The mass possession of the Loudon convent of Ursuline nuns in 1632
has held an enduring grip on the imagination; a cause celebre to
the society of the day, it has also provided material for a novel
by Aldous Huxley and Ken Russell's unrestrained film, The Devils.
As a most accessible historian and semiotician, de Certeau brings
the extraordinary events and individuals alive, exposing the
underlying forces at work with a penetrating intelligence. As
France endured plague, secrarian conflict and fierce centralization
under Cardinal Richelieu, the infallible certainties of medieval
religious belief were assaulted by the nascent rationalism of
science and humanism. Loudon was the most extreme of a Europe-wide
phenomenon, that focused popular fears on such unfortunate
scapegoats as the nuns' libertine priest, Father Urbain Grandier.
De Certeau eloquently maps the mechanics and motivation of the
hysteria that saw the state put the Devil on trial and condemn
Grandier to the flames. (Kirkus UK)
It is August 18, 1634. Father Urbain Grandier, convicted of sorcery
that led to the demonic possession of the Ursuline nuns of
provincial Loudun in France, confesses his sins on the porch of the
church of Saint-Pierre, then perishes in flames lit by his own
exorcists. A dramatic tale that has inspired many artistic
retellings, including a novel by Aldous Huxley and an incendiary
film by Ken Russell, the story of the possession at Loudun here
receives a compelling analysis from the renowned Jesuit historian
Michel de Certeau.
Interweaving substantial excerpts from primary historical documents
with fascinating commentary, de Certeau shows how the plague of
sorceries and possessions in France that climaxed in the events at
Loudun both revealed the deepest fears of a society in traumatic
flux and accelerated its transformation. In this tour de force of
psychological history, de Certeau brings to vivid life a people
torn between the decline of centralized religious authority and the
rise of science and reason, wracked by violent anxiety over what or
whom to believe.
At the time of his death in 1986, Michel de Certeau was a director
of studies at the ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales,
Paris. He was author of eighteen books in French, three of which
have appeared in English translation as "The Practice of Everyday
Life, ""The Writing of History, " and "The Mystic Fable, Volume 1,
" the last of which is published by The University of Chicago
"Brilliant and innovative. . . . "The Possession at Loudun" is de
Certeau's] most accessible book and one of his most
wonderful."--Stephen Greenblatt (from the Foreword)
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