Sunday, 16 September 2012

Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism

Marina Warner, Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism Berkeley, University of California Press, 1981, paperback, 2000.

Marina Warner has produced major books – Alone of all her Sex on the Virgin Mary and From the Beast to the Blonde on fairy-tales  for example -- but Joan of Arc, which really announced her as both a major scholar and also an intellectual analyst, remains a powerful work, notable among the rather disappointing wealth of Joan books both for its full and solid scholarship and its calm and searching power to develop arguments. Joan studies in general is a major location for personal obsession and scholarly myopia.

By subtitling her study `The Image of Female Heroism’ Warner takes on directly the main challenge posed by Joan – or Jehane, as she called herself: the name Joan is one of the many brutalities she has suffered at English hands. She was both fully feminine – affectively religious, deeply gregarious, excellent at attracting support, very loyal to her friends and supporters, strongly against brutality – but also a serious participant in warfare as soldier but, especially, as she saw herself and was seen by contemporaries, as a knight and war-leader. 

Warner explores a serious sequence of female warriors, Amazons and militant Christians notable among them, and in a late chapter `Personification of Virtue’ works through a range of conceptual ways of understanding Jehane, a good deal more subtle than the many reductions she has suffered (such as being a symbol for the Le Pen far right in recent French elections).

If Régine Pernoud’s book is the best-illustrated modern treatment of the Jehane materials, Warner’s is by far the most learned and intelligent.

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