Here's a fragment of something I began last year with great ambition,
then lost it all (the ambition) as other things (of the spirit,
of the world) conspired to interfere. It was to be the third in
a series of reflections on the story of Joan of Arc. The first two
installments are here and here:
She came into the world on January 6, 1412 in the hamlet of Domrémy, half of which was in France, the other half in the Duchy of Bar, this latter supporting the Anglo-Burgundian (or English) cause. Her parents, Jacquot (or Jacques) and Isabelle, were thought by their neighbors to be “good and pious Catholics and good farmers, of good reputation and an honest way of life, but not very well off.” From John Beevers' biography:
The couple, it is true, were far from rich, but by the standards of the neighborhood they were not poverty-stricken. They had a house, a garden, some livestock, and were rudely fed and roughly clothed. As far as their physical conditions of life were concerned, we should consider they lived a brutish and squalid existence. Their house was small, dark and damp, with an earthen floor; chickens wandered in and out and rushlights or a smoky fire gave the only light at night. Close by the door was a great dungheap. The food was coarse, with meat only on the great feast days. They washed rarely and were lousy. But we need not pity them for all this. No one has ever been made happier by bathtubs and fluorescent lighting.
Well, I think he's wrong about that. I think those folks would have taken great delight in (and, at least initially, shown much gratitude for) these things and many others of which they could hardly dream, but if Mr. Beever's means to imply that no one was ever made "better" by these things, I take his point.
Joan’s childhood progressed without her ever attending school or ever learning to read and write, short of being taught to trace her name in order to sign the letters she dictated. “Her mother taught her the Our Father, the Credo, and the Ave Maria, and she heard many stories about the saints.”
And so I’m trying to imagine this world in which the main attraction outside one’s front door is a dungheap. It’s purpose I don’t know. Perhaps it kept the fires going when other combustibles were in short supply. Or perhaps it was used to fertilize a nearby garden. But if so, why place it outside the front door? I am surely missing something here. No doubt it attracted a myriad of insects and sniffing animals. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that various parasitic worms inhabited the villagers’ intestines and the soles of their feet. But if it was used for burning, the effort to imagine one’s home permeated with the odor of smoldering excrement is one I’m not willing to make.
Think of it: no running water of any kind. Most habits of toiletry known to us were not to them. We need to imagine not brushing our teeth daily or bathing regularly or being able to go to the bathroom in another part of the house. Since the village sat on one bank of the Meuse River, it seems likely that it was a place of frequent recourse. Do you think the women often washed their hair in it?
What did they do at night, between mealtime and bedtime? Talk to each other? Reassure each other? Pray together? How revolutionary to a modern ear. Though movable type was to be invented in Joan’s century, we can be assured there were no books on the shelves, not even a Bible. But men live on stories, particularly those of the past that made the present, and so the Bible stories and prayers learned in Church had to be passed on orally. I would think that the parents were very good listeners, their memories well-honed. They could not rely on television to do the work for them, or on the toy industry to provide distractions, or the music industry to corrupt them and fill their lives with the bedlam of an unending electronic din.
And that's as far as I got. How pathetic. She deserves better. Maybe I'll finish it someday.