 but gave that away and then this one came along 40 years later. A surprising good read and if you're interested in little history and the witch hunts which took place in Europe in those times and the religious strives than it could well take hold of you. The book is very well written by Aldous Huxley and the story and backgrounds of it very well explained through the story. I know the Folio society prides itself on quality and this edition is just great and feels like a real book, well bound and printed with some temporarily drawings, a bit dark and sad for me but maybe that's what the illustrator wanted to do, to show the despair, pain and isolation of Urbain Grandier and I think he succeeded quite well. If you like good books, not only to read but to hold and touch too, this edition might do for you.
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on 2 October 2014
It's a challenging read but I wanted to read it because it was the basis of Ken Russell's film, The Devils. It's a true story. Grandier was a free-thinker, ahead of his time. The world needs more enlightened people like him.
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on 27 December 1998
In this thought-provoking work, Huxley focuses his incisive intellect on a group of seventeenth-century French nuns who are possessed by "devils." A witch-hunt ensues and a priest, innocent at least of being a magician, becomes the victim of his enemies, who use the nuns' "possession" to justify judicial murder. Huxley's insights into the terrible consequences of obsession with evil is more than just historically interesting. His central thesis, that preoccupation with evil in others never leads to anything positive, illuminates the current moralizing tendencies in the political activism of the religious right. A lucidly told, fascinating account of the consequences of unbridled righteousness put at the service of political ends. Highly recommended.
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on 24 February 2014
If science and religion coming together is what you are looking for. Not so much a story but interesting to see how dogmas and doctrines can be made to change. Also funny in places.
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