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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Joan of Arc doomed by links to Far Right

A museum dedicated to the French heroine is about to close, as most citizens turn up their noses, write Adam Sage and Marie Tourres.

It was opened at a time of patriotic fervour to commemorate a heroine whose death at the hands of an iniquitous enemy was a defining event in French history.

Now the Joan of Arc Museum in Rouen, the Normandy town where the teenage mystic was burned at the stake by the English in 1431, is facing closure as France turns its back on a woman whose reputation has been stained by association with the extreme Right.

“The French are increasingly uninterested in their own history and uninterested in Joan of Arc,” said Alain Preaux, the owner of the Musée Jeanne d’Arc.

The museum was opened in 1955 in the square where Joan of Arc perished after leading the French against the English during the Hundred Years War.

Preaux has run the museum since 1977, following in his father’s footsteps. Now, at the age of 59, he wants to retire but cannot find a public or private purchaser for a collection of waxwork figures, documents and other objects valued at more than $600,000. “If no one comes forward I guess it will end up by being auctioned and dispersed,” Preaux said.

He said that the Maid of Orléans, as Joan of Arc is known, appeared in some ways to be of greater interest to the British these days.

The number of non-French tourists visiting the museum — almost three-quarters of whom are from Britain — had remained constant over the past couple of decades, he said. They account for 40 per cent of all visitors.

The number of French had declined sharply, taking the overall number of visitors from 40,000 a year in the 1980s to 25,000 a year. “We used to get a lot of French school parties. Now we hardly get any,” he said.

Critics said that the decline may be a consequence of Preaux’s failure to modernize a museum that features items such as letters written by monks on behalf of Joan of Arc, who was an illiterate peasant, and waxwork and cardboard cut-out scenes portraying her death.

“This sort of collection doesn’t really correspond to what people want anymore,” said Jean-Pierre Chaline, a history professor at the Sorbonne University who lives in Rouen. He said that the poor state of the museum was an illustration of how Joan of Arc had fallen out of favour in France.

He blamed the ultra-Right National Front, which uses Joan of Arc as its symbol in May Day parades.

François Michaud-Frejaville, emeritus professor of history at Orléans University, described the link between Joan of Arc and the National Front as “an attack on historical reality.”

She hoped Joan of Arc’s reputation would be restored next year, the 600th anniversary of her birth, when celebrations are planned.
Ottawa Citizen