The Possession at Loudun
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The Possession at Loudun

By (author) Michel de Certeau , Foreword by Stephen Greenblatt , Translated by Michael B. Smith

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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 in 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 Interweaving substantial excerpts from primary historical documents with fascinating commentary, de Certeau shows how the plague of sorceries and possessions in France that climaxed in the events at Loudun both revealed the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.

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  • Paperback | 264 pages
  • 148 x 226 x 20mm | 399.16g
  • 02 Aug 2000
  • The University of Chicago Press
  • University of Chicago Press
  • Chicago, IL
  • English
  • 2nd
  • 28 halftones, 5 maps, 1 table
  • 0226100359
  • 9780226100357
  • 490,235

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Author Information

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. Of his many books, "The Practice of Everyday Life, The Writing of History, " and" Heterologies: Discourse on the Other" are available in English translation."

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Review text

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)

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