The Mystery of Joan of Arc

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The Mystery of Joan of Arc (1924)

The Mystery of Joan of Arc is a book written by Léon Denis, originally published in 1910 in France as Jeanne d'Arc, Médium, translated in English and prefaced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published in may 1924 by John Murray.

The preface was first published in French in february 1924 in the magazine La Revue Spirite.


Preface (English version)

Until one has experienced it one can hardly realize the difficulty which lies in the adequate translation of a French book, dealing with a subtle and delicate subject. Only then does one understand that not only the words, but the whole method of thought and expression are different. A literal translation becomes impossibly jerky and staccato, while a paraphrase has to be very carefully done, if one has a respect for the original. M. Leon Denis has given me an entirely free hand in the matter, but I love and admire his book so much, that I earnestly desire to reproduce the text as closely as possible. I should not have attempted the task were it not that, apart from the literary and historical aspects of the work, the psychic side is expounded by a profound student of such things, and calls therefore for some equivalent psychic knowledge upon the part of the translator. It is to be hoped, however, that the reader who is ignorant of psychic matters, or out of sympathy with them, will still be able to recognize the beauty of this picture done by one who had such love for his subject that he followed the maid every inch of the way from Domremy to Rouen. M. Denis actually lives in Tours, and is familiar with Orleans, so that he has mastered the local colour in a most unusual way.

His treatment of his heroine is so complete that there is no need for me to say anything save to express my personal conviction that, next to the Christ, the highest spiritual being of whom we have any exact record upon this earth is the girl Joan. One would kneel rather than stand in her presence. We are particularly fortunate in the fact that we have fuller and more certain details of her life and character than of any celebrity in mediaeval or, perhaps, in modern history. The glorious life as so short and so public, that there was no time or place for shadows or misunderstandings. It was spent under the very eyes of the world, and is recorded in the verbatim accounts of the most searching cross examination that ever a woman endured, supplemented by and equally close enquiry when her character was rehabilitated a generation after her death. On that occasion over a hundred witnesses who had known her were put upon oath. Apart from the question of Christ's divinity, and comparing the two characters upon a purely human plane, there was much analogy between them. Each was sprung from the labouring class. Each proclaimed an inspired mission. Each was martyred while still young. Each was acclaimed by the common people and betrayed or disregarded by the great. Each excited the bitter hatred of the church of their time, the high priests of which in each case conspired for their death. Finally, each spoke with the same simple definite phrases, short and strong, clear and concise. Joan'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.

The text will show that M. Denis is an earnest student of psychic matters, with a depth of experience which forbids us to set his opinions easily aside. His other works, especially "Après la Mort," show how extensive have been his studies and how deep his convictions. There are portions of this work which bear traces of psychic influence, and he has even felt that at times he had some direct inspiration. This is a point which will seem absurd to some, and will cause even those who are sympathetic to suspend their judgment until they know more clearly what was the exact evidence which led M. Denis to such a conclusion. But if we omit or discount this personal claim there still remains a general statement which links Joan up with our modern psychic knowledge, finds a definite place for her therein, and succeeds for the first time – where Anatole France and others have failed – in giving us some intelligible reason for the obvious miracle that a girl of nineteen, who could neither read nor write, and knew nothing of military affairs, was able in a few months to turn the tide of a hundred years' war, and to save France from becoming a vassal of England. Her achievement was attributed by herself (and she was the soul of truth) to her voices and her visions. It is M. Denis' task to show how these voices and visions fit into our present knowledge, and what were their most probable origin and meaning.

I have omitted those continual footnotes and references to authorities which prove M. Denis' accuracy and diligence but which break the narrative by drawing the reader's eyes forever to the bottom of the page. The serious student will find them in the original, and it will suffice in this version if it be stated that the main sources of information are to be found in the "Procès de Condamnation," the "Procès de Réhabilitation," Henri Martin's "Histoire de France," Delanne's "Fantômes des Vivants," Denis' "Aprés la Morte" and "Dans l'Invisible," Cagny's "Chronicles," "Chronique de la Pucelle," Quicherat's works, Anatole France's "Vie de Jeanne," Richers' "Histoire de la Pucelle," "Registres du Parlement," and other documents.

The beautiful literary touch of M. Denis would have won him fame, whatever topic engaged his pen, but he had very peculiar qualifications for this particular work, and though his views may be somewhat ahead of the present state of public knowledge and opinion, I am convinced that in the end his contribution to the discussion regarding Joan will prove to be the most important and the truest ever made. A great crisis of world thought and experience is at hand, and when it is past such views as those of M. Denis may form the basis upon which the reformed philosophies of the future will be based.


April, 1924.

Preface (French version)

La Revue Spirite (february 1924, p. 89)

Nous apprenons que Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, le grand écrivain anglais auteur de Sherlok Holmes, a voulu traduire lui-même l'oeuvre de Léon Denis : Jeanne d'Arc médium. Il vient d'écrire une préface pour la présenter au public, ce qui lui assure un grand et légitime succès dans la vaste étendue des pays qui parlent la langue anglaise. Nous sommes heureux de donner à nos lecteurs la primeur de ce travail.

On ne peut se rendre compte de la difficulté qu'on éprouve à traduire exactement un livre français, dont le sujet est subtil et délicat, qu'en le faisant soi-même. C'est alors que l'on comprend que ce ne sont pas les mots seuls qui diffèrent, mais aussi la façon de penser et de s'exprimer. Une traduction littérale donne une impression de décousu et de haché, tandis qu'on doit donner tous les soins aux paraphrases si l'on veut respecter l'original. M. Léon Denis m'a donné carte blanche sous ce rapport, mais j'aime et j'admire tant son livre que je désire vivement suivre le texte d'aussi près que possible. C'est une tâche que je n'aurais pas entreprise, si, outre le côté historique et littéraire de l'oeuvre, il n'y avait pas un côté psychique exposé par un érudit de ces questions, ce qui demande une connaissance psychique égale de la part du traducteur. Il faut espérer cependant que le lecteur, qui ignore les questions psychiques ou qui n'est pas attiré par elles, pourra quand même saisir la beauté de ce tableau tracé par celui qui a tant aimé son sujet qu'il a suivi la Pucelle tout le long de sa route, depuis Domrémy jusqu'à Rouen.

M. L. Denis est passé maître dans la couleur locale. L'exposé de son sujet est si complet qu'il ne me reste plus rien à dire si ce n'est que je suis tout à fait convaincu qu'immédiatement après le Christ, Jeanne d'Arc est, sur cette terre, l'être spirituel le plus élevé sur lequel nous avons des récits véridiques. On est enclin à s'agenouiller devant elle.

Nous avons la faveur extraordinaire de posséder des détails plus complets et plus exacts sur sa vie et son caractère que sur n'importe quel autre événement du moyen âge ou même des temps présents. Cette vie glorieuse fut si courte et si émouvante qu'aucun de ses faits ne peut rester dans l'ombre ou être mal interprété.

Elle se passa au grand jour et elle est décrite dans les comptes rendus de l'interrogatoire le plus serré qu'aucune femme ait jamais subi, corroborée par des enquêtes minutieuses lors de sa réhabilitation, une génération après sa mort, quand plus de cent témoins assermentés, qui l'avaient connue, déposèrent en sa faveur. Si nous faisons abstraction de la divinité du Christ nous trouverons une grande analogie entre ces deux caractères si nous les comparons à un point de vue purement humain. Tous les deux appartenaient à la classe humble et laborieuse ; tous les deux affirmaient et accomplissaient une mission. Tous les deux subirent le martyre quand ils étaient encore jeunes. Tous les deux furent acclamés par le peuple et trahis et méprisés des grands. Ils inspirèrent la haine la plus vive à l'Église de leur temps dont les grands prêtres complotèrent la mort de l'un et de l'autre. Enfin tous deux s'exprimèrent en phrases claires et simples, fortes et concises.

La mission de Jeanne était apparemment guerrière, mais en réalité elle eut pour résultat de mettre fin à un siècle de guerre. Son amour et sa charité étaient si immenses qu'ils n'ont de comparables que les paroles de celui qui, sur la croix, pria pour ses bourreaux.

Je dois ajouter que M. Léon Denis est l'auteur de nombreux livres sur des sujets psychiques, mais son beau talent littéraire lui aurait procuré de la gloire, quels que soient les sujets qu'il aurait traités.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.