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The day after Mr. and Mrs. Elliott's visit (Book 2, Chapter 4), Helen received a note from Mr. Elliott suggesting that she take up Bastien-Lepage's Jeanne d'Arc as the subject of her next article, along with whatever personal reminiscences of the artist she could bring together. It was a part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's permanent collection even then, and presumably ran the risk of being taken for granted, but “these things are available for our people, and may become a real influence in their lives, if presented to them in the right spirit.”

The note arrived too late in the afternoon to act upon immediately, so Helen decided to use the lead time to pick Alex's brain about Bastien-Lepage. Enlivened by “a renewed faith in the vigor and strength of true manhood” that Sherman Elliott had given him (and don't think that talk hasn't stopped creeping me out yet), Galbraith is happy to oblige. Godlike brilliance or no, our Alex G. is still a talking doll with a five mile string when it comes to the arts.

“He was a great figure when I first went to Paris. He was looked upon as the artist's artist—the man whom all the artists loved, and whose work they adored. His position was very firmly fixed at that time, for it was only a few years, you know, before his death. But earlier he had had a terrible fight. His spirit, however, was always courageous and resolute; and while his physical strength was never great, he won the battle completely before he laid down his arms to die. Yet the burden which he bore crushed him, I do not doubt. He died at the very height of his promise. It was felt by all who were supposed to know that he would do still greater things than he had done; but it was not to be. I remember so well the last great saying of his which came to us students, repeated by an intimate friend of his. Bastien was showing to this friend his study of the body of Gambetta. To Bastien himself death seemed yet a great way off. To this friend he said—“I am not afraid of death. It is nothing to die; but the point is to survive, and who is sure of influencing posterity? Come, I'm talking wildly,' he said, calling himself up with a halt, 'let us paint true, the rest is nothing.'” (pp. 225-6)

Both of the Galbraiths are familiar with the picture, and it made quite the impression on Alex during its Salon showing. He believes that while the overall picture is less than “correct,” Jeanne D'Arc herself is “perfect,” especially when you reach the face. It taught him a very valuable point of view: “how it was possible for an artist to impart intensity of human feeling and divine inspiration through a human face.” And the same principle, he continues, could be applied to landscape painting. Ooookay, trees don't have faces, but let's just throw him a frickin' bone or else we'll be here all day.

We follow Helen to the Metropolitan, and as always, she's wallowing in the slough of her own personal despond.

Once again she was fully alive to the realities amid which she stood, and comprehended in its deepest sense the extent of the appalling evil which now enthralled her. She was in the room with the picture which she had come so far to study, but having looked up at it once she turned away, and sinking down into a seat near by, remained like one stunned. A realization of the conditions of her present life rushed upon her overpoweringly. When the horrible sacrifice had been first made she had scarcely been responsible for her actions. In fact, she was for a time so insensible to impressions, that she could now only with difficulty recall the events of those weeks that succeeded her surrender of herself to Mr. Westmore. She had then seemed to possess only the power to accept, in a sort of blind agony, the consequence of her conduct.

Since that time she had certainly learned, as no one ever learns except from bitter, personal experience, how a sin, though committed in the desire to obtain good for another, can so eat into the spiritual structure of life, can so deface the finer, richer adornments of the soul, that there remains not a quality of the mind or of the heart which in time does not suffer contamination. Even her devoted, absorbing love for Galbraith, Helen saw, had been affected by this evil which had crept into her life. She loved Galbraith as devotedly, as absolutely, as she had ever done—but with a difference. She had but a blot upon her life, and nothing now could ever efface it. With this consciousness in her heart—with the pain born of it stabbing her hourly, her love for Galbraith was no longer the simple thing it had been. No matter what he was still to her, no matter what she had been willing to suffer for him, or what she was still willing to suffer, she could never feel herself worthy again—could never feel that she had the absolute right to him which had once been hers! How, she asked herself a thousand times a day, how was she to get this awful thing entirely out of her life—to free herself from the bondage, the spiritual, mental bondage, in which she was held—so that she might walk forth again with a cleansed heart, a purified purpose, facing life openly, frankly, unreservedly as it was her nature to do? (pp. 230-1)

Which only serves to remind me that we lost track of Westmore roughly 65 pages ago. Considering that he's the one making Helen Galbraith miserable on a regular basis, it's not understandable. And considering that we were paying meticulous attention to him when he was just being a creepy stalker, but he's completely absent now that his strong arm method of adultery is the only thing driving the plot (such as it is)...well, to say it's a significant oversight is to say that John Merrick suffered from a bit of puffiness around the eyes. (And to say I wish that line was one of mine isn't to say I wish I could remember where I stole it from. We still have the right to avoid self-incrimination in this country, y'know...)

As she finally stood before the painting, “a ray of light seemed to flash suddenly across the face of Jeanne, revealing it to Helen as it had never before been revealed to her.” Suddenly this wasn't a job anymore so much as a spiritual epiphany, the clear eyes of Jeanne boring into her soul, “and the way which she so ardently desired opened before her now for the first time with anything like clearness, or distinctness.” She tried to make the rounds of the room to calm herself, but again was drawn back to the picture (especially the face) in rapt meditation until her artist friend St. George Turner—the one who showed her the etchings—approached. After running down the things which work against the painting (short version: everything but the figure of Jeanne), they finally come back to why it works for them anyway.

“Nothing convinces me of his greatness,” said Helen, “than the selection he has made here of his subject. It is like an inspiration to have selected such a subject, and to have succeeded with it as he has done.”

“No doubt,” said Turner, “the life itself of Jeanne d'Arc is something like a divine revelation—it was so remarkable that nothing else explains it, even in this materialistic age of ours. Bastien-Lepage, it seems to me, felt it in this way, and tried to convey this impression. No one but a true poet, possibly, could have felt this as he did, and could have so expressed it.”

“His picture is certainly an angelic vision made into flesh and blood,” said Helen.

“Well, it is another illustration, I heard one of our best men say, of how, from age to age, one noble spirit reacts upon another noble spirit. The hero and the poet! They mutually understand one another; otherwise they could never so completely complement one another.” (pp. 237-8)

Young Turner leaves Helen to prepare for his upcoming trip to France, while she ponders the revelations of the day. Writing about the picture now was out of the question: “A sacred line had been drown for her about that picture—its influence had gone too deeply for it to be treated merely as any other newspaper subject might be treated.” Besides, she feared that if she said anything about the painting now, she'd say more about her personal matters in a highly public place than she ever intended to. Still, she's been given a lot to ponder.

More clearly than anything else she saw the real height to which true womanhood may rise. If such great things had been revealed to a simple peasant maid, unlearned, untutored, whose only strength was a pure heart subject to the will of God, why might not other women—those who could read the true version of the vision—why might not these also rise above the ordinary plane on which most lives are lived—rise and free themselves from insufficiency? They can, they can, a voice outside of herself seemed to say to her—but only when the necessary conditions have been fulfilled: that their hearts be pure and subject to the will of God. For the first time now she saw this distinctly as the inexorable law—the spiritual force which alone has the power to regenerate and to save. A flood of light broke around her—the clearness and brilliancy of it dazzled her for the moment—then steadying herself, she grasped the truth which it brought with it; and in her hand she knew that she held the golden thread which, followed up, would lead her out of captivity.

“Yes! yes!” she cried in her soul, “that was why, when that was how it came about—but thank God, it is over now!”

She turned away from the Jeanne d'Arc—it had taught her its lesson—and now she had many things, great things to do. As she came out from the gallery, out into the beauty and freshness of the spring afternoon—for midday was long ago passed—her spirit seemed literally to leap within her—no height seemed too high, too difficult, for her to ascend. (pp. 240-1)

“Thank God, it is over now!”? We still have close to a hundred pages left! You're just mocking me at this point, book. Anyway, if that means that things might actually start happening instead of being talked about offstage, here's to hitting the heights...

Next: Westmore finally pops up again! And I'm sure he's part of the “great things” Helen feels she has to do...


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