Mark Twain And Joan of Arc

I haven’t posted on Mark Twain for a while. In a private communication Yelland William called my attention to an April 3rd piece by Daniel Crown on Mark Twain and Joan of Arc in The Awl. Crown’s piece seeks to understand Mark Twain’s abnormal and rather complicated interest in Joan of Arc. A complicated interest that Twain reflected in the hierarchy of virtual narrators he deployed in telling the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Despite his intimate portrayal Joan, Twain could only deal with Joan at considerable distance.
Crown explores a number of explanations for Twain’s interest in Joan. While several are interesting, I think all miss the point. My own take is that Joan was for Twain a major anomaly to his anthropology – an anthropology that would make Calvin seem optimistic about our species. For Twain, human nature entailed self-interest narrowly defined. Anything to the contrary was an anomaly worthy of investigation. For Twain, Jim, the runaway slave, was such an anomaly. Pudd’nhead Wilson was such an anomaly. Joan of Arc was such an anomaly. And Joan had the advantage of not being (altogether) a creature of Twain’s imagination. And I think for Twain that was the most anomalous thing of all. Does this explain everything about Twain’s abnormal interest in Joan of Arc? No. But I think it is the place where any discussion of his interest in Joan (and other idealized young girls) must start.