Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

The Life of Joan of Arc
By Anatole France


MY DEAR MASTER,—You ask for my medical opinion in the case of Jeanne d'Arc. Had I been able to examine it at my leisure with the Doctors Tiphaine and Delachambre, who were summoned before the tribunal at Rouen, I might have found it difficult to come to any definite conclusion. And even more difficult do I find it now, when my diagnosis must necessarily be retrospective and based upon examinations conducted by persons who never dreamed of attempting to discover the existence of any nervous disease. However since they ascribed what we now call disease to the influence of the devil, their questions are not without significance for us. Therefore with many reservations I will endeavour to answer your question.

Of Jeanne's inherited constitution we know nothing; and of her personal antecedents we are almost entirely ignorant. Our only information concerning such matters comes from Jean d'Aulon, who, on the evidence of several women, states[1152] that she was never fully developed, a condition which frequently occurs in neurotic subjects.

We should, however, be unable to arrive at any conclusion concerning Jeanne's nervous constitution had not her judges, and in particular Maître Jean Beaupère, in the numerous examinations to which they subjected her,[Pg ii.402] elicited certain significant details on the subject of her hallucinations.

Maître Beaupère begins by inquiring very judiciously whether Jeanne had fasted the day before she first heard her voices. Whence we infer that the interdependence of inanition and hallucinations was recognised by this illustrious professor of theology. Before condemning Jeanne as a witch he wanted to make sure that she was not merely suffering from weakness. Some time later we find Saint Theresa suspecting that the visions said to have been seen by a certain nun were merely the result of long fasting. Saint Theresa insisted on the nun's partaking of food, and the visions ceased.

Jeanne replies that she had only fasted since the morning, and Maître Beaupère proceeds to ask:

Q. "In what direction did you hear the voice?"

A. "I heard it on the right, towards the church."

Q. "Was the voice accompanied by any light?"

A. "I seldom heard it without there being a light. This light appeared in the direction whence the voice came."[1153]

We might wonder whether by the expression "à droite" (a latere dextro) Jeanne meant her own right side or the position of the church in relation to her; and in the latter case, the information would have no clinical significance; but the context leaves no doubt as to the veritable meaning of her words.

"How can you," urges Jean Beaupère, "see this light which you say appears to you, if it is on your right?"

If it had been merely a question of the situation of the church and not of Jeanne's own right side, she would only have had to turn her face to see the light in front of her, and Jean Beaupère's objection would have been pointless.

Consequently at about the age of thirteen, at the period of puberty, which for her never came, Jeanne would appear to have been subject on her right side to unilateral[Pg ii.403] hallucinations of sight and hearing. Now Charcot[1154] considered unilateral hallucinations of sight to be common in cases of hysteria.[1155] He even thought that in hysterical subjects they are allied to a hemianæsthesia situated on the same side of the body, and which in Jeanne would be on the right side. Jeanne's trial might have proved the existence of this hemianæsthesia, an extremely significant symptom in the diagnosis of hysteria, if the judges had applied torture or merely had examined the skin of the subject in order to discover anæsthesia patches which were called marks of the devil.[1156] But from the merely oral examination which took place we can only draw inferences concerning Jeanne's general physical condition. In case excessive importance should be attached to such inferences I should add that in the diagnosis of hysteria contemporary neurologists pay less attention than did Charcot to unilateral hallucinations of sight.

The other characteristics of Jeanne's hallucinations revealed by her examinations during the trial are no less interesting than these, although they do not lead to any more certain conclusions.

Those visions and voices, which the subject refers to an external source and which are so characteristic of hysterical hallucinations, proceed suddenly from the subconscious self. Jeanne's conscious self was so far from being prepared for her voices that she declares she was very much afraid when she first heard them: "I was thirteen when I heard a voice coming from God telling me to lead a good life. And the first time I was very much afraid. This voice came to me about noon; it was in the summer, in my father's garden."[1157]

And then straightway the voice becomes imperative.[Pg ii.404] It demands an obedience which is not refused: "It said to me: 'Go forth into France,' and I could no longer stay where I was."[1158]

Her visions all occur in the same manner. They appeal to the senses in exactly the same way and are received by the Maid with equal credulity.

Finally, these hallucinations of hearing and of sight are soon associated with similar hallucinations of smell and touch, which serve to confirm Jeanne's belief in their reality.

Q. "Which part of Saint Catherine did you touch?"

A. "You will hear nothing more."

Q. "Did you kiss or embrace Saint Catherine or Saint Margaret?"

A. "I embraced them both."

Q. "In embracing them did you feel heat or anything?"

A. "I could not embrace them without feeling and touching them."[1159]

Because they thus appeal to the senses and seem to possess a certain material reality, hysterical hallucinations make a profound and ineffaceable impression on those who experience them. The subjects speak of them as being actual and very striking facts. When they become accusers, as so many women do who claim to have been the victims of imaginary assaults, they support their assertions in the most energetic fashion.

Not only does Jeanne see, hear, smell and touch her saints, she joins the procession of angels they bring in their train. With them she performs actual deeds, as if there were perfect unity between her life and her hallucinations.

"I was in my lodging, in the house of a good woman, near the château of Chinon, when the angel came. And then he and I went together to the King."

Q. "Was this angel alone?"

A. "This angel was with a goodly company of other[Pg ii.405] angels.[1160] They were with him, but not every one saw them.... Some were very much alike; others were not, or at any rate not as I saw them. Some had wings. Certain even wore crowns, and in their company were Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. With the angel aforesaid and with the other angels they went right into the King's chamber."

Q. "Tell us how the angel left you."

A. "He left me in a little chapel, and at his departure I was very sorrowful, and I even wept. Willingly would I have gone away with him; I mean my soul would have gone."[1161]

In all these hallucinations there is the same objective clearness, the same subjective certitude as in toxic hallucinations; and this clearness, this certitude, may in Jeanne's case suggest hysteria.

But if in certain respects Jeanne resembles hysterical subjects, in others she differs from them. She seems early to have acquired an independence of her visions and an authority over them.

Without ever doubting their reality, she resists them and sometimes disobeys them, when, for example, in defiance of Saint Catherine, she leaps from her prison of Beaurevoir: "Well nigh every day Saint Catherine told me not to leap and that God would come to my aid, and also would succour those of Compiègne. And I said to Saint Catherine: 'Since God is to help those of Compiègne, I want to be with them.'"[1162]

On another occasion she assumes such authority over her visions that she can make the two saints come at her bidding when they do not come of themselves.[Pg ii.406]

Q. "Do you call these saints, or do they come without being called?"

A. "They often come without being called, and sometimes when they did not come I asked God to send them speedily."[1163]

All this is not in the accepted manner of the hysterical, who are usually somewhat passive with regard to their nervous fits and hallucinations. But Jeanne's dominance over her visions is a characteristic I have noted in many of the higher mystics and in those who have attained notoriety. This kind of subject, after having at first passively submitted to his hysteria, afterwards uses it rather than submits to it, and finally by means of it attains in his ecstasy to that divine union after which he strives.

If Jeanne were hysterical, such a characteristic would help us to determine the part played by the neurotic side of her nature in the development of her character and in her life.

If there were any hysterical strain in her nature, then it was by means of this hysterical strain that the most secret sentiments of her heart took shape in the form of visions and celestial voices. Her hysteria became the open door by which the divine—or what Jeanne deemed the divine—entered into her life. It strengthened her faith and consecrated her mission; but in her intellect and in her will Jeanne remains healthy and normal. Nervous pathology can therefore cast but a feeble light on Jeanne's nature. It can reveal only one part of that spirit which your book resuscitates in its entirety. With the expression of my respectful admiration, believe me, my dear master,

Doctor G. Dumas.


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