Simanaitis Says

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WHY MY INTEREST in Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orléans, the heroine of all France? Actually there are multiple reasons: one, a recent retrospective in London Review of Books, others, tracing back to Miss Dougherty, high-school teacher who introduced us to theater, in particular to the works of George Bernard Shaw and Jean Anouilh. And, in researching all this, I came upon a most interesting assessment, a modern one from 2018. Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are tidbits about Joan of Arc. 

Was she a French provincial teenager gob-smacked by God? A 15th-century feminist? A late-arriving saint of the Holy Roman Catholic Church? All of the above? 

Joan of Arc, c. 1412–1431, French heroine during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War, canonized as a saint in 1920. Image, according to Wikipedia, allegedly dated to the second half of the 15th century, but presumably an art forgery from the late 19th or early 20th century.

The London Review of Books regularly republishes articles on one thing and another. “What a Woman!,” by J.L. Nelson, originally appeared in LRB, October 19, 2000, as a review of three Joan of Arc books. 

Dame Janet Laughland Nelson is an appropriate person for this task: She teaches medieval history at King’s College, London. To put the three reviewed works in perspective, back in 2000 Nelson said that Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, by Marina Warner, 1981, “remains the best book on the subject.” By the way, Marina Warner continues to be among contributing editors of the LRB. 

Gee. No wonder I enjoy the LRB. 

Joan’s CV. Nelson wrote: “Every year on 8 May, a young woman dressed in armour and carrying a white banner rides in procession through the streets of Orléans in north-central France…. The event is the French relief of the city, after months of siege by the English, in 1429; the life is that of Joan of Arc, a 17-year-old girl from Lorraine told by heavenly voices to go ‘into France’ and to rescue Orléans.”

“Having achieved her mission,” Nelson continued, “Joan fell into the hands of the English and was burned at the stake for heresy and witchcraft in the marketplace at Rouen on 30 May 1431, though she was subsequently rehabilitated.”

An Historic Hiatus. Nelson noted that Joan “was little known even in France until the First World War…. Then her canonisation in 1920—which had much to do with relegitimising the French Republic––made her a national icon.”

“By the end of the 20th century,” Nelson observed, “Joan was known throughout the world for inspiring the campaign that ultimately brought the expulsion of the English from France; for having been burned by the English; for having heard voices; for dressing as a man and going into battle; for being one of le menu peuple [the common people] who fearlessly confronted the authorities; for being a saint.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we share assessments of Joan, dating from 1920, 1952, and 2018.

© Dennis, 2021 

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