Alexander Crompton

📚 23 - August

Aldous Huxley (1952). The Devils of Loudun.

This book brings my Huxley kick to an end.

Fascinating and meticulously-researched account of the events around a witch trial in 17th century France. A group of nuns "become possessed by demons" and blame a sexy priest. The priest's enemies conspire to profit of these accusations and eventually put him to a gruesome death. The ringleader nun (a charlatan, I assume) goes on to tour as a celebrity, showing off supernatural markings on her skin, before retiring to her cloister. Assumed/fictionalized interiorities are provided by the author when historical record falls short.

Historical accounts of this type of brutality—is "human nature" on display? Huxley quotes contemporary accounts of travelers witnessing the spectacle (nuns being put through their paces by the exorcists) who speak, clear-eyed, about how obviously fake the possessions are. (For example the nuns, verbalizing as devils, speak in embarrassingly broken Latin.) One gets the mounting sense that many of those involved with what ends in murder are swept into situations where resistance would bring about their own destruction.

The trappings—the sexualized exorcisms, the religious aura, the devilish tongues, the brutal torture of Urbain Grandier—may seem far removed from our lives now, but in many ways the American criminal justice system, with its injustice and abuses, plays out similar farces and tragedies.

The 1971 Ken Russell "nunsploitation" film adaptation, The Devils, is absolutely delicious.