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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 178

Like his fierce essay In Defense of Harriet Shelley (1894) and his movingly tender Eve’s Diary (1905), Joan of Arc illuminates that region in Mark Twain’s nature which practised a sort of secular Mariolatry. Many American frontiersmen by their quite undoctrinal worship of womankind at large often approached the worship of the Madonna. Of course, this Joan of Arc pretends to be narrated by the friend and secretary of the heroine; but the authentic tones of Mark Twain again and again drown the reminiscent treble of Louis de Conte. Against a confused, somber, truthful enough background he raises the white banner of the Maid. She is herself the banner, the quintessence of a cause. He accepts the voices without a question; nor do they seem particularly superhuman by comparison with the radiant sweetness and wisdom with which he endows her. The book constitutes his answer to the charge brought up by the Innocents Abroad and the Yankee, that he lacked reverence for names made sacred to men by good report; it is proof that he commanded the accents of adoration. In its own right, however, it must rank below an imaginative achievement like Huckleberry Finn because it is less thoroughly grounded than that book in any real experience. Over too many chapters of Joan of Arc droops the languid haze which accompanied all the historical romances of the American nineties. Only in the final third, which deals with the trial and which masterfully employs the original records, does Mark Twain knit his passion with his facts in the degree which breaks down the boundaries ordinarily only too able to divide romance from reality.
  After Joan of Arc he wrote nothing equal to it in



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