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Thursday, June 23, 2016

“Joan of Arc: Her Story”, by Régine Pernoud and Marie-Véronique Clin, revised and translated by Jeremy Duquesnay Adams

300 pages, St. Martin’s Press, ISBN-13: 978-0312214425

 Joan of Arc lived such a short, turbulent life, but for all that much has been written about her and, thus, she means many things to many people: she is the incarnation of French patriotism; she is a Fascist and mascot for anti-Semitism; she is the symbol of working-class resistance; she is the ultimate proto-feminist; she is the persecuted political prisoner; she is the innocent woman prosecuted for heresy. Joan of Arc: Her Story by Régine Pernoud and Marie-Véronique Clin, revised and translated by Jeremy Duquesnay Adams, presents itself as the superior story of Joan the Maid, and in many ways it is. In fact, the actual tale of Joan of Arc takes up about half of the actual text; the remainder is a thorough index of important people in Joan’s life with explanations, as well as another index of important objects and events in her life with explanations. This is important because as the authors often get bogged down in names and details in their storytelling, the indexes serve as a supplemental reference to the main text. Many readers may not be concerned with the significance of each character, but those who are interested in these details will be pleased.

In order to separate legend from fact, her uses from herself, Pernoud and Clin (and Adams) have ingeniously turned the mystifying question Who is Joan of Arc? into the more manageable What is her record? Joan’s history was brief: a year of fighting, a year of imprisonment. In 1429, inspired by holy “voices” she traveled to the failing dauphin Charles (later King Charles VII) and declared that she would free the city of Orleans from his English enemies and lead him to his coronation. Shortly after fulfilling both prophesies, she was captured by the English, who tried her for heresy and burned her at the stake – BUT, in 1455, 24 years after her death, a new trial concluded that the English inquisition was improperly conducted and nullified its decision. Throughout their descriptions of these events, the authors draw upon copious letters and trial transcripts to present a vivid portrait of the young woman whose intelligence, courage, determination and unshakable faith astonished all of Europe. A brief introduction and a section of profiles of the major players make this thorough book accessible to the general reader. Though the writing is sometimes dry, Pernoud and Clin do an admirable job of bringing clarity to their complicated subject.

Joan of Arc lived a life of devotion to God and to her county. With the turmoil of a war with England that engulfed France, the country seemed destined to fall until a peasant girl stepped to the front. Her devotion to seeing a new king of France crowned saw her overcoming dubious odds. Unfortunately she was unable to see the conflict to its end as she was captured and tried for heresy. Her crime was not blasphemy, but dressing in men's clothes during battle. It was only when she cried out Jesus’ named during execution while keeping her waning moments of life focused on a cross that her detractors were able to see that Joan was carrying out a mission from God. The writing of the story often moves slowly and seems hopelessly stalled by details. While it is an interesting and informative book, it is just not a fun read. I would suggest any person looking for a thorough story of Joan of Arc to obtain a copy of this book.

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