The Possession at Loudun

The Possession at Loudun

Paperback

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

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  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Format: Paperback | 264 pages
  • Dimensions: 148mm x 226mm x 20mm | 399g
  • Publication date: 2 August 2000
  • Publication City/Country: Chicago, IL
  • ISBN 10: 0226100359
  • ISBN 13: 9780226100357
  • Edition: 2
  • Edition statement: 2nd
  • Illustrations note: 28 halftones, 5 maps, 1 table
  • Sales rank: 375,212

Product description

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 Interweaving substantial excerpts from primary historical documents with fascinating commentary, de Certeau shows how the plague of sorceries and possessions in France that climaxed in the events at Loudun both revealed the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

Editorial reviews

A scholarly work for hardy souls who enjoy reading about tortured ones. In France, ever since Sartre, heavyweight intellectuals have gained fame by writing inscrutable prose. De Certeaus study, originally published in France in 1970, is exemplary in that regard, and Americans (the heirs of Twain and Hemingway) will find it hard going. De Certeau, the late, distinguished Jesuit scholar, was the right historian to try to bring fresh perspectives to the events of demonic possession, exorcism, and religious belief that convulsed a community in western France in the 1630s. It is a story that might appeal to fans of Stephen King if only they had the patience to wade through this version of it. For it is a fantastic tale of religion gone mad, cruel torment, grand hypocrisy, clever play-acting, and great courage in a time gone by. The genuine strangeness of the devils supposed possession of some nuns (through the vehicle of a parish priest) remains gripping and cant fail to move even the most agnostic modern audienceexcept in this tortured text, an artifact of literary new historicism. De Certeau provides ample selections from contemporary documents, each foreign and curious to modern eyes. He also emphasizes the dramaturgic qualities of the cruel medical and psychological examinations of the possessed, the stout faith of the condemned priest, and the lively public debates that surrounded his trial. But do readers have to be tried, too? Translator Smith must have been sorely taxed to render the original into some semblance of clear English. As if acknowledging his difficulty, he leaves some passages in the original Latin and Frenchfine for specialist scholars and graduate students but not so for normal souls looking for greater insight into an infamous series of events. The best rendering of Satans forays into old Catholic France remains Aldous Huxleys still vital Devils of Loudun. Go there first. (32 illustrations, not seen) (Kirkus Reviews)