The Maid of Orleans (poem)
The Maid of Orleans (French: La Pucelle d'Orléans) is a satirical poem by François-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name, Voltaire. It was first published in 1899, but Voltaire had written it over a century beforehand; while he had started writing the text in 1730, he never completed it. It was translated into English by W. H. Ireland.
Voltaire was undoubtedly one of the most controversial writers and philosophers of the Enlightenment Age, and The Maid of Orleans was also certainly one of his more contentious works. An epic and scandalous satire concerning the life of the not-yet-canonised Joan of Arc ("the Maid of Orleans"), the poem was outlawed, burned and banned throughout a great portion of Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Containing mockery and satirical commentary on the life and antics of its subject, the poem itself has variously been described as "bawdy" and "licentious".
Despite the often sexist and indecent contents of the text, its notoriety and contraband status made it one of the most widely read texts concerning Joan of Arc for several centuries. Circulating throughout the banned regions by often surreptitious means, the book was read by a large number of the populace. It was also disseminated by Voltaire himself to some of his colleagues and other members of the upper class, the circle of people and the portion of society that the text was specifically intended for.
Various sources report that Voltaire resolved to write The Maid of Orleans after a literary colleague challenged him to compose a better analysis of the Joan of Arc subject than the treatment Jean Chapelain had produced in his The Maid, or the Heroic Poem of France Delivered. Published in the mid-17th century, Chapelain's poem was a lengthy and philosophical discussion of the topic. While Chapelain's poem was much awaited by followers of his work, it was savaged by critics, and Voltaire made sure to include his own lampoon of Chapelain's work in his own take on Joan of Arc:
O Chapelain! O thou whose violin
Produced of old so harsh and vile a din;
Whose bow Apollo's malediction had,
Which scraped his history in notes so sad;
Old Chapelain! if honouring thy art
Though wouldst to me thy genius even impart, I'll none of it...— From The Maid of Orleans, Voltaire.
After the degree of criticism the poem was receiving for its sexual undertones and supposedly perverted nature, Voltaire in public became ashamed of his work, even to the point that he asserted that the transcript had been somehow corrupted and tainted and was therefore inauthentic. He published an edited edition of the text over thirty years later, in 1762. This later variant omitted many of the themes and textual content for which the original content had been so scorned.
- The poem is referenced repeatedly in Anatole France's 1912 novel The Gods Are Athirst as a favorite work parts of which can be recited from memory by ordinary French citizens of the 1790s.
- Voltaire, p.14
- Espinasse, p.ix
- Heimann, p.13
- Standish, p.159
- Schlosser, p.264
- Schlosser, p.265
- Espinasse, Francis (2004). Life of Voltaire. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 1-4179-2151-X.
- Heimann, Nora M. (2005). Joan of Arc in French Art and Culture (1700-1855). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7546-5085-5.
- Schlosser, Friedrich Christoph (1843). History of the Eighteenth Century and of the Nineteenth Till the Overthrow of the French Empire With Particular Reference to Mental Cultivation and Progress. Chapman and Hall.
- Standish, Frank Hall (1821). The Life of Voltaire. J. Andrews.
- Voltaire (1843). A Philosophical Dictionary. W. Dugdale.