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Diane Gervais & Serge Lusignan

The Hilda Neatby Prize French Article

2000

Diane Gervais & Serge Lusignan. De Jeanne d’Arc à Madeleine de Verchères : la femme guerrèire dans la société d’Ancien Régime, dans Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, no 53-2 (automne 1999), p. 171-205.

Gervais and Lusignan compare the stories of three women warriors, all of them situated in the political culture of medieval and ancien rgime France. The authors analyse these narratives as accounts of rituals of inversion. They explain how, for each woman warrior, a symbolic separation from the world of women was achieved, such that her military behaviour was legitimated. But by the logic of such ritual, the inversion was temporary, and the return to feminity confirmed the boundaries that had been briefly, and dramatically, transgressed. Only Joan of Arc was unable to remake herself as feminine, and paid with her life to affirm the norms she had violated. The interpretive framework of the essay provides a fresh and compelling way of understanding the behaviour of these women warriors (and perhaps military women in general. In particular ritualized circumstances, it was acceptable, in spite of its being both remarkable and disturbing within a tradition of western values which has made war by definition men’s business.