Historical mystery author Yves Fey is my guest today. She’s got some interesting thoughts on Joan of Arc.
Joan of Arc had frontal lobe epilepsy, or so conjectures Dr. Daniel Pierce of the new TV show Perception. Pierce is “an eccentric professor of neuroscience struggling with schizophrenia, who is recruited by the FBI to help solve complex cases.” Daniel’s delusions talk to him and give him symbolic clues. Recently, he conferred with Jeanne d’Arc in an episode involving the validity of a young religious leader’s claims of hearing God speak to him.
Frontal lobe epilepsy was a new theory to me, though the theory that Joan was crazy was not. To a 21st century skeptic, the likelihood of her being insane seems obvious. The logical, dispassionate brain says, yes, frontal lobe epilepsy sounds right, better than schizophrenia, for example, for no one describes her as paranoid. There are other theories, of course, such as her being a witch of the pagan variety, and her voices being members of her cult who’d instructed her. They are all theoretically possible.
I always found Joan a compelling historical figure, as do several of the characters in my mystery, Floats the Dark Shadow. While writing the book, I watched several of the Joan of Arc movies. The Dryer film with Falconetti film remains a wrenching masterpiece. Rather ironically, after the known prints were destroyed by fire, a virtually complete print of the original version was discovered in the 80s in the janitor's closet of an insane asylum. The ascetic Robert Bresson, who directed the previously mentioned Diary of a Country Priest (a film that opens the soul), is at his most distant and forbidding in The Trial of Joan of Arc, giving only glimpses of the Maid as if we, like her judges are unworthy to be in her presence or be privy to her mystery. In the excessive, inaccurate, but entertaining Luc Besson movie The Messenger, Mila Jojovich does seem rather mad, certainly manic, though she could still be a Joan whose visions are true and who is spurred onward relentlessly by her sense of destiny and perhaps even by her foreknowledge of her fate.
I am an agnostic, or more accurately, an eclectic. In my childhood, I was raised haphazardly Christian – a garden variety liberal Protestant. When I watch Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, I am briefly but ardently Catholic.
Always, I’m Pagan in my belief that the earth should be venerated. Equinox and solstice should be celebrated for their own sake, to honor the planet that gives us all life.
Sometimes I am cynically Pagan, and think that the world only makes sense if the Greeks were right, and the Gods are a band of overgrown, tyrannical humanoids, spiteful and reveling in vice, picking favorites and pitting them against each other endless futile battles.
On my best days, I am a Buddhist, for I feel that faith can embrace most others, even if others do not embrace it. I can believe in their vision of grace with far less internal argument.
And, I realized, I believe in Joan. Because I want to believe. As a writer, perhaps just as a human, I find her myth is too perfect to deny, and I shrug off whatever alternate theories are offered. We know she is a historic figure, but even in her lifetime she was already legend. If she had failed, she would have become pathetic horror story, an emblem of futility like the Children’s Crusade. But she was all she claimed. What she accomplished in her brief life was miraculous. She bore abuse with dignity and death with courage. She kept faith with her beliefs. Since hers is a Christian myth, even the terrible ending where she is betrayed to her martyrdom completes her legend. Supposedly she told the Dauphin, “Make the most of me, for I shall last only one year.” We have had her for over five hundred. She rode through history and beyond it, into the human heart.
Floats the Dark Shadow is Yves Fey's first historical mystery, set in the dynamic and decadent world of Belle Époque Paris. Yves Fey has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eugene Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA. She has read, written, and created art from childhood. A chocolate connoisseur, she's won prizes for her desserts. Her current fascination is creating perfumes. She's traveled to many countries in Europe and lived for two years in Indonesia. She currently lives in the San Francisco area with her husband and three cats.