Reviews and Critiques by Rictor Norton

A Lesbian Maid?

A review of Joan of Arc by Edward Lucie-Smith (Allen Lane, 1976)

Joan of Arc's transvestism and uncommonly masculine behaviour (in other fields besides horsemanship) have always raised the eyebrows of scholars as well as gossips, and Lucie-Smith's speculations on the sex life of the saint have advanced our suspicions as far as they can go in lieu of definite historical evidence.

A political analysis seems the most fruitful way to approach Joan's transvestism. She did not dress merely as a man, or even merely as a soldier conveniently fitted out for battle, but in the very height of masculine fashion: she is variously described as wearing a "very noble garb of cloth of gold and of silk with much fur," scarlet hose and scalloped hood, "a doublet with leggings joined to the doublet by twenty laces" etc.; that is, her attire symbolised the social status of a knight with a claim to lead less noble men-at-arms.

Joan's other habits are less politically motivated. She almost always slept with women; the caim that this was to guard her chastity is undermined by the fact that she "always slept in the company of young girls and did not like to lie with old women." The additional circumstance that she did not menstruate may have led her to some 'confusion' about hrr sexual identity. Or it may not. A good case can be made out that Joan of Arc was latently lesbian though a virgin, but the evidence must accumulate more facts than theories. Unfortunately Lucie-Smith indulges in some very dubious reasoning to conclude that Joan had incestuous rape fantasies concerning her father which caused her to flee from sexuality in general and heterosexuality in particular. This is taken to some preposterous etremes: her fulfilled prophecy that an insulting guard would be drowned is interpreted as a wish-fulfillment in which he is symbolicaly castrated. Hmmm.

What about the men in her life? Well, King Charles "had passive homoerotic traits" (as evidenced by his wilful subordination to her favourites), and she, as a male substritute, fulfilled his needs while projecting upon him "her own masculine strivings." Hmmm.

It is all too clear that Edward Lucie-Smith's grasp of psychoanalysis is not half as informed as it ought to be. His analyses of Joan's "double displacement (much too hazy) and "father-substitute" (much too neat) introduce comic elements of superficial pop psychology which seriously mar an otherwise informative and vigorous biography.

Though the subject of Joan of Arc is a difficult one to wax enthusiastic over – her life has so often been recounted with all the trite cliches of a medieval romance or a Hollywood epic that viewing her trial and execution no longer pompts the requisite minging of pathos and horror – Lucie-Smith has successfully brought off a portrait of a living person going through the paces of a not particularly 'destined' life experiencing her conflicting greatnesses and paranoias in a realistic historical milieu of muddled motivations. The fanatic admiration of Joan's followers is exposed in a manner not likely to prove contagious, and never for a minute do we suspect that she might be a saint. Joan of Arc was a woman of uncommon strength and endurance; she was terrified of bridges and thunder; she was clever to the point of cunning; she was arrogant; she was devout; she had some military acumen; she had religious fantasies; she had a 'mission'; she was a pawn. She was a well-rounded person rather than a figure in a melodrama. The morality play of Good vs. Evil never existed; even the trial was in fact proper and meticulous: "There is no evidence of wholesale falsification," nor any proof that Joan was deliberately coerced into re-donning for the last time that fatal male attire which proved her "relapse" and led directly to the stake.

This is not the book for those in search of stimulating anecdotes about Joan's extravagant colleague Gilles de Rais, rapist and murderer of some few hundred boys, for there are only a few references to him (in my opinion not enough, in view of their close relationship). Nor is it the book for those who ascribe to Margaret A. Murray's belief that Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais were respectively the Incarnate God and the Master of the Dianic witch cult. We find here no startling new theories (except about Joan's "mental condition"), nor approaches to the subject from a new slant such as feminism. This is the book for those who want a commonsense reappraisal of all the documents, one which does justice to them.

(This review was originally published in Gay News, Issue No. 107, 1976, p. 24. Copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.

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