Strange Revelations: Magic, Poison, and Sacrilege in Louis XIV's France. By Lynn Wood Mollenauer. Magic in History. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007. x + 214 pp. $70 cloth; $25 paper.
Judicial archives of the early modern period provide a rich source of evidence about the attempts of the absolutist state and the Counter-Reformation church to suppress dissent and impose order. Those archives, however, also provide a rich source of evidence about the victims of judicial repression. In the transcripts of interrogations that judges conducted with suspects and witnesses in cases of heresy, sacrilege, and witchcraft, historians have been able to glimpse a lost cultural world, a world of popular beliefs and practices that only came into full view when political and ecclesiastical authorities set about to destroy it. The historian Carlo Ginzburg established the model for such a study with his famous work The Cheese and the Worms (trans. John and Anne Tedeschi [Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980]), which used the archive of the Inquisition to reconstruct the cosmology of a late-sixteenth-century Italian miller. In her elegantly written and well-researched book, Strange Revelations, Lynn Wood Mollenauer makes an analogous use of judicial records from the France of Louis XIV to reconstruct what she calls "the criminal magical underworld" of late-seventeenth-century Paris.
The judicial records that form the basis of Mollenauer's study come from a remarkable criminal case, the so-called "Affair of the Poisons," which unfolded over a period of six years from 1676 to 1682. The affair began when La Reynie, the lieutenant general of police, received reports of a widespread trade in illicit poisons in the French capital. Alarmed by those reports, he launched an investigation and uncovered evidence that a number of mainly female courtiers were purchasing poisons....
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