Joan of Arc and Sacrificial Authorship
University of Notre Dame, 2003. Item #45888
A host of modern authors have portrayed Joan of Arc as a heroine. Identifying with the medieval saint and martyr as a figure of the artist, they tell her story as a way of commenting on their own situation in a world where the aura of art has decayed. Blending the theoretical insights of Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and René Girard, Ann W. Astell persuasively argues that many modern authors have seen their own artistic vocation in the visions and voices that inspired Joan. Astell’s pathbreaking study explores the treatment of Joan of Arc in the works of such renowned and diverse authors as Mark Twain, Samuel Coleridge, Virginia Woolf, Friedrich Schiller, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, and Lillian Helman. Astell contends that in Joan’s problematic identity as a peasant woman, these writers find an image for their own status as outsiders and potential scapegoats. Joan’s condemnation and cruel death by fire mirror the anxious fears of artists who find themselves in a philistine marketplace. By depicting Joan’s miraculous victories and ultimate canonization as a saint, these writers seek to imbue their own work with a quasi-religious aura and to secure for themselves a lasting place in the literary canon. Joan of Arc and Sacrificial Authorship offers the most comprehensive, comparative treatment to date of modern renditions of the medieval story of Joan of Arc. By connecting the societal roles of nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors and Saint Joan, Astell explains the continuing importance of the Middle Ages in the quest for a modern self-understanding.
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