The Once and Future Classroom , Volume VI, Issue 2, Fall 2008. www.teamsmedieval.org
Dr. Alan Lupack, Curator of the Robbins Library, University of Rochester. Guest Columnist: Kristi J. Castleberry.
Joan of Arc is simultaneously one of the most well documented figures in history and one of the most widely represented in literature and film. We know more about her than any other person up until her lifetime, and yet she is still a mystery in many ways. How did she come to accomplish what she did? How do we explain her voices? How much of an influence did she have on the war? Is she a proto-feminist radical or a model for conservatism? Fictional representations (as well as historical ones) have attempted to explain her in various ways, and people with every sort of political and social agenda have appropriated her as a hero of their conflicting causes.
What remains as a common factor among the varied representations of Joan “The Maid,” as she would have preferred to have been called, is the abiding interest in her life. She inspires people, she confuses people, she intrigues people. Regardless of her motives or the ways in which she may or may not have promoted certain worldviews, one cannot help but be amazed at a peasant girl who approached the king of France, a teenager who led an army, a woman dressed as a man who called herself a maid, an illiterate nineteen year old who spoke for herself against learned theologians, and a condemned heretic who was declared a saint. Joan is, in short, a completely historical figure who has attained mythic proportions.
Born around 1412 into a France torn apart by the Hundred Years’ War and a Christendom torn apart by the Great Schism, Joan is a person who, under normal circumstances, would never have entered the historical record. The records are silent, in fact, until about 1428, when teenaged Joan decided to approach Robert de Baudricourt, governor of Vancouleurs, with a request to be introduced to the dauphin. From that point until 1431, when Joan was burned at the stake, we have an account of nearly every word she spoke and move she made (though often recorded with particular biases). We have records of her trials, we have letters she dictated, and we even have her signature. We know that at around age 13 she began hearing voices that urged her to save France. Once she met the dauphin and gained his confidence in 1429 — partly through submitting to an examination by theologians at Poitiers) — she managed to gain wider confidence by leading soldiers to break the siege at Orléans and then personally leading the dauphin to Reims, where he was crowned Charles VII. After this point, however, her fortune seems to have changed. As Charles VII was attempting diplomacy, Joan was continuing to fight. Joan was taken prisoner at Compiègne by the Duke of Burgundy in 1430 and sold to the English, who gave her over to theologians at the University of Paris. Tried for heresy at Rouen, Joan was turned over to secular authority and burned at the stake on 30 May 1431. As she was burning, witnesses report that she spoke the name of Jesus. In 1455, a new trial, known as the Nullification or Rehabilitation trial, reopened Joan’s case, and in 1456 the earlier verdict was annulled. Nearly 500 years later, in 1920, Joan was canonized by Pope Benedict XV.
People wrote about Joan during her lifetime, and they have been consistently writing about her since her death. Therefore, the amount of information available on the topic can be overwhelming to those attempting to do basic research. The following bibliography, though by no means comprehensive, is meant to provide instructors with a sense of some of the most useful history, literature, film, and Internet resources on Joan of Arc.
Critical Sources for Teachers and Older Students
The sources on Joan of Arc can quickly become overwhelming. So many scholars have chosen to write about her in so many ways, and often the scholarly work is too advanced for the junior high or high school student. I include here some current sources in English that will be most useful to the teacher preparing to do a unit on Joan of Arc. Some of the sources will be valuable primarily in this capacity, though advanced students researching the topic may want to consider major scholarly sources as well. Other sources will be excellent for students, and teachers may choose to give all or part of these texts to their classes.
Dolgin, Ellen Ecker. Modernizing Joan of Arc: Conceptions, Costumes, and Canonization. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2008.
Ellen Ecker Dolgin’s text will be most useful in discussions of the ways in which Joan’s story has been used since her death. Its focus is on modern interpretations of Joan, and it gives a nice basis for understanding the ways in which Joan has been used in politics and propaganda. For those more interested in modern history and the ways Joan has been viewed in America and England as well as France, this will be a wonderful source, and it will also be good for students interested in Joan’s canonization. The prose is fairly straightforward, and the text includes a variety of images, both of which will make this an accessible source for high school students. Dolgin specifically traces the ways in which Joan has been used both to combat and to reinforce traditional notions of femininity. There is a definite focus on gender throughout this text, so teachers should be aware of that before assigning it to their students.
Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc. Ed. Bonnie Wheeler and Charles T. Wood. New York: Garland, 1996.
Although too scholarly for most students, this text is a wonderful source for teachers who would like to add complexity to their understanding of Joan of Arc. The collection contains a variety of scholarly arguments, and specific chapters could prove useful to advanced students when researching particular aspects of Joan’s history.
Heimann, Nora M., and Laura Coyle. Joan of Arc: Her Image in France and America. London: Corcoran Gallery of Art in association with D Giles Limited, 2006.
This fully illustrated text will be, as the title suggests, useful to those interested in how Joan’s image has been used in both France and the United States. For those interested in art and in visual culture, this will be a wonderful source. Teachers may want to look at it before preparing a unit, but it could also be used in some capacity with both high school and junior high students.
Joan of Arc: La Pucelle: Selected Sources. Trans. Craig Taylor. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2006.
This source will be immensely useful to teachers preparing for a unit on Joan of Arc. It contains an excellent introduction to the material, which students could read in its entirety or in pieces (it is separated into subcategories, which teachers can use to divide up the material if they choose). The sources included are well organized and split into categories so that contemporary sources on Joan’s life are given a section, each trial is given its own section, etc. High school and even junior high teachers who would like students to work with primary sources would do well to utilize sections of this text, and advanced students with an interest in researching Joan could be directed to it as well.
Lightbody, Charles. The Judgments of Joan: Joan of Arc, a Study in Cultural History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961.
Although not as current as some of the other sources included here, Charles Lightbody’s text will be an excellent source for those interested in the ways Joan has been viewed from her death until modernity. The focus is primarily on France, so this text could work nicely for those focusing on French history and Joan as a figure deeply connected to national identity.
Margolis, N. Joan of Arc in History, Literature, and Film. A Select, Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.
N. Margolis’s bibliography will be useful to teachers or advanced students who would like to do research beyond the scope of this bibliography. Although it is not completely current, it is extremely thorough up until its publication date.
Pernoud, Régine and Marie-Véronique Clin. Joan of Arc : Her Story. Trans. and rev. Jeremy duQuesnay Adams. Ed. Bonnie Wheeler. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
Both this text, by Régine Pernoud and Marie-Véronique Clin, and the revisions made by Jeremy duQuesnay Adams will be invaluable to both teachers and students. Adams’s introduction gives an excellent historical context, and will provide students with a general background on both the Hundred Years’ War and the Great Schism. The biography portion is thorough and well researched, but also written in a straightforward manner, and could be read by both high school and junior high students (though perhaps in portions for the latter). After the biography portion, there is a section solely devoted to describing the different historical figures involved. A teacher might excerpt this for students working on different figures, or students reading the biography might use this “cast of characters” as a reference point during their reading.
Warner, Marina. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. New York: Knopf, 1981.
Marina Warner’s text, which focuses on Joan’s story from a particularly feminist perspective, would be useful background for teachers interested in explaining the gender aspects of the history. Not everyone will agree with the feminist lens, and teachers should approach the text with care, but it is nonetheless useful background and deals with an important aspect of Joan of Arc criticism. Advanced students interested in gender may want to read this text in their research, but I would not recommend it for students in junior high or the early years of high school.
Wilson-Smith, Timothy. Joan of Arc: Maid, Myth and History. Stroud : Sutton, 2006.
Timothy Wilson-Smith’s text is split between Joan’s life and her historical afterlife. He provides a fairly straightforward biography of Joan, and then he delves into the ways her story has been used since her death. Sometimes his critiques of certain representations of Joan are a bit heavy-handed, and students without much background in French history could get a bit lost reading some of the final chapters. However, the chapters are short and divided by topic, so teachers could pick and choose which would be the most useful to give to students in high school or junior high.
Sources for Younger Students
Teaching elementary students about Joan of Arc can be daunting. So much historical context is necessary, and the history of Joan herself is complicated and, ultimately, violent. Many texts for children are oversimplified, but some simplification is certainly needed for children’s books on this topic. The sources listed below will be useful for giving children in elementary school, and in some cases junior high, an introduction to Joan of Arc and to the Middle Ages more generally.
Brooks, Polly Schoyer. Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
This biography will be an excellent text for junior high students. Some high school teachers may even want to consider it. Brooks’s text is concise, yet it does not oversimplify Joan’s story as some young adult biographies do. It gives a great deal of historical context, but reads smoothly. There are also numerous illustrations of historic prints and photographs, which students will find educational and enjoyable. This text also contains a thorough index, which students attempting to write papers will find extremely useful.
Eastwood, Kay. Women and Girls in the Middle Ages. New York: Crabtree Pub. Co., 2004.
Kay Eastwood’s book, useful for age seven and above, could be used for background information on women’s roles in the period for both elementary and junior high students. Eastwood gives a variety of information about women in the medieval period, as well as descriptions of various famous women. One nice aspect of the book is that is deals with differences in roles for different social classes, and that it attempts to complicate the oversimplified view of medieval women that many students hold. In this way, it would be ideal for prefacing a unit on Joan of Arc for young students.
Garden, Nancy. Dove and Sword: A Novel of Joan of Arc. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995.
This novel, suitable for junior high students, is from the point of view of Joan’s fictional friend Gabrielle. It takes some creative liberties with the facts of Joan’s story, and is certainly meant to appeal to a modern viewpoint (Gabrielle hates war and struggles with the oppressive roles for women), yet it may help young students gain interest in the history. Gabrielle may serve as a bridge between modern students and the unfamiliar world of Joan, and, if students are also given some further historical information, this novel could be enjoyable and educational.
Kudlinski, Kathleen V. Joan of Arc. New York: DK Publishing, 2008.
This biography, which is marketed toward junior high students but appears suitable for students as young as fifth grade, is a concise and straightforward telling of Joan’s story. It contains numerous colorful illustrations, which students will enjoy, and also has a timeline, a bibliography, an index at the end, and fact boxes to provide extra information throughout. Though not as thorough as Polly Shoyer Brooks’s Beyond the Myth (see above), this text will appeal to young students encountering the information for the first time.
Poole, Josephine. Joan of Arc. Ill. Angela Barrett. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005.
Josephine Poole’s book, suitable for ages four and up, is primarily a picture book. It is not particularly detailed about Joan’s story or the historical context, but could nonetheless provide a good introduction to young readers. Teachers should keep in mind that Poole’s version is geared toward a religious reading of Joan’s story. It also softens the ending (it states that Joan becomes a star after her death), which may be preferable for very young children.
Stanley, Diane. Joan of Arc. Ill. Diane Stanley. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
Diane Stanley’s biography of Joan, which is appropriate for children ages seven and up, gives a fairly detailed view of Joan’s life. It begins with context about the Hundred Years’ War, and continues with a richly illustrated account of Joan’s life. Although best suited to the needs of elementary students, this text could be useful for students in junior high as well.
Major Works of Literature
There are a wide variety of fictional accounts of Joan’s of Arc’s life and death, and, like many of the historical accounts, these texts often teach us more about the time in which they were written than about Joan herself. They may be useful if supplemented with historical information, and teachers may want to look at the ways in which Joan’s story has been applied to different moments in history through fictional representations.
de Pizan, Christine. “The Tale of Joan of Arc.” The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. 252-264.
Christine’s poem, known in French as the Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc,is an invaluable addition to any unit on Joan of Arc. The poem represents a contemporary response that is both positive and filled with hope (the poem was written while Joan was still alive and active). Since Joan is one of the major female historical figures of the Middle Ages, it would be useful to look at the reaction of one of the major female literary figures of the same period. The poem is also available in online editions (such as through the International Joan of Arc Society website, listed below) and in Craig Taylor’s Joan of Arc: La Pucelle (listed above).
Shakespeare, William. Henry VI Part I. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 2008.
William Shakespeare’s representation of Joan is wholly negative, and will likely be somewhat startling to modern readers. In his anglocentric version of history, Joan is a decided enemy. In fact, he even indicates that she is a witch. Nonetheless, it could be useful for students to read either the entire play or simply the parts related to Joan because it would help to give a wider view of the myriad responses that Joan has produced. Students in junior high or high school (and perhaps as young as fifth grade) could benefit from examining Shakespeare’s portrayal, especially as it would serve both to further their study of Joan of Arc and to connect with their reading of other Shakespeare plays throughout the literary curriculum. This edition includes plot summaries and facing page notes, which will be of use to students, though teachers may have other preferred editions which will work as well.
Shaw, George Bernard. St. Joan. New York: Penguin, 1951.
Written after Joan had been sainted by the Catholic Church, George Bernard Shaw’s version of Joan is both distinctly modern and distinctly unsaintly. In fact, Shaw’s Joan is a Protestant before the Reformation. Shaw wanted to challenge popular expectations of Joan and to make her accessible as a spunky modern woman. As long as the play is read in the context of Joan’s history and of Shaw’s purposefully altered rendering of that history, this could be a fascinating addition to a class unit. In fact, students could act out scenes from the play in order to develop a better understanding of the figures. I would especially recommend this play to high school teachers, but it could be a good addition to a junior high unit as well.
Twain, Mark. Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Mark Twain researched his material for years before writing this novel, and it was a project he took extremely seriously. Fans of Twain will be surprised by the tone of this text, which is neither satirical nor ironic. Instead, he presents a romanticized Joan, saint-like before she was canonized. Though readers should certainly realize that this text is a fictional interpretation, it is a fictional representation based in sound historical background. Students may enjoy reading an account by such a well-known author, and it could therefore be a useful addition to a unit on Joan of Arc. This novel could be appropriate to audiences of both junior high and high school age (and excerpts could be given to younger readers as well), but, since it is fairly long, teachers may choose to abridge or excerpt it for their students. Since Twain’s Joan is narrated by a fictional companion and page named Sieur Louis de Conte, a teacher in need of abridging the text could remove some of the sections which represent his experiences in particular while still maintaining the main scenes of Joan’s life.
There are a number of websites about Joan of Arc, several of which will be extremely useful to both teachers as they prepare for class and students as they research Joan’s story. Students should, as always with web material, be advised to approach Internet research with caution, since much of the information to be found on websites is of dubious quality. I list below the most useful and reliable websites I have found, which include information, images, film clips, transcriptions of source material, and even further pedagogical resources.
International Joan of Arc Society/Société Internationale de l’étude de Jeanne d’Arc. Dir. Bonnie Wheeler. http://faculty.smu.edu/bwheeler/ijas/
This website contains a wealth of information both for the teacher and for the newly interested student. Teachers would do well to peruse this site before teaching a unit on Joan of Arc, and could certainly use it to formulate readings on the topic, but students could also be directed to this site for their own research. This site contains texts, such as transcriptions of the condemnation and rehabilitation trials, which are indispensible to a unit on Joan’s life, and links to film clips, music, images, and maps. It also contains a fairly comprehensive bibliography, which teachers could use to research the topic, and links to other pedagogic resources, such as various course pages on the topic. Finally, the page contains links to other useful websites on the Joan and the period in which she lived.
Joan of Arc Archive. By Allen Williamson. http://archive.joan-of-arc.org/
This website, though certainly not comprehensive, does contain a variety of information about Joan’s life. It has links to translations of Joan’s letters and information on trial records, a brief biography and a longer biography (both written by Williamson), and reviews of several films. It also has links to articles and further information about Joan. The website appears to be undergoing revision and expansion, so perhaps more information and reviews will be added.
Saint Joan of Arc Center. Ed. Virginia Frohlick. http://www.stjoan-center.com/
Although this website should be approached with the knowledge that Frohlick is a Catholic with a strong personal devotion to St. Joan, this fact should not deter teachers from using the information on the site. The site contains historical information, detailed trial records, reviews of movies and books, and frequently asked questions. It also contains links to various art work, which could be extremely useful for classroom discussion on representations of Joan of Arc.
Film and Television
Joan of Arc has been portrayed in countless films of varying quality. In fact, some of the first films made featured Joan of Arc’s story. The image of Joan burning at the stake has captured the imaginations of audiences throughout the history of film, and it might be useful to compare different portrayals of Joan’s final moments (or of Joan riding into battle, etc.). The spectacle of Joan’s life and death (as well as the wealth of information and carefully recorded conversations) lends itself nicely to film, and presenting Joan’s story to students in this way might help make the history more accessible to them. Since film requires directors and actors to choose particular interpretations of the history in order to represent it, it is always important to examine film versions alongside historical information. I list below the most well-known and widely available films on Joan in the United States today in the hopes that teachers will be able to choose a particular film or selected scenes from different films for comparison and discussion.
Joan of Arc. Dir. Victor Fleming. Image Entertainment, 1948.
This classic film, featuring Ingrid Bergman as Joan, would be appropriate for audiences as young as fourth grade. It is presented in a clear, chronological fashion, and is marked by a great deal of sincerity. Though not rated, it is free from gratuitous violence. Bergman’s Joan is an unfailingly positive figure, and her portrayal, as well as the rest of the film, should certainly be examined in the context of historical information, but it could help bring the story to life for young audiences.
Joan of Arc. Dir. Christian Duguay. Lions Gate, 1999.
This version of Joan’s story, starring Leelee Sobieski, should, like other film versions, be supplemented with historical information and perhaps a discussion about the choices the director made in interpreting the story. The antagonistic characterization of Joan’s father, for example, is added for dramatic effect rather than for historical accuracy, and the film promotes the idea that Charles VII purposely betrayed Joan, which is arguable. As a television miniseries, this version is three hours long, so it may not be practical to show it in its entirety. However, it does follow Joan’s story in a chronological fashion, and it could be useful to give students a feel for the history. Although not rated, because made for television, this version would be suitable for high school audiences, and parts might be useful to younger students as well.
Joan of Arc: Virgin Warrior. A&E, 2004.
This A&E biography, at only 50 minutes, could be easily viewed within a single class period. As is the nature of the medium, the information is somewhat generalized, but it could nonetheless be a useful addition to a unit on Joan of Arc. The documentary combines photographs of landscapes and artwork with dramatizations and interviews with noted scholars. I would recommend this documentary to students as young as fourth grade. It could perhaps be shown to younger students, at least in parts, though care should be taken with some of the content (references to Joan’s purported lack of menstruation, for example, might not be suitable for young students).
Joan of Arcadia. TV Series. Paramount, 2003-2005.
Although this show will give students neither the history nor myth of Joan of Arc’s life, it does deal with some important issues that might come up while studying her. Students may have questions about Joan’s voices, for example, and the impact that such experiences would have on a teenager. Like Joan of Arc, Joan in this series is a seemingly normal girl who has an extraordinary form of communication with God. Perhaps students would benefit from watching the premier episode and discussing the ways in which it attempts (successfully or otherwise) to bring Joan of Arc’s situation into a modern American setting.
Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. Dir. Luc Besson. Sony Pictures, 1999.
This film, with Milla Jovovich in the title role, should be approached with extreme caution. First, it is an R rated movie, and it contains graphic violence, rape, and profanity. Second, it takes extreme creative liberties with historical facts in order to produce a desired effect. Most specifically, it portrays Joan as possessed (or even insane), and her visions are frightening. It could be interesting to discuss the ways in which Besson attempts to re-envision the story. Certain aspects of the film do seem to get the spirit, if not always the facts, right, but I would suggest showing clips for discussion rather than the film in its entirety.
Passion of Joan of Arc. Dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer. Criterion, 1928.
This film, often considered one of the early points at which film and art intersected, is deservedly a classic of the genre. As a silent film, it may be difficult for modern students to watch, but showing all or parts of it to students of any age could be useful and interesting. This version of the story, with Maria Falconetti as Joan, focuses its attention on facial expressions, and the emotional impact, for those who give it their attention, can be striking. This film is less concerned with telling Joan’s entire story and more concerned with portraying the trial and burning, and it, like other films, should be viewed as a supplement to historical information.