"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, September 8, 2017

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, Part 3

Part 1 on Twain’s Joan of Arc can be found here.  
Part 2, here.  

This post deals with Book 2 of the novel, and the following are summaries of the first two thirds of Book 2.

Summary to Book 2, Chapters 1-13:

Joan, now seventeen years old, is escorted to Vaucouleurs, a nearby town, where the local governor and nobility investigate Joan’s claims and conclude she divinely sent.  They gather a group to take her to the King, and she leads the way through enemy territory.  The King too becomes convinced, as is his leading inquisitor, the Dominican Brother Séguin, and the King gives her command of his army for the Battle of Orleans.  Along the way we meet several of the characters that will have rank in her leadership: The Paladin, Sire de Retz, La Hire, and we see how her virtue and charm inspires devotion in her person. 

Summary to Book 2, Chapters 14-28:

Joan takes command of the army and her first order of business is to dictate a letter to the English to depart from France.  Of course they refuse.  She then moves into action and marches toward Orleans, along the way encountering skirmishes.  She wins a major victory in Orleans and advices the King to rush to Reims to claim the crown. 

A couple of points were made at the Goodreads discussion concerning Twain’s characterization of Joan.  Both in a way deal with Joan as an idealized person.  Kerstin hit upon Joan as an authentic leader.

Kerstin wrote:
“There are so many snake-oil salesmen one has a natural skepticism to hold back even if others follow blindly. Yet when face to face with people who have a true charisma, and aura of sincerity that is hard to ignore we recognize we are in the company of somebody truly special. Think of St. John Paul II or St. Mother Teresa, two people within living memory, who had this kind of effect on people. Joan strikes me as that kind of person.”

Manny’s Response:
That is a good point Kerstin, and I think we see her "charisma and aura of sanctity" in the way she deals with underlings: The Paladin, Sire de Retz, and La Hire.  She takes a different tact to win over each one of them.  I don't know how much of this is Twain filling in the details and how much is historically known.  Look at how she wins over The Paladin, who was really a braggart and a bit of a doofus, and first gives him encouragement and then the highest responsibility, that of carrying the army's banner.  From the end of Book II, Chapter 10:

"The Paladin entered humbly enough. He ventured no farther than just within the door. He stopped there, looking embarrassed and afraid. Then Joan spoke pleasantly, and said-

"I watched you on the road. You began badly, but improved. Of old you were a fantastic talker, but there is a man in you, and I will bring it out." It was fine to see the Paladin's face light up when she said that. "Will you follow where I lead?"

"Into the fire!" he said; and I said to myself, "By the ring of that, I think she has turned this braggart into a hero. It is another of her miracles, I make no doubt of it."

"I believe you," said Joan. "Here-take my banner. You will ride with me in every field, and when France is saved, you will give it me back."

He took the banner, which is now the most precious of the memorials that remain of Joan of Arc, and his voice was unsteady with emotion when he said-

"If I ever disgrace this trust, my comrades here will know how to do a friend's office upon my body, and this charge I lay upon them, as knowing they will not fail me."  (Book II, Chapter 12)

Then in the next chapter in a conversation between Sieur Louis and Noël Rainguesson, Louis mentions a conversation he had with "the chief knight."  I'm not sure which one is the chief knight but he makes a tremendous observation to Louis.  This is Louis speaking:

"You have noticed that our chief knight says a good many wise things and has a thoughtful head on his shoulders. One day, riding along, we were talking about Joan's great talents, and he said, 'But, greatest of all her gifts, she has the seeing eye.' I said, like an unthinking fool, 'The seeing eye?-I shouldn't count on that for much-I suppose we all have it.' 'No,' he said; 'very few have it.' Then he explained, and made his meaning clear. He said the common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind of eye couldn't detect. He said the mightiest military genius must fail and come to nothing if it have not the seeing eye-that is to say, if it cannot read men and select its subordinates with an infallible judgment. It sees as by intuition that this man is good for strategy, that one for dash and daredevil assault, the other for patient bull-dog persistence, and it appoints each to his right place and wins, while the commander without the seeing eye would give to each the other's place and lose. He was right about Joan, and I saw it. When she was a child and the tramp came one night, her father and all of us took him for a rascal, but she saw the honest man through the rags. When I dined with the governor of Vaucouleurs so long ago, I saw nothing in our two knights, though I sat with them and talked with them two hours; Joan was there five minutes, and neither spoke with them nor heard them speak, yet she marked them for men of worth and fidelity, and they have confirmed her judgment. Whom has she sent for to take charge of this thundering rabble of new recruits at Blois, made up of old disbanded Armagnac raiders, unspeakable hellions, every one? Why, she has sent for Satan himself-that is to say, La Hire-that military hurricane, that godless swashbuckler, that lurid conflagration of blasphemy, that Vesuvius of profanity, forever in eruption.  (Book II, Chapter 11)

Joan has this "seeing eye" to know who to place in commend.  And shockingly she takes La Hire, described as "Satan himself," to an important command.  Notice later in the conversation Louis makes another observation about Joan:

"Well, we shall see. Joan probably knows what is in him [The paladin] better than we do. And I'll give you another idea. When a person in Joan of Arc's position tells a man he is brave, he believes it; and believing it is enough; in fact, to believe yourself brave is to be brave; it is the one only essential thing."

"Now you've hit it!" cried Noël. "She's got the creating mouth as well as the seeing eye! Ah, yes, that is the thing. France was cowed and a coward; Joan of Arc has spoken, and France is marching, with her head up!"

So the generals have been converted by her seeing eye and creating mouth, and so have the French people.  It's hard for a novelist to capture all that with just a couple of scenes, but Twain does the best he can.  Notice then in chapter 12 how she converts the gruff and sinful old soldier La Hire to be rectitude:

"The visit of ceremony was soon over, and the others went away; but La Hire stayed, and he and Joan sat there, and he sipped her wine, and they talked and laughed together like old friends. And presently she gave him some instructions, in his quality as master of the camp, which made his breath stand still. For, to begin with, she said that all those loose women must pack out of the place at once, she wouldn't allow one of them to remain. Next, the rough carousing must stop, drinking must be brought within proper and strictly defined limits, and discipline must take the place of disorder. And finally she climaxed the list of surprises with this-which nearly lifted him out of his armor:

"Every man who joins my standard must confess before the priest and absolve himself from sin; and all accepted recruits must be present at divine service twice a day."

La Hire could not say a word for a good part of a minute, then he said, in deep dejection:

"Oh, sweet child, they were littered in hell, these poor darlings of mine! Attend mass? Why, dear heart, they'll see us both damned first!"

And he went on, pouring out a most pathetic stream of arguments and blasphemy, which broke Joan all up, and made her laugh as she had not laughed since she played in the Domremy pastures. It was good to hear.

But she stuck to her point; so the soldier yielded, and said all right, if such were the orders he must obey, and would do the best that was in him; then he refreshed himself with a lurid explosion of oaths, and said that if any man in the camp refused to renounce sin and lead a pious life, he would knock his head off. That started Joan off again; she was really having a good time, you see. But she would not consent to that form of conversions. She said they must be voluntary." (Book II Chapter 12)

And she makes the whole army attend mass and confession.  You would think that such forced obligations to the riffraff of society would bring about scorn and cynicism.  No.  Just the opposite.  I think they were looking for a reason to elevate their souls.  They had lost to the English for generations, and now they could only turn to God.  Later in the chapter Louis describes the change, first concerning La hire and then the rest of the army:

"That tough old lion went away from there a good deal tamed and civilized-not to say softened and sweetened, for perhaps those expressions would hardly fit him. Noël and I believed that when he was away from Joan's influence his old aversions would come up so strong in him that he could not master them, and so wouldn't go to mass. But we got up early in the morning to see.

Satan was converted, you see. Well, the rest followed. Joan rode up and down that camp, and wherever that fair young form appeared in its shining armor, with that sweet face to grace the vision and perfect it, the rude host seemed to think they saw the god of war in person, descended out of the clouds; and first they wondered, then they worshipped. After that, she could do with them what she would.

In three days it was a clean camp and orderly, and those barbarians were herding to divine service twice a day like good children. The women were gone. La Hire was stunned by these marvels; he could not understand them. He went outside the camp when he wanted to swear. He was that sort of a man-sinful by nature and habit, but full of superstitious respect for holy places.

The enthusiasm of the reformed army for Joan, its devotion to her, and the hot desire had aroused in it to be led against the enemy, exceeded any manifestations of this sort which La Hire had ever seen before in his long career. His admiration of it all, and his wonder over the mystery and miracle of it, were beyond his power to put into words. He had held this army cheap before, but his pride and confidence in it knew no limits now. He said-

"Two or three days ago it was afraid of a hen-roost; one could storm the gates of hell with it now."

And so as the army marches toward Orleans for the great battle, the French people too are won over:

"What a picture it was! Such black seas of people, such a starry firmament of torches, such roaring whirlwinds of welcome, such booming of bells and thundering of cannon! It was as if the world was come to an end. Everywhere in the glare of the torches one saw rank upon rank of upturned white faces, the mouths wide open, shouting, and the unchecked tears running down; Joan forged her slow way through the solid masses, her mailed form projecting above the pavement of heads like a silver statue. The people about her struggled along, gazing up at her through their tears with the rapt look of men and women who believe they are seeing one who is divine; and always her feet were being kissed by grateful folk, and such as failed of that privilege touched her horse and then kissed their fingers.

Nothing that Joan did escaped notice; everything she did was commented upon and applauded. You could hear the remarks going all the time.

"There-she's smiling-see!"

"Now she's taking her little plumed cap off to somebody-ah, it's fine and graceful!"

"She's patting that woman on the head with her gauntlet."

"Oh, she was born on a horse-see her turn in her saddle, and kiss the hilt of her sword to the ladies in the window that threw the flowers down."

"Now there's a poor woman lifting up a child-she's kissed it-oh, she's divine!"

"What a dainty little figure it is, and what a lovely face-and such color and animation!"

Joan's slender long banner streaming backward had an accident-the fringe caught fire from a torch. She leaned forward and crushed the flame in her hand.

"She's not afraid of fire nor anything!" they shouted, and delivered a storm of admiring applause that made everything quake.

She rode to the cathedral and gave thanks to God, and the people crammed the place and added their devotions to hers; then she took up her march again and picked her slow way through the crowds and the wilderness of torches to the house of Jacques Boucher, treasurer of the Duke of Orleans, where she was to be the guest of his wife as long as she stayed in the city, and have his young daughter for comrade and room-mate. The delirium of the people went on the rest of the night, and with it the clamor of the joy-bells and the welcoming cannon."  (Book II Chapter 13)

This winning over of the King, the generals, the army, and the French people is the central point of these early chapters of Book II.


  1. Indeed. Twain's story was fiction - but arguably closer to true than the version of Joan of Arc I got as a youth: pretty much a rehash of standard English press-release stuff. Not that they had press releases then. ;)

    1. Yes, Twain was extremely faithful to the actually history.
      Thank you Brian.