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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, Part 5

Part 1 on Twain’s Joan of Arc can be found here.  
Part 2, here.  
Part 3, here
Part 4, here.  

This post deals with Book 3.

Summary:  Book 3, Chapters 1-12

With Joan now in their possession, the Burgundians await ransom offer from the King of France, which would have been typical of a prisoner of her status.  But no offer came, nor did the King of France show any interest in retaining Joan.  The English, on the other hand were very interested in taking possession of Joan and paid a large sum for her.  Louis de Conte finds his way to Rouen, where he obtains a position to record the trial, and so serve the fictive purpose of providing narration.  The chief prosecutor is Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvals, and a strong English sympathizer.  Since they could not charge Joan with any war crimes, the plan shifted to convict Joan with idolatry stemming from her visions and wearing of men's clothing.  Without any defense attorney, without any knowledge of the law, being only a seventeen year old, uneducated peasant girl, and faced with over fifty well-schooled inquisitors, experienced men learned in law and theology, Joan magnificently rebutted all their questions.

I don't know who I have the most anger toward out of all the villains.  Caouchon or the King of France.  One can understand Cauchon and his motivations, though he was working toward an evil end, and he will be forever remembered in history for his evil effort.  But for the King of France to not lift a finger to ransom Joan after all she did for him and for France is downright despicable.  There are no mitigating circumstances for his pusillanimous heart, for his treachery, and for his lack of gratitude.

Summary:  Book 3, Chapters 13-24, and Conclusion

After Joan single-handedly rebuffing Cauchon and the vast numbers of inquisitors in public, the trial is moved away from public sight to the dungeon.  After reviewing the transcript of Joan’s words from the public part of the trial, Cauchon digs out or fabricates sixty-six articles of charges against her.  Still the only charges that were even remotely prosecutable were that of the voices she heard and the wearing of men’s clothing, which somehow conflated to a charge of idolatry.  Here too she avoided their traps, and finally she was threatened with torture and death.  Still she is unmoved.  Cauchon then contrived a trick to wear her down to exhaustion, have her sign some falsified statement, and then prove she violated it.  The trick works.  Her mind confused from fatigue and directly lied to as to the conditions for her concession, she signs the fraudulent document.  With now having “violated” the conditions for her concession Cauchon can justify her execution.  With that she is burnt at the stake.

Reading the last part of Book 3 was difficult.  It was like watching train wreck where the disaster is unavoidable.  Poor Joan.  I have nothing but contempt for Cauchon and those that participated in the farce.  They wanted this poor young lady burnt and they lied and deceived her without an ounce of pity or shame.  I pray that Joan received some justice in eternity.  Twain did a masterful job with the ending.  He captured Joan’s indomitable spirit, Cauchon’s malicious workings and his increasing frustrations as Joan repeatedly rebuffed him, and the overall sense of pity of the tragic outcome.  Reading through the novel, Joan of Arc became very dear to me. 

I don’t have much more to say about the novel but I do want to highlight a couple of passages in the last book.  This passage from Book 3, Chapter 17, “Supreme in Direst Peril” I think captures the central theme of the novel.  The first part of the trial has ended and the prosecutors are taking their time to strategize on how to trap Joan.  She spends ten days isolated in captivity while Louis de Conte ponders what is going on.

And then we naturally contrasted our circumstances with hers: this freedom and sunshine, with her darkness and chains; our comradeship, with her lonely estate; our alleviations of one sort and another, with her destitution in all. She was used to liberty, but now she had none; she was an out-of-door creature by nature and habit, but now she was shut up day and night in a steel cage like an animal; she was used to the light, but now she was always in a gloom where all objects about her were dim and spectral; she was used to the thousand various sounds which are the cheer and music of a busy life, but now she heard only the monotonous footfall of the sentry pacing his watch; she had been fond of talking with her mates, but now there was no one to talk to; she had had an easy laugh, but it was gone dumb now; she had been born for comradeship, and blithe and busy work, and all manner of joyous activities, but here were only dreariness, and leaden hours, and weary inaction, and brooding stillness, and thoughts that travel by day and night and night and day round and round in the same circle, and wear the brain and break the heart with weariness. It was death in life; yes, death in life, that is what it must have been. And there was another hard thing about it all. A young girl in trouble needs the soothing solace and support and sympathy of persons of her own sex, and the delicate offices and gentle ministries which only these can furnish; yet in all these months of gloomy captivity in her dungeon Joan never saw the face of a girl or a woman. Think how her heart would have leaped to see such a face.

Consider. If you would realize how great Joan of Arc was, remember that it was out of such a place and such circumstances that she came week after week and month after month and confronted the master intellects of France single-handed, and baffled their cunningest schemes, defeated their ablest plans, detected and avoided their secretest traps and pitfalls, broke their lines, repelled their assaults, and camped on the field after every engagement; steadfast always, true to her faith and her ideals; defying torture, defying the stake, and answering threats of eternal death and the pains of hell with a simple "Let come what may, here I take my stand and will abide."

Yes, if you would realize how great was the soul, how profound the wisdom, and how luminous the intellect of Joan of Arc, you must study her there, where she fought out that long fight all alone—and not merely against the subtlest brains and deepest learning of France, but against the ignoble deceits, the meanest treacheries, and the hardest hearts to be found in any land, pagan or Christian.

She was great in battle—we all know that; great in foresight; great in loyalty and patriotism; great in persuading discontented chiefs and reconciling conflicting interests and passions; great in the ability to discover merit and genius wherever it lay hidden; great in picturesque and eloquent speech; supremely great in the gift of firing the hearts of hopeless men and noble enthusiasms, the gift of turning hares into heroes, slaves and skulkers into battalions that march to death with songs on their lips. But all these are exalting activities; they keep hand and heart and brain keyed up to their work; there is the joy of achievement, the inspiration of stir and movement, the applause which hails success; the soul is overflowing with life and energy, the faculties are at white heat; weariness, despondency, inertia—these do not exist.

Yes, Joan of Arc was great always, great everywhere, but she was greatest in the Rouen trials. There she rose above the limitations and infirmities of our human nature, and accomplished under blighting and unnerving and hopeless conditions all that her splendid equipment of moral and intellectual forces could have accomplished if they had been supplemented by the mighty helps of hope and cheer and light, the presence of friendly faces, and a fair and equal fight, with the great world looking on and wondering.

Here Twain has captured Joan’s indomitable spirit, her natural heroism.  Twain I believe casts her as a Romantic heroine, fighting against the “master intellects” with nothing but her uneducated and natural wisdom.  Joan is the anti-intellectual, representing natural humanity, uncorrupted humanity.  Yes, she has certain graces, gifts from God to hold her moral core against societal immorality.  She transcends fallen human nature.

Finally I want to quote how Twain brings the tragedy to an end.  From Book 3, Chapter 24, “Joan the Martyr.”

Joan had been placed wholly apart and conspicuous, to signify the Church's abandonment of her, and she sat there in her loneliness, waiting in patience and resignation for the end. Cauchon addressed her now. He had been advised to read the form of her abjuration to her, and had brought it with him; but he changed his mind, fearing that she would proclaim the truth—that she had never knowingly abjured—and so bring shame upon him and eternal infamy. He contented himself with admonishing her to keep in mind her wickednesses, and repent of them, and think of her salvation. Then he solemnly pronounced her excommunicate and cut off from the body of the Church. With a final word he delivered her over to the secular arm for judgment and sentence.

Joan, weeping, knelt and began to pray. For whom? Herself? Oh, no—for the King of France. Her voice rose sweet and clear, and penetrated all hearts with its passionate pathos. She never thought of his treacheries to her, she never thought of his desertion of her, she never remembered that it was because he was an ingrate that she was here to die a miserable death; she remembered only that he was her King, that she was his loyal and loving subject, and that his enemies had undermined his cause with evil reports and false charges, and he not by to defend himself. And so, in the very presence of death, she forgot her own troubles to implore all in her hearing to be just to him; to believe that he was good and noble and sincere, and not in any way to blame for any acts of hers, neither advising them nor urging them, but being wholly clear and free of all responsibility for them. Then, closing, she begged in humble and touching words that all here present would pray for her and would pardon her, both her enemies and such as might look friendly upon her and feel pity for her in their hearts.

There was hardly one heart there that was not touched—even the English, even the judges showed it, and there was many a lip that trembled and many an eye that was blurred with tears; yes, even the English Cardinal's—that man with a political heart of stone but a human heart of flesh.

The secular judge who should have delivered judgment and pronounced sentence was himself so disturbed that he forgot his duty, and Joan went to her death unsentenced—thus completing with an illegality what had begun illegally and had so continued to the end. He only said—to the guards:

"Take her"; and to the executioner, "Do your duty."

Joan asked for a cross. None was able to furnish one. But an English soldier broke a stick in two and crossed the pieces and tied them together, and this cross he gave her, moved to it by the good heart that was in him; and she kissed it and put it in her bosom. Then Isambard de la Pierre went to the church near by and brought her a consecrated one; and this one also she kissed, and pressed it to her bosom with rapture, and then kissed it again and again, covering it with tears and pouring out her gratitude to God and the saints.

And so, weeping, and with her cross to her lips, she climbed up the cruel steps to the face of the stake, with the friar Isambard at her side. Then she was helped up to the top of the pile of wood that was built around the lower third of the stake and stood upon it with her back against the stake, and the world gazing up at her breathless. The executioner ascended to her side and wound chains around her slender body, and so fastened her to the stake. Then he descended to finish his dreadful office; and there she remained alone—she that had had so many friends in the days when she was free, and had been so loved and so dear.

All these things I saw, albeit dimly and blurred with tears; but I could bear no more. I continued in my place, but what I shall deliver to you now I got by others' eyes and others' mouths. Tragic sounds there were that pierced my ears and wounded my heart as I sat there, but it is as I tell you: the latest image recorded by my eyes in that desolating hour was Joan of Arc with the grace of her comely youth still unmarred; and that image, untouched by time or decay, has remained with me all my days. Now I will go on.

If any thought that now, in that solemn hour when all transgressors repent and confess, she would revoke her revocation and say her great deeds had been evil deeds and Satan and his fiends their source, they erred. No such thought was in her blameless mind. She was not thinking of herself and her troubles, but of others, and of woes that might befall them. And so, turning her grieving eyes about her, where rose the towers and spires of that fair city, she said—

"Oh, Rouen, Rouen, must I die here, and must you be my tomb? Ah, Rouen, Rouen, I have great fear that you will suffer for my death."

A whiff of smoke swept upward past her face, and for one moment terror seized her and she cried out, "Water! Give me holy water!" but the next moment her fears were gone, and they came no more to torture her.

She heard the flames crackling below her, and immediately distress for a fellow-creature who was in danger took possession of her. It was the friar Isambard. She had given him her cross and begged him to raise it toward her face and let her eyes rest in hope and consolation upon it till she was entered into the peace of God. She made him go out from the danger of the fire. Then she was satisfied, and said—

"Now keep it always in my sight until the end."

Not even yet could Cauchon, that man without shame,

My heart goes out to poor Joan.  

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