Joan of Arc in Germany: (Trans)National Adaptations in German-Language Texts and Films

Jeanne d’Arc, the fifteenth-century Maid of Orleans who led France to victory against England during the Hundred Years’ War, was burnt at the stake as a heretic on account of her cross-dressing as well as insisting on the veracity of her religious visions. Transgressing the sex/gender order of her time whilst ultimately being put in the service of a patriarchal order, her narrative is an appealing subject for appropriation. This appropriation occurs from an endlessly diverse range of perspectives precisely because of its combination of subversive and conservative elements.

Following her execution in 1431, Joan became the subject of a striking number of transcultural and trans-period adaptations that appropriated her into very different national, political, religious, and cultural contexts. A medieval figure eminently suited to adaptation and representation in the modern world, Joan’s adaptability is related to the nascent concept of the nation state inscribed in her person as well as to her significance as a gender rebel. To date, there has been no comprehensive analysis of Joan’s presence in German-language texts.

My project examines key dramas, films, and novels from the early nineteenth century to the present day, considering this figure’s unique disruptive potential and the question of her alignment with the status quo.

Tragedy, Parody, and Beyond

Joan’s big moment in German-language literature came when Friedrich Schiller adapted her story for the stage in his romantic tragedy Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801). Inventing a love interest as well as her death in battle, Schiller romanticized the virgin, her divine mission, and self-sacrifice, in a way that generated both enthusiastic reception and sustained criticism. One of the most performed plays on German stages throughout the nineteenth century, Jungfrau’s heroine was frequently received as the emblem of a nation that was yet to come into existence. At the same time, the nineteenth century gave rise to two additional trends in Joan-reception, one that sought to rehabilitate historical facts, another that processed what was seen as Schiller’s exaggerated sentimental representation through parody and grotesque. The latter focussed on Joan’s corporeality, contesting her attempts to maintain her virginity and thus transcend a heteronormative order grounded in an essentialist view of gender roles. Examples include Julius von Voß’ Die travestirte Jungfrau von Orleans (1803), featuring a pregnant Joan, Max Skladanowsky’s silent film Die moderne Jungfrau von Orleans (1905), which turns Joan’s transvestism on its head by staging the heroine as male-to-female cross-dresser, and Georg Kaiser’s violent grotesque Gilles und Jeanne (1923).

From Pre- to Peak- to Post-national Representations

The 1930s saw the appearance of two fiction films, Johannes Meyer’s Schwarzer Jäger Johanna (1934), and Gustav Ucicky’s Das Mädchen Johanna (1935), which tailor Joan’s narrative to National Socialist ideology. Around the same time, texts by Bertolt Brecht, Anna Seghers, and Lion Feuchtwanger present various incarnations of Joan in a way that embodies resistance to nationalism and fascism. Following a hiatus post-World War II, early twenty-first-century German representations, such as plays by Tim Staffel (2001) and Felix Mitterer (2002), are characterized by a post-national stance, before more recent years see literary engagement with Joan in the context of post-migration society, feminism, and eco-activism.

Recent Re-writings: Intertextual Adaptations for the Twenty-first Century

Recent re-writings of Schiller’s text, still one of the most frequently performed texts on the German stage, speak to the ongoing impetus to recreate the historical and hermeneutical Joan in a way that is relevant to contemporary concerns. Mikaël Serre’s Je suis Jeanne d’Arc (Maxim-Gorki-Theater Berlin, 2015) takes its impulse from post-Charlie Hebdo France and casts Jeanne as jihadist, attempting to dismantle the myth of Joan as heroine of the nation. Julie Paucker and Robert Schuster’s multilingual Malalai. Die afghanische Jungfrau von Orleans (Nationaltheater Weimar, 2017) engages with a nineteenth-century Afghan freedom fighter and thus manages to decentre Schiller’s Eurocentric approach. Paucker’s intertextual negotiation with the past and her transnational adaptation of a national narrative undermine and transcend the nationalism which has marked much of modern Joan-reception to date; furthermore, they speak to the intersectionality of identity construction, indicating the extent to which otherness in terms of gender is enmeshed with otherness in terms of class and race. Ewelina Marciniak and Joanna Bednarzyk’s version, staged at the Nationaltheater Mannheim in 2021, offers a feminist take on the mythologizing of the warrior woman that touches on reproductive rights and engages with other instances of Joan-reception, most notably Theodor Dreyer’s film (1928). Most recently, Nikolas Darnstädt’s ‘sci-fi’ version, which premiered at the Münchner Volkstheater in 2022, provides a capitalism critique set against the backdrop of ecological crisis and the war in Ukraine, which is entwined with a strong feminist perspective.

New Narratives of Nation?

These latest texts mark an intervention not only in Schiller’s seminal Joan-play, but also in the dominant reception of this text since its first appearance, suggesting the extent to which canonical literature emerges as a palimpsest, that is, a surface on which the original writing has been partially erased and then overwritten, thus bearing intertextual traces of older versions. Many of the older depictions of Joan are indicative of a gendering of nationalism. As Brandt (2010) has shown, this gendered nationalism amounts to an ambivalent politicization of women, with their respective concepts of femininity delimiting an emancipatory semantics of politics and nation. However, it is precisely Joan’s non-conformity to her culturally assigned role not only as a female, but also as a member of an ‘uneducated’ lower class, that facilitates her potential to subvert the established order. As such, it is perhaps not surprising that contemporary representations of Joan are shaped by an intersectional approach that offers both interventions into the silencing of the subversive female, and new narratives for an engagement with the concept of nation, such as an anti-nostalgic pluralism.

Joan in Germany and Beyond: A Transnational Perspective

Mapping Joan’s pre- or proto-national, national(ist), post-, and transnational manifestations reveals that the figure of Joan is deployed in response to very specific moments in German history. The changing trajectory of Joan-adaptation into German-language culture, marked by shifting configurations of gender and nation, sees Joan emerge as a recurring mental topos in the German imaginary that facilitates the analysis of images of self and other in German culture. Tracing German-language iterations of Joan over the last two centuries shows both this figure’s deep entanglement with German as well as European history, and its potential for transnational approaches that destabilize a Eurocentrist perspective.



Brandt, Bettina. Germania und ihre Söhne. Göttingen, 2010.


Title Image

Die moderne Jungfrau von Orleans“, Bundesarchiv, Film: 42027



Cordula Böcking is Assistant Professor in German at Maynooth University (National University of Ireland). Prior to this, she held lectureships at St Andrews and Cambridge, following undergraduate studies in German and English Philology in Freiburg, Berlin, and Dublin, and a PhD in Germanic Studies in Trinity College Dublin. From September 2022 to July 2023, she is guest researcher at the ZtG, working on representations of Jeanne d’Arc in German-language texts and films and their changing configurations of gender and nation.

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