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Saint Joan (Penguin Classics)
ISBN 0140437916 / 9780140437911 / 0-14-043791-6
Publisher Penguin Classics
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Joan of Arc, born in 1412, was burned at the stake in 1431, canonized by the Catholic Church in 1920, and, like most saints, whitewashed by history. Canonization tends to strip a saint of supposedly un-Christian attributes such as rebelliousness, pride, and intolerance. And Joan, despite having been a stubborn, haughty, naive, even foolish girl, has for much of history been remembered only as a pious martyr. However, George Bernard Shaw's play, Saint Joan, completed in 1925, began the modern rehabilitation of the icon as a fully human, fallible character--not to mention a poster girl for teenage rebellion and feminism. Shaw's Joan, like the real Maid of Orleans, leads the fight to drive the English out of her native France, insists on direct communication with her God instead of submitting to the mediation of Catholic priests, and refuses to dress, speak, or act according to traditional notions of how women were expected to behave. Until the closing scene of Shaw's play, however, neither Joan nor her foes are cast in neatly heroic terms. Both are earnestly pursuing their partial visions of the truth. In the play's famous epilogue, Shaw suggests that even 400 years later, most of us are so limited by our own perspectives that we are unable to tell the difference between a saint and a heretic. "O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints?" Joan asks, preparing for her death. "How long, O Lord, how long?" --Michael Joseph Gross [via]