Joan of Arc. Her trial and execution were just the beginning of what would become the Saint Joan cult and industry…
The great loss of life in the First World War gave transcendental, spiritualist views an increased currency in the hands of the necromancing spiritualists like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; men and women turned to the occult for a species of pseudo-scientific consolation through the alleged achievement of communion with the dead.
Modern art movements, too, contributed new and often startling interpretations of the Joan of Arc theme. Realism, impressionism, post-impressionism, cubism, surrealism- all of these have commented upon her. The painting of Touchagues, the sculpture of Barrias, the modernist music of Honegger, and the expressionist drama of Georg Kaiser- each of these presents Joan in a new and somewhat strange light. But it is above all, Jean Anouilh’s The Lark that has achieved a brilliant triumph of experimental technique in the drama.
After the mighty crisis of World War II, the “Joan legend” underwent a new and startling development. The Vichy regime in France, continuing the long established tactic of French reaction, sought to use Joan of Arc as a weapon against Britain and against the cause of democracy. Some of the most effective posters of Vichy recalled to the French that the wicked British burned Joan of Arc and exiled Napoleon to Saint Helena. She was used by the Petainists in an attempt to discredit altogether the British alliance and any dependence on the perfidious Anglo-Saxon powers. On the other hand, General de Gaulle and other patriotic leaders saw in Saint Joan of Arc the protagonist of their own crusade, which fought for the liberation of France from the foreigner.
Gaullist Catholic writers, such as Jacques Maritain and Georges Bernanos turned to Joan with an especial eagerness as the appropriate emblem of the nation’s struggle with freedom, and it was in consequence that the Cross of Lorraine, from the coat of arms of Joan’s own province, became the symbol of the Gaullist movement for national independence and the restoration of the territorial integrity of France, from which Alsace-Lorraine had again been wrested. Each side in the great struggle, in other words, sought to appropriate the story of Joan of Arc as its own weapon.