Rapley, Robert 1926-
RAPLEY, Robert 1926-
Home—Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Agent—c/o Author Mail, McGill-Queen's University Press, 3430 McTavish St., Montreal, Quebec H3A 1X9, Canada.
A Case of Witchcraft: The Trial of Urbain Grandier, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1998.
Also the author of scholarly articles.
Robert Rapley is an independent scholar living in Ottawa, Canada, and the author of A Case of Witchcraft: The Trial of Urbain Grandier. Rapley helps to explicate the bizarre case of witchcraft and possession of the Ursuline nuns in Loudun, France, in the early seventeenth century, an incident that writer Aldous Huxley dramatized in his 1952 The Devils of Loudun, and that was further popularized by a play, an opera, and a movie. Rapley focuses on the handsome, worldly Catholic priest Urbain Grandier, who was both influential and controversial in the Loudun community. As David Longfellow noted in Journal of Church and State, Grandier's "intelligence, penchant for politics, acid tongue, and impregnation of a city magistrate's daughter earned him powerful enemies in Loudun." Such enemies extended beyond the community: his support for the governor of Loudun earned him the enmity of Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII, who were involved in a battle to centralize power in Paris. The sudden rash of satanic possession among Loudun's nuns, as well as an outbreak of the plague, provided Grandier's enemies with the opportunity they sought to bring him down. Accused of having brought about the visions and hallucinations of the nuns through witchcraft, Grandier was ultimately condemned to death by burning at the stake; he went to his fate protesting his innocence.
Rapley brings some new evidence to the historical reconstruction and also uses Grandier as the focal point of the affair in an account that won critical praise from reviewers in England and North America. Robin Briggs, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, felt that Rapley creates a "clear and judicious narrative of an exceptionally complex sequence of events." Briggs went on to call the book "an admirable piece of historical craftsmanship" and to praise its author for "unquestionably succeed[ing] …in conveying the grim fascination of this haunting story." William Monter, reviewing A Case of Witchcraft for the American Society of Church History, commented that Rapley "narrates Grandier's exploits and his death far more carefully and, in the end, more persuasively than did Huxley." Longfellow also commended Rapley's "thorough account" and noted that it "fills an important gap" in the historical record. The New Yorker's John Banville had further praise for the title, calling it a "superb unravelling of the story of Grandier," and a "work of impeccable scholarship" written with the "verve and narrative drive of a first-rate historical novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Society of Church History, June, 2000, William Monter, review of A Case of Witchcraft: The Trial of Urban Grandier, pp. 432-434.
Journal of Church and State, summer, 1999, David Longfellow, review of A Case of Witchcraft, pp. 609-610.
New Yorker, November 1, 1999, John Banville, review of A Case of Witchcraft, pp. 115-117.
Times Literary Supplement, November 5, 1999, Robin Briggs, review of A Case of Witchcraft, p. 28.
McGill-Queen's University Press Web site,http://www.mqup.mcgill.ca/ (November 7, 2003), "Robert Rapley."*