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Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – November 7, 2002
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I found the book fascinating, moving, and best of all, true. I not only enjoyed it immensely, but I read it over the period of several readings to a bunch of 5-7 graders, who also really enjoyed it (these are kids who are usually "too big" for being read to).
It is plain that Twain took great pains to make sure that the book was as historically accurate as possible, accepting the fact that he wrote it in first person through the person of Sire Louis DeConte. The only question I would like cleared up for me is how much license he took with that one character, and what is actually known about him from history.
I don't recommend many books, but I would highly recommend this one. Following my tendency I bought the budget edition, but if I had spent a bit more, I could have a book that I could lend out to friends more. I have lent this one to various teen-agers, but it is showing the wear and tear.
Born in Domremy in 1412, seventy-five years after the beginning of the Hundred Years War, Joan, an Armagnac, supports the isolated Dauphin, son of Charles VI; another faction supports the Duke of Burgundy, allied with the British. When Joan is fifteen, her angelic voices tell her she will lead God's armies, win back France, and restore the Dauphin. By the time she is seventeen she is General-in-Chief of France. After lifting the siege of Orleans, achieving many victories, and finally, standing beside the Dauphin at his coronation, she is, however, captured by the Burgundians. Sold to the English, she is later surrendered to an Inquisition in Rouen for trial as a heretic and sorceress. The Dauphin fails to intervene, and at age nineteen she is burned at the stake.
Twain creates a fast-paced story about this tumultuous period, creating a series of repeating characters who anchor Joan's story from the time of childhood until her death. One of these characters is Sieur Louis de Conte, a childhood friend, supporter during battle, and mourner at her execution, who narrates Joan's story many years later. Rare comic scenes provide occasional changes of mood, and the last section of the novel--Joan's trial and execution--is dramatic and moving. With the focus on Joan and the arguments she promotes to advance her cause and facilitate her actions, Twain explores the phenomenon of religious passion and the lengths to which a "chosen" person will go to fulfill divine will.
As interesting as this book is, historically and thematically, it lacks the unity of some of Twain's other novels. Joan of Arc is so heroic in stature that one feels little emotional connection to her, and Twain's dialogue is so wooden that the other characters fail to come alive, except as mouthpieces for background or philosophy. On several occasions, Twain explains the historical background (how the war began, and later the Five Great Deeds of Joan of Arc) though these delay the action. A serious attempt by Twain to depict a character with whom he was obviously fascinated, this novel is full of biographical and historical detail, but Joan remains an enigma. n Mary Whipple
There is an impossibly powerful moment when Joan is setting off on her journey where she looks back at her old home from the road, and knows without knowing, it is the last time she will ever see it. It hits like an 18-wheeler truck. The way Mark Twain writes it, the way the reader knows history plays out, the way you might imagine that really happened, if it did, if it really could have. It is all the bravery and tragedy the world has to give contained in a paragraph.
In Twain's defense, how could the rest of the book even compare? You might close it forever right there and no one could blame you. It would still be a good book.