Monthly Archives: May 2013

Joan for the Ages

Today marks the day of Joan of Arc’s execution at the hands of the Rouen Inquisition under the thumb of the English occupiers of France in 1431, and consequently her Feast Day, as of 1920. She was accused of a myriad of charges, but ultimately it was her conviction as a relapsed heretic that led to her death by burning at the stake, as well as the desire of the English to demonize such an inspirational figure in the closing stages of the Hundred Years’ War. There are many interesting things about Joan’s life and death, but one of the most compelling aspects of her image is its timelessness, which is discussed at length (and in many manifestations) in two great books: a collection of essays edited by Dominique Goy-Blanquet entitled Joan of Arc, a Saint for All Reasons: Studies in Myth and Politics (2003) and Nora Heimann’s Joan of Arc in French Art and Culture (1700-1855): From Satire to Sanctity (2005).

Jehanne La Pucelle, the “Maid of Orleans” was famous in her own time and immediately after her death. I love the poem by her contemporary Christine de Pisan, directed to the French king but really all about Joan:

And you, the King of France, King Charles,
The seventh of that noble name,
Who fought a mighty war before
Good fortune came at all to you:
Do, now, observe your dignity Exalted by the Maid, who bent
Your enemies beneath your flag
In record time (that’s something new!)

That’s something new! It sounds so modern, but I guess Joan was pretty modern in the fifteenth century, which might account for some of her timelessness thereafter. She resurfaces pretty predictably in times of conflict: the French Wars of Religion in the sixteenth century, the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, World Wars I & II in the twentieth century. All of her cultural depictions could fill a museum, or an encyclopedia, but certainly she is transformed into a nineteenth-century romantic heroine by Friedrich Schiller’s 1801 play, The Maid of Orleans.  She was embraced by the Suffrage movements on both side of the Atlantic in the early twentieth century, and she remains a feminist hero(ine) in our own time. Joan’s eternal image can be seen in depictions from a succession of centuries, beginning with the late fifteenth-century manuscript poem Les Vigiles du roi Charles VII by Martial d’Auvergne (Paris, BnF, département des Manuscrits, Français 5054) and proceeding into the last century.

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Joan of Arc 16th c. 1505 ms

The Maid of Orleans in Les Vigiles du Roi Charles VII, later 15th century, and riding into battle in Les Vies des femmes célèbres by Antoine Du Four, about 1505, Dobrée Museum, Nantes, France.

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Joan of Arc in print in the seventeenth century:  prints by Leonard Gaultier (1612) and William Marshall (1642), British Museum.

I’m skipping over the eighteenth century, when the imagery associated with Voltaire’s scandalous poem La Pucelle d’Orléans reduces Joan to a sexual object; you would think the Enlightenment would be a great time for the Maid as a victim of the Inquisition, but it isn’t. It’s in the following centuries that she really gains power as both an iconic and historical (with the release of the trial records in the 1840s) figure, tying into the emerging nationalist and feminist movements (sometimes at the same time).

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Joan of Arc France Lillian Tennant Lancaster c. 1910

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Joan of Arc Posters

Satirical print of the support for Napoleon among French “Amazonian” women, who rally around a statue of Joan, Jean Baptiste Genty, 1815, British Museum; Edward Penfield cover for Harper’s, April 1895, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Lillian Lancaster [Tennant] Map of France as Joan of Arc (or vice-versa), 1910, Garwood & Voight; Progam Cover for the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession, Washington, D.C., Library of Congress; Joan of Arc They are Calling You (a “weeping” France) sheet music, 1917, Library of Congress; U.S. war posters from the First and Second World Wars, Library of Congress.


The Politics of Remembrance

Remembrance–the ongoing public process of acknowledging the importance of past people and events, is inherently political (as we know all too well here in the “Witch City”) but it strikes me that Civil War remembrance and reconciliation is particularly problematical. This point was brought home this past weekend when I read a provocative and powerful editorial in the New York Times entitled “Misplaced Honor”.  In the piece, author Jamie Malanowski calls for the renaming of the ten or more U.S. Army bases that are named for Confederate generals, men who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers; indeed, who may have killed such soldiers themselves. Malanowski acknowledges the historical reason for the names of these bases– most of which were built between the world wars when the need for national unity was paramount–but asserts that we cannot let these names stand now, when African-Americans make up about a fifth of the military. The idea that today we ask any of these soldiers to serve at a place named for a defender of a racist slavocracy is deplorable; the thought that today we ask any American soldier to serve at a base named for someone who killed United States Army troops is beyond absurd. Would we have a Fort Rommel? A Camp Cornwallis?

Apparently there is even a consensus among Civil War historians that several of these namesakes (like Braxton Bragg of Fort Bragg) were bad generals. When I visited the official sites of bases names for Confederates–Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Ford Benning–there was nothing to be found about these generals, except bland statements that they were local. And that really is the crux of it. The only substantive rejoinder to Malanowski’s argument that I could find (here) so far argues that local communities should have sway in the naming, or renaming, of public places in their midst. Hopefully, at the very least, this conversation can continue.

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Portraits of Confederate generals, including Henry L. Benning, namesake of Ft. Benning in Georgia, lower center, Illustrated History of the Confederacy, 1899 & the 41st Engineers building a bridge at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, 1942, Arthur Rothstein, photographer, Library of Congress.


Flags Unfurled

It has been a wet, windy, cold Memorial Day weekend for the most part, though it is bright and sunny today. The weather, combined with recent events, made this particular holiday feel like less of a summer kick-off and more of a time of real remembrance, at least for me. There are 33,000 flags flying on Boston Common, creating a “flag garden” commemorating the sacrifices of every service member from Massachusetts who gave his or her life defending the country since the Civil War. It’s a spectacular effort organized by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund (I hate to nitpick, but I do with they had included soldiers from the Revolutionary War). Here in Salem, I took walks through the older downtown cemeteries (which include graves of several participants in the Revolution, on which someone always places flags) as well as the larger (and newer) “garden cemeteries” in North Salem:  Harmony Grove and Greenlawn. The pictures below are of the latter.

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The “Flag Garden” on Boston Common. Credit:  David L. Ryan/Boston Globe Staff.

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Flags and gravestones in Greenlawn Cemetery, Salem, Memorial Day weekend, 2013, including graves of veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, and World Wars I & II.

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Not veterans (I think), but mothers, sisters, wives: graves of women who lived and died at the Home for Aged Women.


Band of Brothers

Because I’ve been rather engrossed in the Hundred Years War this past few weeks as I prepped for my summer graduate course on late medieval and Renaissance Europe, I’ve been thinking more about the Battle of Agincourt than, say, D-Day. And so for this Memorial Day weekend, a moment of remembrance and reflection, I thought I’d look at Shakespeare’s famous “band of brothers”/St. Crispin’s Day speech, with which King Harry rallies the troops just before battle in Henry V. “Band of brothers” is a familiar phrase to us now, because of Olivier and Branagh and Spielberg, but did it always have resonance? What did it mean when an actor first uttered these lines in 1599 or 1600, and after?  From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remember’d; We few, we happy few, we BAND OF BROTHERS; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile; This day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin day.

STC 22289, front endleaf 3v- A1r, t.p.

Band of Brothers Lambeth Palace Library

Title page of first printed version of Henry V, Folger Shakespeare Library; Agincourt illumination, Lambeth Palace Library.

Of course Henry did not really utter these lines; Shakespeare wrote them for his late Elizabethan audience, tapping into their burgeoning nationalism in the decade after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, while Spain was still a very real threat. So when England was threatened again, do these words reappear? The Napoleonic Wars immediately come to mind, when an even more glorious national hero than King Henry V–Admiral Nelson–used the “band of brothers” analogy on several occasions, most notably in reference to the great victory against the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. While Nelson was referring to the ship captains under his command, the phrase took on a more egalitarian and nationalistic meaning in the celebratory aftermath.

Band of Brothers Battle of the Nile

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Contemporary prints of the “Glorious Battle of the Nile” and Admiral Nelson and his band of brothers, British Museum.

At about the same time the Battle of the Nile was waging on the other side of the world, Philadelphia statesman Joseph Hopkinson was penning a poem that later became the lyrics to the so-called first American national anthem, Hail, Columbia. Hopkinson’s’ chorus proclaimed:  Firm, united, let us be, Rallying around our liberty, As a Band of Brothers joined, Peace and safety we shall find. My brief search through the sheet music collection of the Library of Congress gave me the impression that this song was far more popular in the nineteenth century than the Star Spangled Banner, which eventually became the national anthem in 1931. Before, during, and particularly after the Civil War, the phrase “band of brothers” was used in speeches and published materials in both the North and the South, cementing its American usage.

Band of Brothers Hail Columbia 1798

Band of Brothers Memorial Day Card 1909

The Favorite New Federal Song, Adapted to the Presidents March, Library of Congress Music Division; 1909 Memorial Day souvenir card.

Back in Britain, the phrase was still Shakespearean, and most definitely one inspiration for Winston Churchill’s famous “the few” speech given in 1940 in the midst of the Battle of Britain, when Britain was most definitely standing alone: Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. I would expect (but didn’t really have enough time to confirm) that the band of brothers theme was used to emphasize the bond between British troops and their allies, both in the Commonwealth and outside, as the “we’re in this together” message is artfully employed in wartime propaganda.

Band of Brothers together William Little 1941

Band of Brothers Back to the Wall

Two examples of British wartime propaganda from the great exhibit at the UK National Archives, The Art of War:  “Together” by William Little, 1940 & “Back against the Wall” by Illingworth, 1941.

It’s no accident that Sir Laurence Olivier chose to produce a stylized film version of Henry V during the war, indeed, the project was partially funded by the British government and originally dedicated to the “Commandos and Airborne Troops of Great Britain the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture”.  And there is the direct connection between Shakespeare’s romanticized war and an all too real one. I do recall the inclusion of Shakespeare’s words in Spielberg’s and Hanks’ Band of Brothers (as well as Stephen Ambrose book on which it is based), but it doesn’t matter; by this point in time,  the title says it all.

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A fifteenth-century manuscript brought to life/film:  the recently-restored Henry V (1944).


Wayward Wisteria

I walk to work along a street named Wisteria, where there is no wisteria to be found, and planted wisteria in my backyard 12 years ago, but it has yet to bloom; nevertheless, it is wisteria-blooming time nearly everywhere else in Salem. Maybe even just past-time, so I took a walk and tried to capture some good shots of the exuberant purple and white blooms, which was not too difficult. The great thing about wisteria it that it needs support, so you get architecture and flowers at the same time. Even when the wisteria was not in bloom–as in my backyard, or on my next-door neighbors’ beautiful fence, or the arbor at the Ropes Mansion, it was still quite abundant in its more restrained way. Given the east Asian source of wisteria, I can imagine Salem’s merchants and adventurers bringing it back from China and Japan in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, carefully packed in their ships’ holds, to adorn their houses, fences and outbuildings–and so it does.

Wisteria at my next-door neighbors’ (side and back) and across Chestnut Street:

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On a Tudor “automobile house” on Botts Court:

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The Ropes Garden and Federal Court:

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And the surreal wisteria tunnel at the Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu, Japan, via Slate.com.

Wisteria Tunnel


First Foray

Between my end-of-semester obligations and travel I have completely neglected my garden during its busiest season, so I took my first foray out there this weekend for a quick assessment. As usual, there have been losses (even with the impressive snow cover we had this year) and gains: ferns, ferns, and more ferns, popping up everywhere. My borders of lady’s mantle on one side and golden alexanders on the other are fine, but the center perennial bed needs work–so off to the nursery I went. There are several nurseries that I like in our (greater) area, but this weekend I went up to one of my most dependable destinations, Rolling Green Nursery in Greenland, New Hampshire: nice people, nice layout, good selection, good advice. This year, they seem to have expanded their selection of garden statues quite dramatically. After a brief glance at the big hand and mushroom, I went straight for the germander, a great herb for edging, of which Rolling Green seems to have a constant supply. Then it was off to the water garden for inspiration (ours is a mess), shade plants, and shrubs.

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Back at home, I made my first foray into the dirt to plant and weed (already!) and rearrange; a few spots look okay, but most of the garden is not ready for prime time yet.

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Two Churches and a Park

Apologies for posting multiple pictures of the park across from my house in the space of a few weeks, but the flowering trees have been particularly beautiful this year. Since this space is constantly within my view, I am always trying to picture what it looked like in the past, when not just one but two churches successively occupied the space. Even though I’m a great admirer of the built landscape (when it is well-built), I think I prefer the empty space, especially in the midst of densely-settled Salem. Although if Samuel McIntire’s majestic first South Congregational Church was still standing, I might change my mind—but its 166-foot-high steeple would certainly dwarf my house! That’s the main effect that I’m constantly trying to conjure up–I may ask my husband to make a rendering one day.

The park today and the two churches: Samuel McIntire’s Church was built in 1804-5 and destroyed by fire in 1903, and quickly replaced by the Gothic Revival structure that you see below, which itself burned down in 1950. Quite the contrast! The word on the street is that there were hopes of erecting a third church on the site (this time by a Greek Orthodox congregation), but one prominent resident foiled those plans by purchasing it himself and donating it to the neighborhood association. All the householders on Chestnut Street now pay dues to maintain the park, which is open to everyone.

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McIntire Park South Church 1891

McIntire Park South Congregational Church 1910

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I think I’ve shown these images of the churches as well (The amazing Frank Cousins photograph is from 1891; the postcard of the “new” church is from 1910) before as well (I’m nearly reblogging here!), but I do have some interior shots of both churches which I just found, and a salvaged capital from McIntire’s church:  can you imagine the struggle to salvage precious pieces of wood while the fire raged? It might have been someone from my house that ran over there and grabbed this! That’s a moment (not so pleasant) that I try to imagine: what it must have been like to wake up in the middle of the night and see this blazing inferno just outside my bedroom window; no doubt there was real fear that the fire would spread and the famous spire would collapse onto the house–my house. What a scary, horrible night that must have been. 110 years later, all is calm over there this morning.

McIntire Park interior of South Church Peabody & Tilton

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McIntire Park South Congregational Church interior 1920s

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All historic photographs from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery, with the exception of the last one, which is from the Estey Organ Company in Vermont, which maintains a virtual museum and an archive of all of its organs.


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