“The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” by Mark Twain
S5 Ep 6
Host: Frank Lavallo
Readers: Katie Smith and Peter Toomey
Author: Mark Twain
Year of Publication: 1896
Plot: Twain's last completed novel, published when he was 61 years old, recounts the life of Joan of Arc through a fictional character (invented by Mark Twain) - The Sieur Louis de Conte. Joan of Arc, at the age of seventeen, fights for French independence from the English in the 15th century under Charles VII. Louis accompanies Joan as her secretary through the battles and witnesses her trial and execution at the hands of the English.
Frank: Hello and welcome. I'm Frank Lavallo and you're listening to Novel Conversations, a podcast about the world's greatest stories. Each episode of Novel Conversations, I talk to two readers about one novel and together we summarize the story for you. We'll introduce you to the characters and tell you what happens to them. And we read from the book along the way. So if you love hearing a good story you're in the right place.
Frank: Today I'm going to have a conversation about the novel The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain and I'll be joined in conversation by our Novel Conversations readers Katie Smith and Peter Toomey. Katie, Peter hello.
Katie: Hi Frank.
Peter: Hey Frank
Frank: Before we get started on our conversation about the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc let me read a quick introduction, written by Mark Twain and originally serialized in Harper's Magazine, The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is a fictional biography of Joan of Arc, though it purports to be a memoir written by her paige secretary and lifelong friend Sieur Louis De Conte. In his voice and writing 60 years after the fact Sieur Louis De Conte recalls the life of Joan of Arc from her early visions to her final betrayal through stories of childhood pleasures, great battles, and ecclesiastical inquisitions Sieur Louis De Conte and Mark Twain offer a panoramic historical novel worth reading and a heroine worth remembering. Let me ask you both, before we dive into the conversation, were you surprised to learn that Mark Twain had written this historical biography.
Peter: Yeah, I was very surprised but I was not surprised when I began reading it because it has the usual Twainian style and characters and situations.
Frank: Peter, I agree with you completely. Mark Twain style is all over this novel.
Frank: All right Peter, I said that the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc though a historical novel written by Mark Twain actually purports to be a memoir written by Sieur Louis De Conte. Tell me a little bit about our narrator Sieur Louis De Conte.
Peter: Well in usual Twain fashion we begin by being introduced to the narrator or in this case Sieur Louis De Conte introduces himself to us through a letter to his nephews and nieces and it's kind of the preface to the beginning of the story.
Frank: Actually his great great grand nephews and nieces.
Peter: Yeah this is about 60 years after all of this takes place. He's 82 years old and he goes about telling us that he grew up with Joan of Arc played with her became her scribe and kind of her confidant really throughout her life and was there for all of these events. So through this preface we find out that Sieur Louis De Conte has been an eyewitness to all of the events in Joan's life.
Frank: That's right the personal recollections as referred to in the title are really Sieur Loui De Conte’s personal recollections of Joan of Arc his memories of her what he remembers that he saw what he heard and what he knew. Well Katie how does Sieur Louis De Conte actually start his story of Joan of Arc.
Katie: Sieur Louis De Conte begins his story telling us that he was an orphan coming out of a terrible battle that was happening in a war between the French and English.
Frank: This is the great hundred years war between France and England.
Katie: That's right. So he is taken in by a priest in the town of Domremey. And the neighboring family was the home of Jacques D’Arc, Joan’s father, they had many children they shared a garden with the priest in the parish. So they were childhood friends.
Frank: The first stories they tell us about this beautiful little town are of dragons and fairies
Katie: Right. And you'd say, ‘Oh that's right Mark Twain is writing this book.’ In fact he even references the word outlaws at some point. And I really had to laugh at that because this is fourteen hundred France.
Peter: Yeah it's the familiar Mark Twain gang roaming around in this case the French countryside.
Frank: Sort of young boys and young girls having their adventures
Katie: But they're much more polite and pious.
Frank: Tell me a little bit about the fairies and the fairy tree. Those stories seem to be very important to the children of this town.
Katie: At the time of their youth. This was a favorite pastime to romp and play in the field under this big beautiful tree.
Frank: sort of their playhouse their gathering place their clubhouse
Katie: Exactly their home in the field and it's also home to fairies.
Frank: Now of course we're led to understand that these fairies are basically childhood imaginations; but these childhood imaginations have been with this fairy tree and in this town for hundreds of years. It's generations of children who believe in the fairies in the fairy tree but not the adults.
Katie: By the time you're an adult you've forgotten about these fairies.
Frank: But Peter why this fairy tree what do you think Mark Twain wanted us to take away from this story of the fairy tree and the fairies.
Peter: I think Twain was using that as a device to get to a point where he could show Joan’s strong logical reasoning capabilities.
Frank: Well how does Mark Twain use the tree to do that.
Peter: Well the Superstition was that the fairies could not show themselves to anyone but the children. So what happened was one day the fairies were dancing around the fairy tree and a woman happened to pass by and saw them. This then caused the town priest to come out and exercise them. So Joan who was sick when the priests did this exercising over the fairies showed up to question him about it. And this is the first real scene where you see there's greatness within her. She kind of upends the priest via her powers of logic.
Frank: That's right Katie essentially this is an eight year old girl who goes toe to toe with the village priest and actually has a legal debate with him and convinces him that the fairies had no intent for them to be seen by the adult was actually the adults fault for seeing them. So why should the fairies have been punished?
Katie: Right. It's not only a legal debate. It's a religious and moral debate because the priests are questioning, What if these fairies are not good creatures. What if they are agents of Satan and Joan rationalizes, but they have never done harm for these hundreds of years. They have been the friends of the children so we can only judge based on those actions. Her logic is really terrific.
Frank: That's right, and the novel makes it very clear that this priest feels completely defeated by this girl and her arguments. He actually asks for her forgiveness
Katie: Right from an illiterate uneducated peasant girl.
Frank: And Peter it's at this time we get two more stories about Joan of Arc that show us other aspects of her personality. One involves a stranger and another one is about a mad man who's being kept in a jail in town.
Peter: Well it's war time in France. There are a lot of beggars and a lot of poor people in the country who kind of wander the countryside. So the family of Jacque D’Arc normally has dinner tells stories and kind of has a good time around the fire and their warm house. And oftentimes beggars come past asking for food or shelter. And this one particular evening a beggar comes past and Jacque D’Arc is in the habit of turning them away usually with a stern reprimand.
Peter: But this fellow comes to the door and he's so downtrodden and poor Joan offers her bowl of porridge to him. She does this despite her father's insistence that she not give him food and this act kind of shows her moral compass. She'll always do the right thing despite the circumstances.
Frank: All right Katie after we're given an example of her intellectual abilities with the priest and we're given an example of her compassion and charity towards the stranger, even in the face of her father's anger, we now have a story that shows us some of her bravery when she has to confront the town's madman who has escaped from the prison.
Katie: Right. He's escaped and he comes wielding his ax towards this group of children and townspeople and they run for their lives and it's Joan who is not afraid for her own life. She understands that this man is probably mentally ill. She confronts him, talks him down from his fury and they walk hand-in-hand back to the town.
Frank: He actually hands her his axe
Katie: So she has felled the giant as a child.
Peter: Another thing about this event that Twain really begins to set up is this group gets together and talks about why they ran away or what they would have done if they'd stayed, one actually says that it's not that big of a deal to stand up to a mad man. So what we see is that Joan is surrounded by hypocrites and this is really foreshadowing bigger events that will happen later in the story.
Frank: And isn't it actually during these conversations with the other kids that she starts to drop little prophecies when one of the boys boasts that he's going to lead a great army and he'll die on a battlefield. She sort of utters almost to herself no actually you'll remain in this village and die here an old man.
Peter: Yeah this is where Sieur Louis de Conte begins to realize that Joan has a secret.
Katie: He suspects that she's in something of a trance
Frank: When she makes these sort of prophecies.
Katie: Yeah. She's not even aware of what she is saying. She says softly He's sitting close to her so he hears it.
Frank: But quickly there comes a moment where Sieur Louis De Conte is confronted with absolute proof that something's going on with Joan of Arc.
Peter: He witnesses a miracle.
Katie: Well he's with her when she receives a vision, and it is also made present to him.
Frank: Let me read you the quote, “And now I saw most strange thing for I saw white shadow come slowly gliding along the grass toward the tree. It was of grand proportions a robed form with wings and the whiteness of the shadow was not like any other whiteness that we knew of except it be the whiteness of the lightnings. But even the Lightnings are not so intense as it was for one can look at them without hurt whereas this brilliancy was so blinding that it pain my eyes and brought water to them my breath grew faint and difficult because of the terror and awe that possessed me.”
Peter: And he believes he's dreaming and he makes a mark in the tree.
Frank: So if the mark is there when he wakes up he'll know he actually wasn't dreaming but he immediately confronts Joan about this vision that he saw he saw this lightness and this brightness around her. And he asks her about it. And she says oh yes it's actually been going on for quite a while but only now have I been allowed to tell you about it.
Katie: And I know that you made the mark in the tree so don't worry, you did actually see this.
Peter: This was no dream
Frank: But it doesn't end with these visions. She now tells Sieur La Conte about hearing voices
Katie: And the mission.
Frank: Tell me about these voices and this mission.
Katie: Well Joan reveals to Louis De Conte that her voices have told her what's going to happen to France that the king will be crowned, France will be delivered from the English and it will happen within just two years time.
Frank: But she didn't tell him it's just going to happen.
Katie: No, she said I'm going to lead it.
Frank: I'm going to make it happen.
Katie: How is that going to happen, and he says by the hand of God.
Frank: That's right. And essentially this now 14 year old Joan of Arc tells her best friend that she's been chosen by God to lead the French army and rescue France from the English.
Peter: So her first step is to go to the governor.
Frank: But Peter a 14 year old girl from the countryside can't just walk into a governor's mansion and say ‘Give me some men give me some arms I'm off to see the King.’
Katie: kind of
Peter: She can, but it's a long process. She goes back many times and is laughed at a lot and is made fun of.
Katie: So after she reveals that God has sent her. Of course they assume she's mad. The governor says ‘hark take this mad child home and whip her soundly. That is the best cure for her ailment.’
Frank: Well it's not surprising that they all think she's mad essentially she tells this governor the king must make me his general. For it is appointed that I shall drive the English out of France and set the crown upon his head. And when the governor says well who sent you with these extravagant messages she says ‘My Lord what Lord. The King of Heaven.’ I mean come on of course they think she's crazy right.
Frank: And essentially they throw her out. But we've already learned enough about Joan of Arc to know that she's not going to give up. How does she finally convince them?
Peter: Well she convinces them by making a prophecy actually about a battle that has just happened. Now of course we're in the fourteen hundreds so news travels slowly and nine days later they get the news that this battle in fact did happen. And so this convinces the governor that she is actually sent by God.
Katie: So he agrees to send her with horses and men.
Peter: This was the first real example of her strength of purpose because this actually took her something like three years to accomplish. So now she's 17.
Frank: All right Katie we're told that the governor gives her 25 strong men at arms with horses and sends her on her way to meet the king. But this group of 25 strong men aren't really what they seem. These weren't the governor's best men.
Katie: No it's a pretty motley crew. It does look like one of Twain's group of characters. You have some of her childhood friends. A few people who happen to be standing nearby and never had ridden a horse before but two of the Knights who heard her original pleas they sign on they're believers. So there is some semblance of a group of men at arms.
Frank: That's right Katie. Not only has she now convinced most of her friends and a lot of the common folk but even some of the knights that are hearing her story are beginning to believe her as well. In fact one of the Knights recalls an old prophecy by Merlin that sort of reinforces her statement that she's supposed to save France.
Katie: Well any good knight would be schooled in Merlin's prophecies wouldn't they
Frank: As well as any reader of Mark Twain.
Katie: Right. So eight hundred years ago Merlin said France will be lost by a woman and regained by a woman. And they've just witnessed the queen release control of France to the English, and their thinking, could this be a young Joan of Arc could be the woman who will save France.
Frank: That's right. Her prophecy about the lost battle as well as this old Merlin prophecy are beginning to convince a lot of people that she may in fact be who she says she is.
Peter: So she sets off on this adventure and actually during the adventure she begins to prove herself to this motley crew of soldiers that have been assembled.
Frank: Well Peter tell me about one of these events that begin to convince the men that she really does know what she's doing.
Peter: Well word of this young girl who is now a soldier is spread very quickly so everyone is looking for her. Most notably the English Guard because they want to take her down and she and her group run across one of these troops.
Frank: They're traveling at night to avoid detection and she's wearing armor to disguise herself.
Peter: Right. She has been approved to wear armor the garb of a soldier.
Frank: But that's right I forgot that moment. The priests actually have to get involved and decide that even though she's a girl she can wear manly clothes because she is going into battle.
Peter: Right and while they're out on the road they run into this English troop that's looking for her because she's basically in disguise. She tricks them into believing that she in fact is also looking for Joan and says that she'll head over to this bridge where she thinks Joan will be and take care of it. So basically she again uses her intellectual skills to get herself out of a situation. And now it's even more important because she not only gets herself out of it but she also gets her troops out of it and proves herself in the process.
Frank: That's right. It's essentially events like these that show her ability to lead thereby giving her men confidence in her powers.
Katie: They didn't even have to engage in battle. She took the bridge…
Frank: And then she knocked down that bridge
Katie: knocked down the bridge
Frank: So they couldn't follow her.
Katie and Peter: Smart.
Frank: Okay, Peter. Joan has had to convince her friends about the truthfulness of her visions. And she does that by letting one of her friends actually see her receiving this vision. She then has to convince the governor to send her to the King with some men at arms. And she does that by prophesying a battle loss that he then hears about and he's convinced of the prophecy. Now she needs to convince the king about her prophecies and her visions. How is she gonna go about doing that?
Peter: She begins by sending a letter which goes unanswered. She next sends her two Knights and they sing her praises to the King which I think plants the seed. The next process is that the king sends to Bishop's tour to receive her message and these are really more than just bishops there are some of his closest counselors as well. Yeah some of his closest counselors which we later learned are enemies also.
Katie: We've had 70 years of a war. The king has been ill advised the whole way.
Peter: So these bishops come to hear her message. However, again an example of her steadfastness she will not give her message to anyone but the king. This in turn impresses the king. So he then grants an audience to her.
Frank: But Katie this audience isn't quite what she's expecting. Or maybe it is.
Katie: Well she gets the audience in part because she promises that she has a message for the king that only he will understand, he will know that she's true when he hears this message. She also indicated in her letter she would know him even if he were in disguise. So maybe she did anticipate, it’s a grand procession and Twain gives us a great description has he loves to do about the ridiculousness of courts and royals. But when she finally arrives to the front of the throne she takes a very quick look around the room looking for the real king because she knows right away this is not the King sitting in the throne.
Frank: And she does immediately pick out the true king the Dauphin.
Katie: She does. He's dressed as one of the members of the court and let me be clear about her calling the king the Dauphin. Basically it's because he's the heir to the French throne which is currently being occupied by the English king. So he is really not the king at this point.
Katie: That's right. The crowning was part of her master plan. So to Joan he was the Dauphin.
Frank: That's right. But first he has to take the throne back from the English before she can actually give it to a French king. But Peter just the fact that Joan of Arc recognized him as the future king was not enough to convince him of her visions and of her prophecies. He needed a little bit more proof and she quickly gives it to him.
Peter: Right. She tells him there's a secret trouble in your heart which you speak of to no one.
Frank: Peter what is that deep dark secret.
Peter: Well the secret is that the Dauphin does not believe in his heart of hearts that he is the lawful heir that he is of the proper lineage to the throne. But Joan dispels all that tale by assuring him that God has told her that he is the lawful heir
Frank: The fact that she knows his deepest darkest secret finally convinces him of her truthfulness
Katie: but not everyone.
Frank: No there's still a couple of doubting counselors. What did they tell him.
Katie: They posed the question ‘How can you know that her voices are from God and not from Satan’. So let's have her checked out one last time and they send a team of bishops to evaluate her.
Frank:That's right. He privately appointed a commission of bishops to visit and questioned Joan dailly until they should find out whether her supernatural helps hailed from heaven or from hell. And this does go on for days.
Peter: This is a long process
Katie: But we have to go through this. If she's going to be receiving the full armies of the country of France and all of their soldiers and lead them it's an exhaustive process to convince everyone.
Frank: That's right. They actually send commissioners to her hometown.
Frank: They interview her family, they interview her friends, they interview her priest
Katie: and they determine that they can't determine if she's coming from God or from Satan because they're actually just afraid to make the wrong decision there, very political.
Frank: Yes it was
Katie: Very Mark Twain
Katie: And even later in the book Twain explains it further he says the parish priest governs the nation. So it has to be from the religious and from the parish priest to get this approval before the king can agree with them because the people follow the priests
Frank: And of course one of the priests eventually comes up with well if God wants to free France why doesn't God just free France. And how does Joan respond to that?
Peter: Joan responded with God helps those who help themselves. And she really says that God is empowering her and the people to take back France.
Frank: And in fact this argument convinces one of the priests who remembers ‘by God the child has said true. After all he willed that Goliath should be slain. And he sent a child like this to do it.’
Frank: But finally
Katie: The people of France began to wake up to this and believe in her from the Royal Court to the villagers. Everybody felt but couldn't explain or describe this feeling. So one by one they all surrendered saying this child is sent of God.
Frank: So Peter finally Joan of Arc is commander in chief and general of the armies of France right.
Peter: And it's at this point she begins assembling her army.
Frank: What's her first official act as commander of the armies of France.
Peter: Well her first official act is to send a letter to the English commanders at Orleans basically telling them to leave France.
Katie: She gives them a chance to surrender before a battle ensues.
Frank: But Katie of course battles do ensue. And Joan of Arc is going to fight these battles in a much different way than the French have been fighting them for the last 70 years. They've gotten used to attempting and never very successfully to lay siege to some of the English forts and some of the English castles. They would try to surround the castle and basically starve the people out. Nothing goes in. Nothing comes out. But that would take eight nine months. It could even take a year or more. Joan says no this is crazy. We're going to the gates and we're going to smash them down and we're going to win these castles. We don't have the time for sieges. My voices say go to war and go to war now.
Katie: That's right, not only were their sieges unsuccessful because they couldn't wait out the English the French had fewer reserves and supplies but they ended up retreating.
Frank: That's right. An English for it would be besieged and eventually reinforcements would come from another English fort. And the French would scatter.
Katie: They ran away from every battle so 75 years of the French running from the English and she empowers them to head into battle.
Frank: Now let's talk about a couple of the highlights. The first one is the battle of Orleans.
Peter: The battle of Orleans was her proving ground where she not only proved herself in real battle conditions but also proved her philosophy of attacking as opposed to besieging these bastilles. And through this battle of Orleans she also gained the nickname The Maid of Orleans.
Frank: Well not only did she gain a nickname but because of the success of this battle she gains a reputation which now helps her very much as she continues to go from city to city some of these cities are actually being abandoned by the English and just given back over to the French they don't want anything to do with Joan of Arc. She's racking up victories pretty quickly but Peter the real turning point in this war is the battle of Pâté.
Peter: That battle is really the turning point of One Hundred Years War between England and France which now swung back control of France to France and brings us to Joan being able to bring the Dauphin in for his coronation.
Frank: That's right. Let's be clear. While they haven't conquered all of the territory of France they've taken enough of the cities where now they believe they are in control of the country. The English still are ensconced in Paris and the king really doesn't want to push on to Paris just yet. But Joan does decide that now most of her prophecy has been fulfilled and it's time for the Dauphin to be coronated at the cathedral in Rims.
Peter: And that is what happens. Yet she believes this is the end of her military career at this point but it isn't.
Frank: That's right. She believes now that she's had the Dauphin crowned he will push on finish the battle of Paris and the French will have regained their country.
Katie: Oh, but the king is such a disappointment.
Frank: He really is
Peter: What the king really wants to do is get back Burgundy which is under the control of English sympathizers. So he sends Joan and her army. However ….
Katie: That's the end for Joan.
Frank: Well now wait you can't just say that. What do you mean.
Katie: That's her last battle. She's captured
Frank: Captured by the English?
Katie: She's captured by the Burgundians who are actually French but they are English sympathizers. So they expect a ransom for her and it never comes from the French. So when they finally receive a fair price for what would be fitting of her position as leader of the French armies it comes from England. So she's sold as prisoner to England.
Frank: And all this time the newly crowned king of France is basically..
Frank: He's enjoying his new crown.
Katie: He's completely abandoned her. She's holding out hope there will be a great battle to save her. Because her voices have told her you will be freed from this place. She doesn't know that it's going to come at the moment of her death
Frank: But actually Katie when she's turned over to the English she's not turned over to the English crown or the English government as we would say she's turned over to the English church, to the priests
Katie: Which allows her to be questioned about all of her intentions religiously, morally, legally, and politically.
Peter: Actually they want to kill her because she is a threat to the established church. She's a woman. She's 19 or 20 years old at this point. She's a very powerful spiritual figure in both England and France at this point.
Katie: And the people are following her in legions.
Frank: So just as earlier when she was trying to prove herself to the king she now has to go before a commission of bishops and judges and prove her righteousness all over again.
Frank: But this is not just the commission of local bishops.
Frank: These are some of the most learned men in all of France and England.
Peter: And this proves to be a set of trials which are unwinnable even for Joan.
Katie: Well it's not a fair jury that's for sure. The deck has been stacked.
Frank:I believe they tell us at one point they're 65 priests versus this one young lady.
Peter: First there are physical trials for her she is forced to wear heavy chains. She's kept in a dark tower. She thinks she's being poisoned.
Frank: But let's be clear this is an ecclesiastical inquisition. What they really want to get to are these voices from God or are they voices of Satan. And that's really what they want to prove that she's a messenger of the devil and not of God.
Peter: Yeah right, and so in this physical state they bring her to trial. However she does stand up to it and really the only way that they are going to beat her is to trick her.
Frank: Which they eventually do. But it takes weeks. She's called to this commission for questioning almost every single day. And we're told four or five hours a day nothing to drink nothing to eat. Sitting on a hard bench answering these questions and it's not just about the big issues of good versus evil and right versus wrong they're talking to her about why she wears men's clothes, did the angels talk to her in French or in English. Does she really believe that the fairies came out at night and danced around the tree. I mean they got into a lot of issues.
Katie: She had to try to prove that she had been given permission to wear a suit of armor. She had to try to prove that she did hear these voices and that they spoke to her in a language that she could understand French. They wanted her to take an oath that she would answer everything truthfully. And she always refused. She said I won't and can't answer everything that you may ask of me but I will answer truthfully that which I choose to answer. So the beginning of every day's trial started off this way.
Peter: Yeah. ‘And the bishop opens each trial with you are required now to take the oath pure and simple to answer truly all questions asked you. She says I have made oath yesterday my lord. Let that suffice.’ She says this every day.
Katie: She says “no I do not know what you're going to ask me. You might ask me things which I could not tell you. Then they tried again. Now notice the form of this sleek strategists first remark flung out in an easy offhand way that would have thrown any unwatchable person off his guard. Now Joan the matter is very simple to speak up and frankly and truly answer the questions as you have sworn to do. But Joan was not asleep she said no. You could ask me things which I could not tell you and would not.”
Frank: The whole commission is really here just to trick her into saying something incriminating. In fact the bishop tries another day another way. He tells her “in refusing to swear you place yourself under suspicion. Let be I have sworn already. It is enough.” The Bishop continued to insist. Joan answered that she would tell what she knew but not all that she knew. “I came from God. I have nothing more to do here. Return me to God from whom I came. If you were well-informed concerning me you would wish me out of your hands. I have done nothing but by revelation.”
Peter: Right, so Joan continues to thwart the bishop's attempts to trap her. And what this does is bring us to his final trick which results in her verdict.
Katie:It's finally when they have to present her list of her alleged crimes and she has to sign off on this list of charges. They slip a different piece of paper in front of her hand. She signs an agreement that she has committed the crimes and that seals her fate.
Frank: And what was that verdict.
Peter: The verdict is guilty. She is charged as a heretic
Frank: and the sentence for a heretic
Peter: To burn at the stake.
Frank: All right Katie. Peter. Through our entire conversation about this novel we talked about how Joan faced every trial every tribulation every battle now she's about to face. Her final test to be burned at the stake for being a heretic.
Katie: Well this is tough. She's told by the executioner I've come to prepare you for your death. It's to be today. She says what death is it. And he says by fire.
Frank: And Peter, Joan of Arc does die as she lived heroically and saintly.
Peter: Yeah and we see that she really embodies both not only the way she dies which is with a great deal of courage and dignity but also prior to her death she's asked for forgiveness by various people on her way to the stake one being a priest who betrayed her confession during her trial. And she's also given a cross to hold by two English knights who admire her so much that they're there to honor her.
Katie: “One of the last things she asked for is holy water. But in the next moment her fears were gone. They came no more to torture her. Someone raises a cross and she says keep it always in my sight until the end. Then the pitchy smoke shot through with red flashes of flame and hid her from sight and from the heart of this darkness Her voice rose strong and eloquent in prayer. And when by moments the wind shredded somewhat of the smoke aside there were veiled glimpses of an upturned face and moving lips. At last a mercifully swift tide of flame burst upward and none saw that face anymore nor that form and the voice was still.”
Frank: Well Peter, the novel doesn't quite end with Joan's death. What about the fate of France?
Peter: No. Well with his execution it was actually opposite of what the executioners had hoped. It had actually emboldened the French people and gave them I think what was the first true sense of national pride.
Frank: But it took them another 20 years to gain back all of the French territory
Katie: as she prophesied.
Frank: That's right she had told them if you let me fight this war the way I want to. We can finish it in two years. Stop me and it'll take 20. And that's exactly what happened.
Frank: But even there the novel doesn't quite end. There is one more act here and that's the rehabilitation of Joan of Arc in France. In fact as Mark Twain writes it “now as to the rehabilitation Joan crowned the king at Rems for reward he allowed her to be hunted to her death without making one effort to save her during the next 23 years. He remained indifferent to her memory indifferent to the fact that her good name was under a damning plot put there by the priest because of the deeds which she had done in saving him in his scepter, indifferent to the fact that France was ashamed and longed to have the delivers fear fame restored indifferent all that time..”
Frank..until he needed some help.
Katie:”The King finally realized he had received his crown from someone who had been proven to be a heretic and a sorceress. So he needed to make her a true hero and a saint.”That's what began this process
Frank: Right and that process actually begins in Rome with the real Pope holding what they call the rehabilitation commission
Peter: Which in the end had Joan being canonized the patron saint of France.
Frank: And that's essentially how our novel The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain ends.
Katie: That's right.
Frank: Now Katie, Peter of course during our conversation we weren't able to get to every character or every scene in our novel today so if there's a moment we missed or a quote that you want to read now's your opportunity. Katie do you have something.
Katie: I have a passage from General Lahere who's a character we weren't able to discuss
Frank: Quickly, he was the general of the French armies before Joan of Arc came along
Katie: and they were quite a pair, slight 17 year old young girl and this really
Frank: profane comes to mind.
Katie: profane General
Peter: He was really the polar opposite of her.
Katie: He was and he was also her biggest supporter. So when the French generals who are used to laying a siege or retreating from a battle when they needed a pep talk it was like here “who says what would Joan of Arc do with it. With her is no sitting down and starving out no dilly dallying and fooling around no lazing loafing and going to sleep. No it is storm storm storm and still storm storm storm and forever storm storm storm hunt the enemy to his hole then turn her French hurricanes loose and carry him by storm. And that is my sort.”
Frank: Well Katie that quote actually fits into one of the quotes that I wanted to read. I particularly enjoyed some of the less flattering descriptions of the French soldiers. And it's probably because the soldiers were this way that they needed a general like Lahere. “Yes. Most Frenchmen were soldiers and admirable runners too both by practice and inheritance. They had done next to nothing but run for near a century. But that was not their fault. They had had no fair and proper leadership hence running became the habit of the French troops and no wonder.”
Peter: I understand you like the French
Frank: All cheap shots aside, Peter I know you actually have a quote that reflects a little bit better on the French soldier and French patriotism.
Peter: Yeah. Actually my favorite passage is really a summary of what Joan of Arc did for France and consequently I think the world which is I daresay the invention of patriotism when you think about the Statue of Liberty and that the French gave it to us. I think it kind of fits in with this passage which is the very end of the book and goes like this “With Joan of Arc, love of country was more than a sentiment it was a passion. She was the genius of patriotism. She was patriotism embodied concreted made flesh and palpable to the touch and invisible to the eye. Love, Mercy, charity, fortitude, war, peace, poetry, music. These may be symbolized by the slender girl and her first young bloom with a martyr's crown upon her head and in her hand the sword that severed her country's bonds shall not this and no other stand for patriotism through all the ages until time shall end.”
Katie: Oh that's a good one.
Frank: That is a good quote. But Peter I think the fact that Joan of Arc embodied not only that kind of nationalist patriotism but also piety also logic also compassion makes her story ageless as well as one of the world's greatest store.
Peter: It really does.
Katie: Sure does
Frank: And that's what we're going to end today's conversation about the novel the personal recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain. Katie, Peter I want to thank you both for coming in and having this conversation with me today.
Katie: Thank you Frank.
Peter: Thanks Frank.
Frank: You’ve been listening to Novel Conversations!