Friday 29 August 2014

Women warriors I grew up with

Philis de la Charce from the public
park in my home town, via Wikimedia

If you grew up in France in the 70s, you grew up with Joan of Arc. Actually, every single image of my first history textbook is imprinted on my mind, but especially the ones in which Joan is hearing voices, meeting the young king dressed in her suit of armor and getting burned at the stake. What's also imprinted on my mind is every kid in the class turning round to stare at me when the teacher said the English burned Joan at the stake. I kind of knew I was supposed to be connected with the English in some way but I didn't really have much consciousness of being anything other than French at the time. I can vouch for the effectiveness of all that 'our ancestors the Gauls' stuff! Joan was my heroine, just like she was everyone else's.

Now I realise I know little more about her than I did then. I learned the Victorian British had a bit of a cult of her for a while though I don't really know why. I heard her story didn't really happen the way they told us at school. I discovered that as French women warriors go, she's hardly unique. My home town of Grenoble sports a nice statue to Philis de la Charce (French link), a woman warrior whose semi-legendary exploits took place in the late 17th Century. Meanwhile, I guess I missed out on Boudica.

Vincentius Bellovacensis Speculum historiale fol 340v détail.jpg
Martha and the dragon via Wikimedia Commons.


Martha was my real heroine when I was growing up. Yes, that's Martha, sister of Mary, from the New Testament, the one who was leading an active life. According to the legends of southern France, Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus escaped Roman pursuit in their homeland and came to the area of France around the Rhone delta. You can still visit a cave in which Mary supposedly retreated to continue being contemplative.

Martha also stayed true to character. She went to the town of Tarascon, close to where I grew up. The people there were being terrorised by a monster known as the Tarasque. Rather than slaying it a la St George, Martha tamed it and led it back to the town, impressing everyone so much they dropped their previous gods and converted to Christianity on the spot. Or so the story goes... Maybe Martha isn't quite a warrior but when I was six of seven I admired her utterly anyway.

Because of the context I grew up in, both the women warriors of my childhood were French and Christian even though I was neither at the time (I became French later). What about yours?

See also:
Girl geniuses I grew up with 
One Who Walks with the Stars, a Lakota woman warrior 
Review of Lucy, the film about a woman who unlocks the full potential of her brain
We have always reclaimed our stories on Anfenwick.

No comments:

Post a Comment