…or rather on a bookshelf.
As I was walking through the history section of a bookshop today, my eyes espied a certain red spine, with a title and author upon said spine that I recognised. Lo and behold, it was a vintage edition of Aldous Huxley’s non-fiction novel, The Devils of Loudun.
The book chronicles the career of Urban Grandier, the parish priest of Loudun who got up to some distinctly un-priestly behavior. Then again, he was a Catholic priest in seventeenth century France. The most powerful religious figure in the country wasn’t exactly setting a great example as it was; Armand Jean du Plessis, better known as Cardinal Richelieu, had at least one mistress and once offered fifty thousand crowns for a night with famed poet, wit and courtesan Anne “Ninon” de l’Enclos. (Reportedly, she kept the money and sent another courtesan instead.)
However, Richelieu didn’t get around to conspiring with the Devil to seduce an entire convent of nuns and cause them to be possessed by various demons. Which is what Grandier allegedly did, and what he was ‘officially’ sent to the stake for. Naturally Huxley was extremely skeptical about this, and sets out to examine Grandier’s downfall, as well as the motivations of the Mother Superior – Sister Jeanne of the Angels – and the political backdrop of this little drama with great care.
I knew something about this historical event from a witchcraft seminar I had back in my first year of university. (Witchcraft in History, I hasten to clarify, as I always did after enjoying the expressions of the people who had just heard that I was off to my witchcraft lecture.) I knew rather more about it from watching parts of the 1971 film by Ken Russell, The Devils, based off of Huxley’s book – or, strictly speaking, based off of the play that was adapted from Huxley’s book – filled with fascinated horror all the while. There’s a definite reason why this is the film that started off the ‘nunsploitation’ theme that endured in exploitation films during the 70s and 80s.
I also happened to be rather spooked when I saw this book on the shelf with its glaring red spine, since my father and I had been discussing the film just the day before. Coincidence? I think not! After all this obsession on the subject, I was surely meant to read this book! It whispered in my ear as I brought it to the cash register!
I shall get back to you on how accurate I believe the film was to the book. I’m guessing the faithfulness will be, at best, loose. In the meantime, enjoy this amusing and insightful review of the film by OanCitizen http://blip.tv/brows-held-high/brows-held-high-the-devils-6216930
and learn more about the Loudun possessions here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudun_Possessions
Also, learn more about Anne “Ninon” de l’Enclos (a fascinating lady who deserves more appreciation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninon_de_l’Enclos