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Reviewed by:
  • Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern England: Contemporary Texts and Their Cultural Contexts, and: Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France
  • Hilaire Kallendorf
Philip C. Almond . Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern England: Contemporary Texts and Their Cultural Contexts. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. x + 405 pp. index. bibl. $85. ISBN: 0–521–81323–9.
Sarah Ferber . Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. x + 227 pp. index. illus. bibl. $95 (cl), $27.95 (pbk). ISBN: 0–415–21264–2 (cl), 0–415–21265–0 (pbk).

These two recent studies on demonic possession and exorcism in the early modern period complement each other well. They also fit into a larger pattern of recent books about Renaissance demonology. Almond's book is a collection of nine pamphlets printed about specific exorcism cases in England from 1570 to 1650, while Ferber's work is an analytical study of specific cases (contextualized within broader cultural movements) for roughly the same time period in France. The highlight of Almond's work is its presentation of essential primary sources — all written by eyewitnesses or derived from eyewitness accounts — in a modernized, readable form. The best feature of Ferber's work, in contrast, is the bold, masterful analysis, including detailed discussions of the minutiae of individual cases but always stepping back to ask larger questions about the primary source material. These two books may be positioned within a group of book-length studies on this and related topics, which I first noticed in 2001 with the publication of Armando Maggi's Satan's Rhetoric: A Study of Renaissance Demonology (2001), followed the next year by Walter Stephens's Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief. The rate of scholarly productivity in this area accelerated in 2003 with the publication of Nancy Caciola's Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages and my own Exorcism and Its Texts: Subjectivity in Early Modern Literature of England and Spain. With the appearance [End Page 669] of Almond's and Ferber's books, both published in 2004, we definitely have a trend. I shall therefore begin by looking at the noteworthy contributions ofAlmond and Ferber and conclude by attempting to analyze this important new development in Renaissance scholarship.

Almond's book is not exactly an edition but instead an attempt to modernize and simplify nine pamphlets printed shortly after the occurrence of the events they describe. Oddly, it gives the illusion of being a facsimile: the font used looks "antique," in stark contrast to the more typical modern font used for the introduction and short commentaries preceding each of the stories. And that is exactly what these entries purport to be: stories, told by eyewitnesses or derived from eyewitness accounts, of real people who suffered physical symptoms held to be inexplicable by natural means. In some ways, this book promises more than it delivers; for example, the blurb on the book jacket claims that "this is the first book exclusively devoted to demonic possession and exorcism in early modern England," a bit of a stretch considering the other recent books mentioned above. It is also, perhaps, a little slender on commentary: out of 405 pages, fewer than eighty are devoted to discussion of the primary material being presented. Furthermore, while serving as an excellent introduction to the subject matter, this book will prove problematic in coming years to scholars wishing to cite the material contained in it. Since it is not a critical edition, and the reader has no way of telling what changes the editor might have made for the sake of "modernization," it would be unwise for serious scholars to cite such a book without comparing the text to the original. And if the originals must be consulted anyway, what exactly is the advantage of presenting nine of these texts in their entirety? A caveat lector in the preface gives the cautious reader pause. The author says, "the modernisation of these texts became a much more complex task than I had envisaged. It was an exercise in translation and interpretation" (x). This issue of "translating" not from one...


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