Twain’s Joan III

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There’s an illustration, gentlemen – a real illustration,” he said. “I studied that girl, Joan of Arc, for twelve years, and it never seemed to me that the artists and the writers gave us a true picture of her. They drew a picture of a peasant. Her dress was that of a peasant. But they always missed the face – the divine soul, the pure character, the supreme woman, the wonderful girl. She was only 18 years old, but put into a breast like hers a heart like hers and I think, gentlemen, you would have a girl – like that.”

The humorist looked toward the door, and there was absolute silence – puzzled silence – for many did not know whether it was time to laugh, disrespectful to giggle, or discourteous to keep solemn. The humorist realized the situation. Turning to his audience he came out of the clouds and said solemnly:

“But the artists always paint her with a face – like a ham.”

This quote of Mark Twain is taken from an article published in the December 31, 1905 edition of The New York Times, Pictorial Section, which covered a dinner at the Aldine Association, sponsored  by the Society of Illustrators which Mark Twain had been the guest of honor. Knowing as they did, the great respect  which he bore toward the Maid of Orleans the men of the society had prearranged to have a model dressed in the garb of the saint, including armor to enter and approach Mark Twain at the head table.  The article says it looked as though he had seen a ghost; but I wonder if it would be more proper to say, especially given his remarks above, that he looked as though he had seen a vision.

The Times article is reprinted in a recent post at News for Growing Christians by Stephen K. Ryan, entitled “What the Atheists don’t want you to know about Mark Twain’s secret.” I have written on this subject before (see “Twain’s Joan” I & II); however, I was not aware of the incident recorded by the Times, nor of the 1904 essay Twain wrote, singing the St. Joan’s praises to the heavens in which he did not believe.  In the Maid, he was a believer:

Taking into account, as I have suggested before, all the circumstances — her origin, youth, sex, illiteracy, early environment, and the obstructing conditions under which she exploited her high gifts and made her conquests in the field and before the courts that tried her for her life, — she is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.

Stranger yet is the fact that what we might presume to be the case, given his well known dispositions, is in fact not true,  namely, that his interest  in the girl was purely due to the fact that she did not fit his determinist ideology and that somehow nature had been kinder to her than to the rest of us.  There is not even a hint of the secularist sneer in the following words of praise:

She was deeply religious, and believed that she had daily speech with angels; that she saw them face to face, and that they counselled her, comforted and heartened her, and brought commands to her direct from God. She had a childlike faith in the heavenly origin of her apparitions and her Voices, and not any threat of any form of death was able to frighten it out of her loyal heart. She was a beautiful and simple and lovable character. In the records of the Trials this comes out in clear and shining detail. She was gentle and winning and affectionate, she loved her home and friends and her village life; she was miserable in the presence of pain and suffering; she was full of compassion: on the field of her most splendid victory she forgot her triumphs to hold in her lap the head of a dying enemy and comfort his passing spirit with pitying words; in an age when it was common to slaughter prisoners she stood dauntless between hers and harm, and saved them alive; she was forgiving, generous, unselfish, magnanimous; she was pure from all spot or stain of baseness. And always she was a girl; and dear and worshipful, as is meet for that estate: when she fell wounded, the first time, she was frightened, and cried when she saw her blood gushing from her breast; but she was Joan of Arc! and when presently she found that her generals were sounding the retreat, she staggered to her feet and led the assault again and took that place by storm.

Twain is a good example of the skeptical age.  It’s full of contradictions.  I would have to believe that the Maid came to his defense as she did even to the enemies of France:  “on the field of her most splendid victory she forgot her triumphs to hold in her lap the head of a dying enemy and comfort his passing spirit with pitying words.” One may hope.

But no man can afford these kind of contradictions.  The Maid could not abide them.  France was not England.  She would have none of the hand-wringing vascilation or refined duplicity of her age, and I am sure she would have none of the cynicism of ours. We shouldn’t either.

Seven in the Heart, One in the Hand

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One commenter pointed out that in my exposition of the Blessed Mother’s courage (“Damsels in Distress“), that my distinction between the masculine courage of action and the feminine courage of suffering, according to St. Bonaventure, did not sufficiently take account of the many biblical images, nor of the great Chesterton’s “The Ballad of the White Horse.”  She is right, of course, that discussion about passive courage does not do enough to account for the Blessed Virgin’s active role in the redemption of mankind, or of women in general throughout history.  I have no disagreement with the commenter.

In fact, I have have written on the subject Our Lady’s presence in “The Ballad of the White Horse” in a paper I delivered at our international symposium on the Coredemption in England, 2001, entitled “Seven in the Heart, One in the Hand:  The Mediation of the Immaculate in the Poetry of Hopkins and Chesterton” (Mary at the Foot of the Cross II:  Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption, New Bedford:  Academy of the Immaculate.  395-439).  I am attaching here a pdf of the complete paper for those who are interested.  Also, FYI, there is an excellent reprint of the 1928 illustrated edition of “The Ballad of the White Horse,” published by Ignatius Press, that also includes a very helpful introduction and endnotes by Sister Bernadette Sheridan.

Since I have been studying the Theology of the Body lately, I would like to suggest that one of John Paul II’s insights–one that is thoroughly traditional–would be helpful here.  There is no question that man is characteristically the “giver” (“the one who loves”) and woman the “receiver” (“the one who is loved”; cf. TOB 92.6); however, the Holy Father also  says:

The two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whold process of “gift of self”: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving (TOB 17.4).

By way of analogy, I think we can say that the “giver” is also the “defender,” and the “receiver” is also the “defended,” but this does not preclude a mutuality, though the courage of action in a woman, such as in the case of Judith or St. Joan of Arc is particularly marked by empathy and uniquely maternal characteristics.

I think of St. Joan, in particular, who received the ability to ride a horse, to formulate military strategy, especially the placement of artillery, as an extraordinary grace.  She was not merely a figure head of the French army; nevertheless, she never raised her sword against a man.  It was merely enough for her to get to the enemy castle and touch it with her banner.  I also recall how she nursed the dying, including the English, and shed tears over them.

I include below an apropos excerpt from my paper.  Without burdening this post with too much back story, one should at least know that at the beginning of the ballad, King Alfred, who is leading the Saxons against the invasion of England by the Danes, receives a vision of Our Blessed Lady in an hour when he has all but lost hope.  In desperation he asks Her:

“When our last bow is broken, Queen,
And our last javelin cast,
Under some sad, green evening sky,
Holding a ruined cross on high,
Under warm westland grass to lie,
Shall we come home at last?”

Her answer is paradoxical:

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

Alfred then goes onto gather his chiefs and army in order to enter into a battle and quest in which he is offered no promise of victory.  Here is the excerpt from my paper:

King Alfred, after an initial victory in battle (Book V), and then the eventual slaying of all three of his chiefs (Book VI), was left in a predicament very much like the one he had been in when he had seen Our Lady, although his later doom and England’s was far more imminent.  The Battle of Ethandune was all but lost.  In a long speech Alfred convinced what was left of his army that “death is a better ale to drink” (bk. 7, 119) than to drain the cup of surrender to heathendom.  Convinced by their captain, the soldiers “stood firm” and “feeble” (153).  Alfred blew his horn calling his men to the hunt, and “The people of the peace of God/ Went roaring down to die” (184).  But in the desperation of the situation the Immaculate was present in Her causeless joy and hopeless faith:

And when the last arrow,
Was fitted and was flown,
When the broken shield hung on the breast,
And the hopeless lance was laid at rest,
And the hopeless horn was blown,

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For our Lady stood on the standards rent
As lonely and as innocent
As When between white walls she went
In the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light,
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was queen most womanly–
But she was queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand;
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart–
But one was in her hand. (185-205).

In the moment of supreme sacrifice, the Mother of God interceded on behalf of Her children.  The seven swords of Her own heartfelt sorrow, became one which She wielded in hand on behalf of those for whom She suffered:  In the first vision of King Alfred Mary had said to him:

“But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save” (bk. 1, 250-53).

Thus we are shown how this intercession of the Immaculate in temporal war is also connected to a greater war for the salvation of souls.  These wars hardly won and souls hardly saved are remarkably juxtaposed in another of Chesterton’s poems whose theme is along the same lines, viz., “The Queen of the Seven Swords.”  That poem is actually the introduction to seven monologues delivered by seven saints of Western Europe, who, as Chesterton notes, “have no connection with the historical saints” that “bore their names,” but rather are types of the different nations, viz., St. James of Spain, St. Denys of France, St. Anthony of Italy, St. Patrick of Ireland, St. Andrew of Scotland, St. David of Wales and St. George of England.  There, in “The Queen of the Seven Swords,” Chesterton records a dream in which he saw Europe as a waste land, and after surveying the panorama of desolation said:  “There is none to save.” It is obvious from his descriptions that the wasteland is typical of moral desolation.  In the gloom, however, he saw a source of hope:

I saw on their breaking terraces, cracking and sinking for ever,
One shrine rise blackened and broken; like a last cry to God.

Old gold on the roof hung ragged as scales of a dragon dropping,
The gross green weeds of the desert had spawned on the painted wood:
But erect in the earth’s despair and arisen against heaven interceding,
Whose name is Cause of Our Joy, in the doorway of death she stood.

The Woman who had asked of Alfred “Do you have joy without a cause?” is in fact the Cause of His Joy, and this as She stands in the “doorway of death.”  Thus we begin to understand that the doom of Alfred is not a joy strictly without cause, but one without any natural explanation, for his joy has its source in the Heart of the Queen of the Seven Swords.  Chesterton goes on in “The Queen of the Seven Swords:

The Seven Swords of her Sorrow held out their hilts like a challenge,
The blast of that stunning silence as a sevenfold trumpet blew
Majestic in more than gold, girt round with a glory or iron,
The hub of her wheel of weapons; with a truth beyond torture true.

That truth which is beyond torture true is that faith which saves, not in spite of suffering, but because of suffering.  Hence we understand what the Lady meant when She asked Alfred “Do you have faith without a hope?”  Not a natural hope, or a conviction that things will get better, but a conviction that God is faithful to His promises.  In “The Towers of Time,” Chesterton says that “the heart of the swords, seven times wounded,/ Was never wearied as our hearts are.” And in the poem “In October,” honor is due to Mary, because Hers was “The broken Heart and the unbroken word.” Is this not why in his Encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, the Holy Father compares the Blessed Virgin to Abraham, saying with St. Paul that in hope believed against hope, She is blessed for Her unwavering faith?

Damsels in Distress

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I started on this post more than a year ago and have come back to it from time to time.  While I am up at Mount St. Francis, hiding in my cave and working on my paper for our Coredemption conference in July, I thought I would finally knock it out.  I shot a video on the same topic  a while back.

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As one interested in helping to bring about a revival of Christian Chivalry, I have thought fondly of the image of the “damsel in distress” as being both iconic and inspiring of the chivalric ideals. I was horrified, then, to see such an honorable term being disparaged by those otherwise promoting the ideals of chivalry. Call me naive or nostalgic (or worse), but I cannot for the life of me see anything wrong with it.

I will admit, if we understand “damsel in distress” as it is caricatured, for example, by the film image of the pretty woman being tied screaming to the train tracks by Dastardly Dan and then being rescued by Agent Jim West, then there is much to be disparaged. The poor helpless thing is abused by one womanizer only to be rescued by another, and all the while is oblivious to everything but the attention she is getting. The ideals of chivalry have always been partially obscured by the cult of “courtly love.” There is nothing new under the sun.

Television and film have that curious ability of turning unalloyed gold into lead, and contrariwise, of cultivating a fondness for the most obvious absurdities. We have learned to despise feminine vulnerability and celebrate the wonders of the Bionic Woman.

So what is the “damsel in distress,” and why should her place in the venerable history of womanhood be preserved and honored? To answer this question we must first examine the contemporary feminist trend to idolize the Amazon.

Continue reading

Through Brunt of Battle to Glory of Victory

In my last post, I had mentioned the vow of blood professed by some friars to defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and how such conviction and devotion led to the Franciscan Triumph. It was certainly a form of chivalry, and not entirely bookish, especially by virtue of such a vow. Prowess directed toward the preservation of all that is true, good and beautiful: is this not true manliness?

Here is Abbot Gueranger, O.S.B. on the Triumph of the Immaculate Conception and Her Knights. (Notice how the good Benedictine is humble to tip his hat to the Friars Minor. Would that Our Lady’s Brothers of Penance in the Order of Penance be so self-forgetful.):

But, whilst thus mentioning the different nations which have been foremost in their zeal for this article of our holy faith, the Immaculate Conception, it were unjust to pass over the immense share which the seraphic Order, the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, has had in the earthly triumph of our blessed Mother, the Queen of heaven and earth. As often as this feast comes round, is it not just that we should think with reverence and gratitude on him, who was the first theologian that showed how closely connected with the divine mystery of the Incarnation is this dogma of the Immaculate Conception? First, then, all honour to the name of the pious and learned John Duns Scotus! And when at length the great day of the definition of the Immaculate Conception came, how justly merited was that grand audience, which the Vicar of Christ granted to the Franciscan Order, and with which closed the pageant of the glorious solemnity! Pius IX. received from the hands of the children of St. Francis a tribute of homage and thankfulness, which the Scotist school, after having fought four hundred years in defence of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, now presented to the Pontiff.

In the presence of the fifty-four Cardinals, forty-two archbishops, and ninety-two bishops; before an immense concourse of people that filled St. Peter’s, and had united in prayer, begging the assistance of the Spirit of truth; the Vicar of Christ had just pronounced the decision which so many ages had hoped to hear. The Pontiff had offered the holy Sacrifice on the Confession of St. Peter. He had crowned the statue of the Immaculate Queen with a splendid diadem. Carried on his lofty throne, and wearing his triple crown, he had reached the portico of the basilica; there he is met by the two representatives of St. Francis: they prostrate before the throne: the triumphal procession halts: and first, the General of the Friars Minor Observantines advances, and presents to the holy Father a branch of silver lilies: he is followed by the General of the Conventual Friars, holding in his hand a branch of silver roses. The Pope graciously accepted both. The lilies and the roses were symbolical of Mary’s purity and love; the whiteness of the silver was the emblem of the lovely brightness of that orb, on which is reflected the light of the Sun; for, as the Canticle says of Mary, ‘she is beautiful as the moon. The Pontiff was overcome with emotion at these gifts of the family of the seraphic patriarch, to which we might justly apply what was said of the banner of the Maid of Orleans: ‘It had stood the brunt of the battle; it deserved to share in the glory of the victory.’ And thus ended the glories of that grand morning of the eighth of December, eighteen hundred and fifty-four.

Twain’s Joan II

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Everytime I read this passage, I am profoundly moved. . . profoundly. Ah, chivalry!

In the train of wains laden with supplies a man lay on top of the goods. He was stretched out on his back, and his hands were tied together with ropes, and also his ankles. Joan signed to the officer in charge of that division of the train to come to her, and he rode up and saluted.‘What is he that is bound, there?’ she asked.

‘A prisoner, General.’

‘What is his offence?’

‘He is a deserter.’

‘What is to be done with him?’

‘He will be hanged, but it was not convenient on the march, and there was no hurry.’

‘Tell me about him.’

‘He is a good soldier, but he asked leave to go and see his wife who was dying, he said, but it could not be granted; so he went without leave. Meanwhile the march began, and he only overtook us yesterday evening.’

‘Overtook you? Did he come of his own will?’

‘Yes it was of his own will.’

‘He a deserter! Name of God! Bring him to me.’

The officer rode forward and loosed the man’s feet and brought him back with his hands still tied. What a figure he was – a good seven feet high, and built for business! He had a strong face; he had an unkempt shock of black hair which showed up in a striking way when the officer removed his morion for him; for weapon he had a big axe in his broad leathern belt. Standing by Joan’s horse, he made Joan look littler than ever, for his head was about on a level with her own. His face was profoundly melancholy; all interest in life seemed to be dead in the man. Joan said -

‘Hold up your hands.’

The man’s head was down. He lifted it when he heard that soft friendly voice, and there was a wistful something in his face which made one think that there had been music in it for him and that he would like to hear it again. When he raised his hands Joan laid her sword to his bonds, but the officer said with apprehension-

‘Ah, madam – my General!’

‘What is it?’ she said.

‘He is under sentence!’

‘Yes, I know. I am responsible for him,’ and she cut the bonds. They had lacerated his wrists, and they were bleeding. ‘Ah, pitiful!’ she said; ‘blood – I do not like it’; and she shrank from the sight. But only for a moment. ‘Give me something, somebody, to bandage his wrists with.’ Continue reading

Twain’s Joan

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To follow up my comments on historical fiction and how they apply to the story of St. Joan of Arc, I thought I might commend Mark Twain, on his stupendous effort to translate the true history of the Maid of Orleans into a very readable and enjoyable novel.

Twain, as always, is full of invention and literary genius in this work, but not only does he avoid adulterating the true character of the saint, he actually enhances our appreciation for her character by the choices he makes as he integrates his own invention with the facts.

Mark Twain considered his Sieur Louis de Conte: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc to be his greatest work, and assiduously researched the subject before he set to work. He had a strong personal devotion to the Maid, despite his decided lack of faith and his abundance of cynicism. He found St. Joan to be an exception to his general rule that “the noblest man’s meat is inferior to pork” (More Maxims of Mark). Twain was a determinist, that is, he believed that man was inherently and helplessly selfish. Here are serveral other of his cynical gems:

All I care to know is that a man is a human being–that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse. I can get right down and grovel with him.
– Mark Twain’s notebook #42

I am the only man living who understands human nature; God has put me in charge of this branch office; when I retire there will be no-one to take my place. I shall keep on doing my duty, for when I get over on the other side, I shall use my influence to have the human race drowned again, and this time drowned good, no omissions, no Ark.
– quoted in Mark Twain, J. Macy, (Doubleday, Page & co., 1913)

Twain loved St. Joan, because he thought she was different. Why he didn’t think anyone else to be different, I cannot say, but at least in regard to the Maid he was a believer.

I will in this and the next post excerpt at length from the online edition of Twain’s Joan of Arc. This first excerpt (excerpts of chapters 36 and 37, plus the whole of chapter 38) is one of my favorite passages, because it integrates historical knowledge with his own literary invention, a marvelous invention, I might add. His creative genius stays true the the real Joan, I think, and illustrates a really important part of her character, namely, that she was an ordinary girl, given extraordinary gifts. As a peasant girl she was feminine and unambitious, happy to be with her family. But in the execution of her duty as General of the armies of France, she was self-assured, deliberate and unbending. This is true to history and Twain drives this home with an exquisite literary sense.

In this passage we find St. Joan of Arc with her family after the crowning of the Charles at Rheims. As she sees it, she has accomplished her principle task and is dreaming of returning home with her family, who, for their part are surprised to hear her express a desire to leave her military career and return to the humdrum of life in Doremy. (It should go without saying that this passage is full of *SPOILERS*): Continue reading

The Passion of Joan of Arc. . . Again

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Well, good St. Joan was betrayed by the Burgundians, condemned by ecclesiastics who should have protected her, abandoned by the King she fought for and burned by the English. As a reward her story has been printed to celluloid I don’t know how many times now, and most of this waste of celluloid should be burned in the square of Rouen in reparation for the crimes of Hollywood against this great Virgin Warrior.

In spite of his flaws, I have a great deal of respect for Mel Gibson and wrote a little booklet, praising his Passion movie. Even so, I have been stopped in my tracks. Tabloid sites are claiming that he now plans to produce another Passion movie, this time a remake of the The Passion of Joan of Arc, a 1928 French silent movie that has been hailed as a landmark of cinema.

The gossipy part of the story (and I hope it is just gossip) is that he has asked Britney Spears to play the title role. The funny thing is, given Gibson’s quirkiness, he is just the man to do it and perhaps even to pull it off. Nevertheless, the yuck factor is a bit too much for me. I wish Miss Spears well, and hope she gets her life together; however, she would have to turn a miraculous performance to make me forget what she has stood for, which is diametrically opposed to the holiness and purity of the Maid of Orleans. I know. . . I know. . . This is what actors do. Their job is to pretend to be someone they are not. Even so . . .

I just hope this is not another crime that Hollywood will have to atone for. I will be the first to throw a fagot on the pyre. Continue reading