Ann W. Astell
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, Virignia 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.
“Readers have come to expect erudition, sensitivity, and stylistic clarity from Astell; her latest book, while typical of her scholarship in its ambitious range and originality, is more deliberately polemical, its tone firm and incisive. …Astell courageously plants her flag as a challenge to literary critics in recent decades for whom everything but religion is relevant.” Christianity and Literature, Winter, 2004, Vol. 53 No. 2
“… splendidly readable…. Astell’s lucid style and her thoughtful, sympathetic understanding of Joan of Arc as a literary and cultural martyr, commend this remarkable and in many ways excellent book.” Anglican Theological Review, 86:2
“Astell’s book offers a broadly researched and profoundly considered analysis of post-enlightenment portrayals of Joan of Arc in vernacular literature ranging from poetry to biography to drama to film, from Schiller to Sackville-West to Shaw to Dreyer.” —_Arthuriana_
“_Joan of Arc and Sacrificial Authorship_ is, quite simply, astonishing in its range and depth of learning. Drawing on René Girard’s model of mimetic rivalry, which she merges with Harold Bloom’s concept of the anxieties of influence at work in literary revisionism, Astell explores how various post-Enlightenment artists have been magnetized by the mystique and myth of the ‘Maid of Orléans.’ This is truly comparative analysis of the highest order.” Robert Snyder, State University of West Georgia