On a December night in 1905, the New York City chapter of the Society of Illustrators managed to do something many thought impossible. With one calculated stroke they left Mark Twain, author and noted quipster, speechless.
The writer had just risen to address the group. As he began to speak, a girl emerged from the back of the room. Her hair was cropped just below her ears; her face was angular but radiant. Underneath a ceremonial white robe, she wore the armor of a 15th-century French soldier. With eyes fixed on the author, she glided up the aisle between the tables carrying a laurel wreath atop a satin pillow.
A reporter from The New York Times in attendance that night later wrote that the “company smile” Twain had exhibited for most of the ceremony faded. By the time the girl reached his table, “Twain had every appearance of a man who had seen a ghost. His eyes fairly started out of his head, his hand gripped the edge of the table.” She presented the author with the wreath, and he accepted it wordlessly. He remained silent until the model exited the room. As the seconds ticked away, Twain’s audience anxiously awaited his response.
Writing in a 1904 Harper’sessay, Mark Twain referred to Joan of Arc as “by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.” In the same piece, he christened her “The Miracle Child” and “The Wonder of the Ages.”
When the writer finally spoke, he did so slowly, carefully. “Now there’s an illustration, gentlemen — a real illustration. I studied that girl, Joan of Arc, for twelve years, and it never seemed to me that the artists and the writers gave us a true picture of her. They drew a picture of a peasant. Her dress was that of a peasant. But they always missed the face — the divine soul, the pure character, the supreme woman, the wonderful girl. She was only 18 years old, but put into a breast like hers a heart like hers and I think, gentlemen, you would have a girl — like that.” The Riddle Of Mark Twain’s Passion For Joan Of Arc’ by Daniel Crown