Mark Twain, Joan of Arc & the Fairy Tree

Brannon Parker

Joan of Arc & Loius De Conte

“…and the fairies were stealing a dance, not thinking anybody was by; and they were so busy, and so intoxicated with the wild happiness of it, and with the bumpers of dew sharpened up with honey which they had been drinking, that they noticed nothing; so Dame Aubrey stood there astonished and admiring, and saw the little fantastic atoms holding hands, as many as three hundred of them, tearing around in a great ring half as big as an ordinary bedroom, and leaning away back and spreading their mouths with laughter and song, which she could hear quite distinctly, and kicking their legs up as much as three inches from the ground in perfect abandon and hilarity—oh, the very maddest and witchingest dance the woman ever saw.” PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF JOAN OF ARC, The Fairy Tree of Domremy, by Mark Twain.

The American author Mark Twain is recognized as one of recent history’s greatest writers. Less known is that he spent 12 years researching and writing a book about the Christian Saint and heroine of France Joan of Arc. Published in 1896 it is called the PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF JOAN OF ARC. It is written as the memoirs of a Frenchman named Sieur Louis de Conte. Through the eyes of Louis, Mark Twain gives us a first hand account of the life and times of Joan of Arc. Beginning as a childhood friend, and later as Joan’s page and secretary, Louis, is with Joan nearly every step of the way.

Though his other works are better known, Mark Twain considered this tome to Saint Joan to be his most important book. He stated, “I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others need no preparation and got none.

There is actually a fascinating and ‘mystical‘ reason he called it the ‘Personal Recollections” of Joan of Arc. Mark Twain believed in reincarnation. Convinced be had lived many times before, he stated “I have been born more times than anybody except Krishna.” Apparently, in one of these previous incarnations, he had been Louis de Conte, a lifelong friend and associate to Joan of Arc. Interestingly Joan did indeed have a servant named Louis. Was this very same Louis reborn as Mark Twain? Is this book his final homage to his lifelong friend, leader and sacred ‘compagnon d’arms’ Joan of Arc?

Joan and friends at the Fairy Tree

Among historical figures Joan of Arc is rare indeed. As a female and teenager she became a Kings advisor and eventually a military, political spiritual leader and saint, all in one short lifetime. Mark Twain identifies her as ‘unselfish‘ and thus as one of history’s greatest,“Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it… She was perhaps the only entirely unselfish person whose name has a place in profane history.”

Louis Kossuth, the President of Hungary wrote of Joan, “Consider this unique an imposing distinction. Since the writing of human history, Joan of Arc is the only person, of either sex, who has ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen.”

“Jeanne’s mission was on the surface warlike, but it really had the effect of ending a century of war, and her love and charity were so broad, that they could only be matched by Him who prayed for His murderers.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle-Author of Sherlock Holmes.

Though Mark Twain’s book on Joan has been classified as fiction he himself did not consider it to be a fictitious account. In a letter he stated, “I have never done any work before that cost so much thinking and weighing and measuring and planning and cramming … on this last third I have constantly used five French sources and five English ones, and I think no telling historical nugget in any of them has escaped me.” The published book lists eleven official sources as “authorities examined in verification of the truthfulness of this narrative.”

Mark Twain in India chillin with the Crows

In confirmation of it’s ‘bona fides’ the Catholic Church gained the publishing rights of Mark Twain’s book. The Church has been distributing and selling it through its official establishments for over a century. Ignatius Press praises the work as, “…a remarkably accurate biography of the life and mission of Joan of Arc told by one of this country’s greatest storytellers.

The book takes it reader on a vivid journey to a tumultuous time hard and brutal, where few men could survive. Yet somehow, in this setting, a 17 year old girl rose up to become France’s leading warrior and champion. Empowered by her faith, Joan saw a Divine arrangement at work in all things. We see this from an episode early in her life. In Joan’s defense of “The Fairy Tree of Domremy” she confronts the local Priest for banning the Fairies and identifies them as being a part of God’s creation.

The Virgin Saint Joan of Arc

Popular legend among the local folk in Lorraine had it that the waters at this tree possessed healing powers. The assessors at Rouen suspected paganism connected with this tree and insinuated that Joan conjured evil spirits there, an accusation that she firmly denied. Joan’s companions defended her and testified concerning the yearly rite in spring for all village youth to picnic, sing and dance at the tree. According to the testimonies, Joan played there with the other youth but was never known to have conjured spirits there or even visited the tree alone.” Jane Marie Pinzino, International Joan of Arc Society

    “The fairies were still there when we were children, but we never saw them; because, a hundred years before that, the priest of Domremy had held a religious function under the tree and denounced them as being blood-kin to the Fiend and barred them from redemption; and then he warned them never to show themselves again, nor hang any more immortelles, on pain of perpetual banishment from that parish.All the children pleaded for the fairies, and said they were their good friends and dear to them and never did them any harm, but the priest would not listen, and said it was sin and shame to have such friends. 

The children mourned and could not be comforted; and they made an agreement among themselves that they would always continue to hang flower-wreaths on the tree as a perpetual sign to the fairies that they were still loved and remembered, though lost to sight. But late one night a great misfortune befell.

Edmond Aubrey’s mother passed by the Tree, and the fairies were stealing a dance, not thinking anybody was by; and they were so busy, and so intoxicated with the wild happiness of it, and with the bumpers of dew sharpened up with honey which they had been drinking, that they noticed nothing; so Dame Aubrey stood there astonished and admiring, and saw the little fantastic atoms holding hands, as many as three hundred of them, tearing around in a great ring half as big as an ordinary bedroom, and leaning away back and spreading their mouths with laughter and song, which she could hear quite distinctly, and kicking their legs up as much as three inches from the ground in perfect abandon and hilarity—oh, the very maddest and witchingest dance the woman ever saw.

The trees protecting the statue of Joan of Arc, at her birthplace Domremy-la-Pucelle, Lorraine, France. photo©jadoretotravel

But in about a minute or two minutes the poor little ruined creatures discovered her. They burst out in one heartbreaking squeak of grief and terror and fled every which way, with their wee hazel-nut fists in their eyes and crying; and so disappeared.

“Oh, father, how can you talk like that? Who owns France?” “God and the King.” Not Satan?” “Satan, my child? This is the footstool of the Most High—Satan owns no handful of its soil.”

“Then who gave those poor creatures their home? God. Who protected them in it all those centuries? God. Who allowed them to dance and play there all those centuries and found no fault with it? God. Who disapproved of God’s approval and put a threat upon them? A man. Who caught them again in harmless sports that God allowed and a man forbade, and carried out that threat, and drove the poor things away from the home the good God gave them in His mercy and His pity, and sent down His rain and dew and sunshine upon it five hundred years in token of His peace?

It was their home—theirs, by the grace of God and His good heart, and no man had a right to rob them of it. And they were the gentlest, truest friends that children ever had, and did them sweet and loving service all these five long centuries, and never any hurt or harm; and the children loved them, and now they mourn for them, and there is no healing for their grief. And what had the children done that they should suffer this cruel stroke? The poor fairies could have been dangerous company for the children?

Yes, but never had been; and could is no argument. Kinsmen of the Fiend? What of it? Kinsmen of the Fiend have rights, and these had; and children have rights, and these had; and if I had been there I would have spoken—I would have begged for the children and the fiends, and stayed your hand and saved them all. But now—oh, now, all is lost; everything is lost, and there is no help more!”

Saint & Sword wielder, Joan of Arc

Then she finished with a blast at that idea that fairy kinsmen of the Fiend ought to be shunned and denied human sympathy and friendship because salvation was barred against them. She said that for that very reason people ought to pity them, and do every humane and loving thing they could to make them forget the hard fate that had been put upon them by accident of birth and no fault of their own. “Poor little creatures!” she said. “What can a person’s heart be made of that can pity a Christian’s child and yet can’t pity a devil’s child, that a thousand times more needs it!”

She had torn loose from Pere Fronte, and was crying, with her knuckles in her eyes, and stamping her small feet in a fury; and now she burst out of the place and was gone before we could gather our senses together out of this storm of words and this whirlwind of passion.

The Pere had got upon his feet, toward the last, and now he stood there passing his hand back and forth across his forehead like a person who is dazed and troubled; then he turned and wandered toward the door of his little workroom, and as he passed through it I heard him murmur sorrowfully:

“Ah, me, poor children, poor fiends, they have rights, and she said true—I never thought of that. God forgive me, I am to blame.”

(Available online in its entirety.) 

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