January 7, 2012

Joan of Arc

The Enduring Power of Joan of Arc

JOAN OF ARC was born 600 years ago. Six centuries is a long time to continue to mark the birth of a girl who, according to her family and friends, knew little more than spinning and watching over her father’s flocks. But type her name into Amazon’s search engine and you get more than 6,000 results. France’s national archives include tens of thousands of volumes about her. She has been immortalized by Shakespeare, Voltaire, Twain, Shaw, Brecht, Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Rubens; more recently, her life was fodder for the CBS television series “Joan of Arcadia.”

What is it about Joan of Arc? Why is her story of enduring interest more than a half a millennium after her birth?
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Illiterate and uncouth, Joan moved purposefully among nobles, bishops and royalty. So intent on vanquishing the enemy that she threatened her own men with violence, she herself recoiled at the idea of bloodshed. To avoid having to use her sword, she led her army carrying a 12-foot-long banner emblazoned with the words Party of the Kingdom of Heaven. Witnesses said she was luminous in battle, light not glinting off her armor so much as radiating from the girl within. Her enemies spoke of clouds of butterflies following in her wake, a curiously beatific report from men who said she was in league with the devil.

In the aftermath of combat she didn’t celebrate victory but mourned the casualties; her men remembered her on her knees weeping as she held the head of a dying enemy soldier, urging him to confess his sins. Her courage outstripped that of seasoned men at arms; her tears flowed as readily as any other teenage girl’s.

Wikipedia's short bio 

Joan of Arc, nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans" (French: Jeanne d'Arc,[1] IPA: [ʒan daʁk]; ca. 1412[2] – 30 May 1431), is a national heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint. A peasant girl born in eastern France who claimed divine guidance, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War, which paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII. She was captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court, and burned at the stake when she was 19 years old.  Twenty-five years after the execution, Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, pronounced her innocent and declared her a martyr.  Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.[2] She is – along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St. Theresa of Lisieux – one of the patron saints of France.

Joan asserted that she had visions from God that instructed her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims and settled the disputed succession to the throne.

One of the great classics of silent film is The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Th Dreyer .  Many call it a masterpiece. 
A restored version was released in 1985.  The faces are extraordinary, the editing amazing and Maria Falconetti is luminous as Joan in what some call the "greatest performance in the history of film".

Not many know that Mark Twain was fascinated by Joan of Arc . He wrote, " She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced."

Under a pseudonym, he wrote Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte,

-Jeanne D' Arc (Eugene Thirion)

Twain  said "I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others need no preparation and got none."  You can read it for free online.

But the character of Joan of Arc is unique. It can be measured by the standards of all times without misgiving or apprehension as to the result. Judged by any of them, judged by all of them, it is still flawless, it is still ideally perfect; it still occupies the loftiest place possible to human attainment, a loftier one than has been reached by any other mere mortal.

When we reflect that her century was the brutallest, the wickedest, the rottenest in history since the darkest ages, we are lost in wonder at the miracle of such a product from such a soil. The contrast between her and her century is the contrast between day and night. She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest and fine and delicate when to be loud and course might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honourable in an age which had forgotten what honour was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; she maintained her personal dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul in both - she was all these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes, and when the highest personages in Christendom were able to astonish even that infamous era and make it stand aghast at the spectacle of their atrocious lives black with unimaginable treacheries, butcheries, and bestialities.
Posted by Jill Fallon at January 7, 2012 1:08 AM | Permalink