Joan of Arc's life and death mark a turning point in the destiny both of France and England and the history of their monarchies. `It is a great shame,' wrote Etienne Pasquier in the late sixteenth century, `for no one ever came to the help of France so opportunely and with such success as that girl, and never was the memory of a woman so torn to shreds.'
Biographers have crossed swords furiously about her inspiration, each according to the personal conviction of the writer. As Moya Longstaffe points out: `She has been claimed as an icon by zealous combatants of every shade of opinion, clericals, anticlericals, nationalists, republicans, socialists, conspiracy theorists, feminists, yesterday's communists, today's Front National, everyone with a need for a figurehead. As George Bernard Shaw said, in the prologue to his play, "The question raised by Joan's burning is a burning question still."'
By returning to the original sources and employing her expertise in languages, the author brings La Pucelle alive and does not duck the most difficult question: was she deluded, unbalanced, fraudulent - or indeed a great visionary, to be compared to Catherine of Siena or Francis of Assisi?
Moya Longstaffe is a retired Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Ulster, having previously taught at the universities of Bristol. Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt (Edinburgh), Caen and Belfast. She is the author of Metamorphoses of Passion and the Heroic in French Literature: Corneille, Stendhal, Claudel (Edwin Mellen Press) and The Fiction of Albert Camus: A Complex Simplicity (Peter Lang). She has researched the life and trial of Joan of Arc from primary sources over several years.