Jehanne d'Arc was born in Domremy around 1412, the daughter of Jacques and Isabelle. At the age of thirteen, she began to hear voices from God, first from Saint Michael and later from Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine. They charged her with the task of aiding the Dauphin Charles, would-be King of France.

She travelled to Vancouleurs where she met Robert de Baudricourt and Jean De Metz, who accompanied her to Chinon to meet with the Dauphin. It was at this point she first began to wear men's clothing. In Chinon and Poitiers she was examined by theological scholars who were unable to debunk her claims, so Charles set her with troops to Orléans to lift the English seige.

After sending letters to the English beseeching them to lift their seige and return to England, the only remaining course of action was war. The French first took the fortress of Saint-Loup, then the Augustines. On May 7, 1429, Joan was wounded in the throat by a crossbow bolt, but her troops still fought bravely and the English siege was lifted the next day.

After a campaign in Loire, she accompanied the Dauphin to Reims where he was coronated as Charles VII, King of France. After an unsuccessful attempt to take Paris, in which Joan was again wounded, and a retreat to Saint Denis, Joan was captured by the Burgundians in May of 1430 at Compiègne and taken to Rouen to stand trial before the Bishop Cauchon.

The scope of the trial is too great to go into detail here, but earlier confusion in the nodes about Joan's refusal to wear women's clothing should be addressed. When asked if God commanded her to wear men's clothing, she replied:

"My clothing is a small matter, one of the least. But I did not put on men's clothing by the counsel of any man on earth. I did not put on this clothing, nor do anything else, except at the bidding of God and the angels.

Joan was kept from attending mass or hearing confession, but she would not recant her testimony... until the Bishop read her sentence in the Cemetery of Saint Ouen on Thursday, May 24th, 1431. When it was announced that she was to be burned, she produced a signed statement of abjuration. She was to put on women's dress and be placed in the eventually placed custody of the church. Whether or not she was raped is a subject of debate. It would appear naïve to think that she wasn't, although her words on the day of her death speak to the contrary: "that my clean body, never yet defiled, must this day be burnt and turn to ashes."

Four days after her abjuration, she recanted her statement, proclaiming "What I said, I said for fear of the fire." On Wednesday, May 30th, 1431, she was brought forth to the public and burned at the stake. Her last words:

"I pray you, go to the nearest church and bring me the cross, and hold it up level with my eyes until I am dead. I would have the cross on which God hung be ever before my eyes while life lasts in me.

Jesus, Jesus!"

Joan of Arc didn't actually refuse to wear women's clothing. Her captors stripped her down (she had been wearing a dress) and left her naked with a pile of men's clothing. She had most likely been raped repeatedly, and since her choices were (1) put on men's clothing, or (2) remain naked around a bunch of English rapists, she took the first option. I have yet to read a book or see a movie about Joan of Arc that left this part out.

The clothing thing was just another excuse to burn her. She was killed because the English and the Burgandians wanted to deliver a blow to Charles VII of France by slaughtering the hero of his people. Incidentally, their little ploy didn't work. Charles succeeded in winning back most of France from the English.
The itinerary of Joan of Arc's two-year military career is well-documented enough, and the transcripts of her heresy trial in 1431 are sufficiently intricate and contradictory to tell devout Catholics and radical feminists alike what they most want to hear. Six centuries later, the verifiable details of the girl from Domrémy's life have come to matter less than the assortment of often-incompatible icons they have been used to construct.

Warrior Maiden

Even her name is disputed; or at least, the last thing she would have called herself is Joan of Arc. At her trial, she gave her given name of Jeanne as Jhenne, the spelling then common in her home region of Lorraine. When the grateful Dauphin granted her brothers a coat of arms, they chose two lilies - standing for purity - and a raised sword in her honour, and took the noble name du Lys, the name by which the sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne referred to her. Joan herself liked to be known as the Maid, or La Pucelle.

The surname d'Arc appears to be a later corruption of Darc (the name she gave to the tribunal on her second appearance), perhaps attributed to her after she began to be associated with the Amazons of antiquity, renowned for the bows they carried and prominent in Renaissance epics such as Orlando Furioso and The Faerie Queene. Conversely, had her family name suggested so obvious a play on words for a warrior maiden, it would most likely have been reflected in 'her' coat of arms, according to the heraldic custom of the time.

Joan's conflation with an abstract personification of virtue has persisted to this day, but others have been more inspired by her personal heroism or by her decision to cut her hair and wear male clothing - taken as a symbol of her courage, perhaps. The essentials of her story offered Friedrich Schiller enough material to turn her into a nineteenth-century Romantic's poster girl in his 1801 play The Maid of Orleans.

The rural connection and the mysticism are all there in The Maid, but Schiller saw fit to give her an English lover called Lionel on the other side of the lines and a full-scale battlefield death scene. Giuseppe Verdi's opera Giovanna d'Arco, premiered in 1845, closely follows the Schiller.

Daughter of the Nation

Modern French nationalism, in its conservative variant at least, found new uses for Joan, although the French revolutionaries had little time for her, finding her Catholicism too reminiscent of the ancien régime they were striving to destroy, and the entirely fictional Marianne was created as their replacement icon.

The Third Republic, however, was born in 1871 after France had lost Joan's home province in the Franco-Prussian War, and her legend was recycled as an emblem of defiance to Berlin. Joan became a constant figure in French propaganda during World War I which, for France, revolved around the defence of her northern territories and the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine.

Joan's most famous monument, her gilded statue in the Place des Pyramides in Paris, dates from the early years of the Third Republic. The sculpture was made in 1874 by Daniel Frémiet, who chose as his model a fifteen-year-old girl, Valerie Laneau, from her home town.

During the Dreyfus Affair, which divided the liberals and conservatives of the Republic in the 1890s, both sides found themselves able to take up Joan of Arc as a figurehead. Dreyfus' defenders, of whom the most prominent was Émile Zola, drew parallels with the anti-Semitism from which Dreyfus had suffered and the way in which the fifteenth-century Church Militant had denounced Joan's activities as witchcraft.

Yet the right-wing nationalists of Action Francaise, which grew out of the extremist wing of the anti-Dreyfusards, were also able to use Joan to reflect their own royalism, even though its leader Charles Maurras had little attachment to Catholicism beyond its value as an instrument with which to mobilise the French right.

In 1904, street-fighting broke out after youths from the Camelots du Roi, a royalist organisation, objected to lectures given by a staunch republican professor, Amédée Thalamas, putting forward the liberals' version of Joan.

After Joan was canonised by the Vatican in 1920, nationalist groups made it their custom to hold rallies on her feast day by her statue in the Place des Pyramides. In 1988, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Front National changed the date to May Day so that it would compete with socialist demonstrations.

Le Pen is a particular admirer of Joan of Arc, and has filled his house with various devotional statues of the saint. Curiously, or perhaps not, the right-wing Joans seem almost without exception to have long, golden hair, despite the charge laid against her by the Rouen tribunal that she wore 'her hair cropped round, in man's style.'

Search For A Star

Le Pen and Maurras, however, are far from the only ones to impose their own preoccupations on a woman whose legend seems to turn her, at times, into an empty vessel, no more or less real than the epic Balkan battles fought and re-fought in poetry and national memory. The British suffragette Christabel Pankhurst depicted herself as Joan on her movement's badges, and Vita Sackville-West's essay on Joan dropped very strong hints that she, like Sackville-West, had been a lesbian.

George Bernard Shaw, whose play Saint Joan is one of his most famous works, emphasises the confidence of a simple peasant girl against the political establishment of the time, directing the actress to speak her lines with a somewhat incongruous West Country accent. When Otto Preminger filmed the play in 1957, he thankfully dropped the accent, but conducted a nationwide search for an unknown girl to represent Joan.

His eventual choice, Jean Seberg, became one of the cinema's most recognisable Joans, with vulnerable doe eyes and a Mia Farrow crop eleven years too early. The role of Joan has, only naturally, attracted some of the best-known actresses of their time, including the Third Republic's darling Sarah Bernhardt, who won acclaim for portraying a string of national heroines from Joan to the Jacobin Théroigne de Merincourt. It was a juxtaposition of which Théroigne would surely not have approved.

The very first film to do with Joan of Arc appears to have been made as early as 1895, and Cecil B. DeMille made her life his subject in one of his early silent efforts, which starred Geraldine Farrar in the title role. One may or may not wish that he had revisited the girl at the peak of his career. Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), is accounted one of silent film's finest hours, and featured another then-amateur actress, Renée Falconetti. Unlike Seberg, Falconetti never made another film.

Second to Dreyer's masterpiece in the artistic merit stakes is most probably Robert Bresson's 1962 reconstruction of Joan's trial in Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc, in which Joan was played by Florence Delay.

Ingrid Bergman played Joan twice: in 1948 for Victor Fleming, and in 1954 for Roberto Rossellini. Rossellini's film, Giovanna d'Arco al rogo, was a dramatisation of an oratorio based on medieval mystery plays. The international relations expert Jean Bethke Elshtain credits the 1948 movie, which she saw as a girl of eight, with first awakening her interest in women and war, although she transmuted her initial identification with Joan into her trademark argument that women should reject militarism.

Two Joans competed in 1999: Leelee Sobieski, supposedly descended from the royal Polish house of Sobieski, took on the role for a TV movie eclipsed in ambition and budget by Luc Besson's labour of love starring Milla Jovovich. Besson never quite seems to light upon one coherent Joan, and Jovovich literally chops and changes to match. How Joan managed to have strawberry blonde highlights in the fourteenth century, or for that matter turn up at the stake as a dead ringer for Lisa Stansfield, is presumably another divine mystery.

Besson variously presented Joan as a borderline schizophrenic, the avenger of her {fictional) sister raped and murdered by the English invader, and a religious zealot whose fervour seems, now, even more chilling than Besson could have intended. Almost unintentionally, her individualism and strength of character appear to shine through nonetheless when she tells her squire in Rheims cathedral of the saints' voices that she hears: 'And you can hear them, if you really want to', perhaps the most truly heroic message that can be extracted from her many afterlives.

Cixous starts Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks / Ways Out / Forrays with binary oppositions, such as "Sun/Moon" to "Father/Mother." She makes the point that binary oppositions are heirarchical and patriarchial. One side of an opposition is always ranked better than the other and that side is identified as male. The most tangible duality that humans see everyday is male/female, but for some this is not a binary opposition. Transgendered people may switch sides or may reject the idea of an opposition altogether. Their actions are met with hostility and sometimes violence.

When Joan of Arc was young, she started to have visions, which told her to dress as a man and take up arms. Freud wrote in General Remarks on Hysterical Attacks that, "One may observe that it is just those girls who in the years before puberty showed a boyish character and inclinations who tend to become hysterical at puberty." In class, Professor Zieman remarked that at puberty, Joan of Arc kind of became a boy. In this reading, Joan crossed sides of the binary opposition from female to male, and from weakness to strength.

I would like to argue that she did not cross the opposition, but rather straddled it. While she did start to dress as a man and take on a male role, she made no effort to hide her identity as a woman. She did not change her name. In fact, she chose a title for herself that was explictly female and feminine. "Pucelle" is a word like "maiden." Furthermore, during her trial, she bragged that she excelled at all the womanly arts. One of the charges brought against her had to do with her telling a comrade that she would have three sons, one of whom would go on to become Pope. She did not transition fully to male, but held on to, and was proud of, her female-gendered activities and traits.

A highly influencial indie rock band on Jade Tree records, based out of Chicago, Illinois. Joan of Arc (Core members: Tim and Mike Kinsella and Sam Zurick, all three formerly of Cap'n Jazz) stick to the rock 'n roll basics, but through abstract song structure and unique electronic soundscapes, such as tape looping and sampling, JOA grab immediate attention and leave even the most jaded (pun not intended) indie rawker craving more. It seems many indie fans either love 'em or hate 'em, but no one can question their success (relative success, that is).


Method and Sentiment: 7", 1996
A Portable Model Of: CD/LP, June 1997
How Memory Works : CD/LP, 1998
Live in Chicago : CD/Double LP, 1999
Gap : CD/LP, 2000
How Can Anything So Little Be : CD/LP, 2001

Joan of Arc
Mark Twain
Ignatius, 1899.
452 pages.
ISBN 0-89870-268-2 (PB)
ISBN 0-89870-309-3 (HB)

Readers don't often associate Mark Twain, the author of such classics as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, with the seventeen-year-old peasant girl who led and inspired the French army to several victories during the Hundred Years War. He did, however, compose a touching 'memoir-biography' of the French heroine, and considered it his most important work.


Twain's Joan of Arc is written in the style of a personal memoir. Though the novel's given title is Joan of Arc, the official title is Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by the Sieur Louis de Conte (Her Page and Secretary). Joan's story is told by Twain through de Conte, who tenderly remembers her childhood, triumphantly chronicles her military victories, and mournfully describes her capture, trial and execution1.

While this novel can be classified as historical fiction (as several elements of Joan's life have obviously been dramatized and fabricated), it's important to understand that Twain did an extensive amount of research about her as an individual and the times in which she lived. The novel should be enjoyed as a reasonably accurate profile of the "virgin warrior" -- but it's not exactly a scholarly resource.

Joan of Arc is masterfully written; Twain's prose demonstrates his command of the English language and his understanding of character development. That is the most important element of this novel; we all know what happens and how it ends. It isn't meant to be considered the definitive retelling of Joan's life, but the introduction of literary elements to this makes it easier to understand how such a young girl touched so many lives in such a short period of time.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis

Louis de Conte, a man from the French village of Domremy, shares personal memories of his childhood friend, Jehanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc). As de Conte explains early in the text, he was one few taught how to read and write as a child, and these important skills enabled him to travel with Joan after she claimed she was given a mission from divine sources, and to serve as her secretary.

The book is divided into three sections: 'Domremy' (which describes Joan's childhood), 'In Court and Camp' (which provides an interesting look into her military career) and 'Trial and Martyrdom' (the name of the section is self-explanatory).

Joan, the only daughter of farmers, begins to hear and see things that identify themselves as three Catholic saints at the age of 12. They tell her that she has been chosen by God to lead the French army to victory against the English, who currently occupy a large part of France. Joan's family and her fellow villagers are skeptical. de Conte also explains how he and several of her other childhood friends felt about these visions; Twain's inclusion of this is interesting because most of the more factual accounts focus primarily on the reactions of local clergy and Joan's family.

de Conte explains that Joan continued to hear what she referred to as "(her) Voices" for several years, but they warned her, at first, to be cautious. It was not until she was nearly 17 that she was told to travel to meet with the Dauphin, heir to the throne of France. She invited de Conte to travel with her and to serve as her secretary, as he had been taught to read and write as a child.

After meeting with the Dauphin, Joan managed to convince him to allow her to lead troops into battle. Remarkably, she was able to reclaim enough French land to allow the Dauphin to be crowned king. As she continued to lead the army into battle, she restored hope and a sense of patriotism to the people of France. Twain gives these events a personal touch by explaining how de Conte and Joan's other counterparts felt during these events.

Joan eventually fell into the hands of the English and was tried as a heretic. According to Twain's characterization of de Conte, her trial was a grueling experience. Though the life of Joan of Arc is reasonably well documented and most people know how it ends, this is as far as the synopsis can go without technically being riddled with "spoilers".

Literary analysis

Despite the fact that its contents -- especially the artistic liberties and 'guesses' as to specific events that could not possibly have been documented -- can't be considered 100% factual, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in medieval French history and the Maid of Orleans. Twain's prose is lyrical and easy to understand, and it seems to suit the time in which the 'story' takes place.

One has to question whether or not the text presents bias, even though it should be enjoyed as a work of literature and not as a historical resource. Though Twain was American, he presents the memoir from the point of view of a French person. Needless to say, it's reasonably "pro-Joan." The piece as a literary work doesn't suffer because Twain paints de Conte as being understandably loyal to Joan.

This is quite possibly one of the most thorough pieces of historical fiction ever written. There's no way to tell if some of the intrinsic details presented by Twain are accurate -- but there's no way to tell if they aren't.

Read it. It will give you an insight into the feelings and thoughts of one of the world's most intriguing and enduring historical figures. It will make you happy. It will make you sad. It will make you wonder why every other historical account of this girl's life leaves out the way she felt and the way she made others feel.

It will make you remember that this girl was more than a paragraph in a history textbook and a series of dates and accomplishments.

1 I hardly think this counts as a spoiler. Your mileage may vary.
Submitted for The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest

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