Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name




Degree Program

English, MA

Committee Chair

Kain, Richard M.

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Hassold, Ernest C.

Committee Member

Schlesinger, Edmond R.


Joan, of Arc, Saint, 1412-1431


Five hundred years have passed, and Joan remains a living breathing presence, when those others of her day have become little more than names, a museum of labelled shadows. What is the explanation of this continued interest in a young girl who lived for only nineteen short years in the first part of the fifteenth century? Before attempting to answer this question, let us briefly summarize the facts of her life: she was born, it is believed, on January 6, 1412 in Domremy, a small town in north-eastern France. There, at the age of thirteen, she first heard voices and saw visions of saints and angels who, in the years that followed, instructed her to go to the aid of the city of Orleans which was besieged by the English, am afterwards crown the Dauphin at Rheims. Within three short months she fulfilled her mission, though she continued in the service of the king for the next year, until taken prisoner by the Burgundians while fighting before Compiegne. Sold to the English, she was tried for sorcery and heresy, and burned at the stake in Rouen on May 30, 1431 - just a year after her capture. These main facts of Joan of Arc's life have never been seriously questioned, yet their interpretation has continually changed throughout the years. In the age of Shakespeare, the Maid's character was distorted by nationalistic prejudice; in the eighteenth century~ by the new rationalism; and, in the nineteenth, by the romantic reaction. With the coming of modern times, however, there was no longer one ~enera1ly accepted interpretation, but instead four distinct attitudes were widely expressed: the romantic, the scholarly, the sceptical, and the pragmatic, to each of which one chapter of this thesis will be devoted. That a vital interest in Joan of Arc has continued into the twentieth century is due, in large measure, to a desire, on the part of several great writers of our present age, to explain her voices and visions, as well as her entire personality; on the basis of recent findings in science and psychology. Furthermore, in France, her name became important in both a political and a religious way as was never the case in England or America. In all countries, though, men were inspired to reinterpret the J4aid I s story, since her canonization caused them once again to wonder about her remarkable achievements. The fundamental reason, though, for a continued interest in the deeds of Joan of Arc lies in the fact that 8D1' interpretation of her accomplishments invariably rests upon the author's beliefs about theology, pathology, and metaphysics. And this explains "the fascination of France's national saint - not just the subject of a biography, not merely a picturesque figure in armour and a scarlet cloak, but a figure who challenges some of the profoundest tenets of what we do or do not believe. More, perhaps, than any other military figure in history, she forces us to think."