JOAN OF ARC: The Image of Female Heroism by Marina Warner

JOAN OF ARC: The Image of Female Heroism

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

After an inconclusive encounter with the Virgin Mary (Alone of All Her Sex), Warner tackles another great archetypal figure, again with mixed results. Joan, as Warner says, overturns the usual feminine categories (wife, mother, courtesan, queen, etc., even amazon). In her effort to frame this bafflingly simple, mythically protean woman, Warner ransacks history, theology, iconography, psychology, and so on; some of her interpretations are arresting, but her findings are ultimately incoherent. Thus, Warner makes a great deal of Joan's transvestism, only to conclude that while her virginal independence from men might suggest a kind of Jungian wholeness (coincidentia opposotorum, female warrior as Yin-and-Yang), still her life must be read as a ""tribute"" to the superiority of the male world. Both in life and in death Joan served as a ""suitably versatile talisman"" for all sorts of masculine causes, military and political. On the other hand, loan was unquestionably female, and so Warner pronounces her a ""figurehead for the women's side in one phase of the lasting struggle, the continuing duel, between Penthesilea and Hero Achilles."" As loan might have said, Comment Warner is never at a loss for theories, sometimes quite plausible (loan's interrogators forced her to personify and distort her ""voices""), sometimes quite dubious (the use of feminine gender for abstract virtues is a linguistic anomaly). There's no reason why feminists shouldn't lay claim to loan, just as French nationalists, Romantic artists, and pious Catholics already have. But to insist, as Warner does, on shattering the ""mould of received ideas"" that now confines la Pucelle is simply to propose another (perhaps more rational) form of confinement. And, like other flesh-and-blood heroes, Joan is too rich, too complex, and too contradictory for that. A thoughtful, stimulating failure.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1981
ISBN: 0520224647
Publisher: Knopf