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Joan of Arc
by Mark Twain

Category: Fiction / Historical
445 pages; ISBN: 0898702682

Rating: 9/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Judith Woolcock Colombo


Joan of Arc has been a fascinating subject for many scholars and historians. Born in an age when women like children were seen but not heard, and peasants lived to serve and follow, Joan, a woman and a peasant, was heard, listened to and followed. The fact that she accomplished these feats between the ages of fourteen and sixteen is even more remarkable. What is also astonishing is that many of Joan’s biographers like Shaw and Twain were men who held a more traditional view of women and yet within their works, you can sense not mere admiration but love and hero worship for this amazing girl who broke with all the traditions society had laid down for her and lead a great army to victory and her people to freedom.

Twain after twelve years of research and six attempts finally finished "Joan of Arc" and published it in 1895 in Harper’s Magazine under the pseudonym Sieur Louise de Conte. This name of course uses Twains real initials, Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The character Louis de Conte was suppose to be a member of the minor nobility from Joan’s village who followed her from home into battle, and to her trials, keeping a record of her adventures along the way.

Although fictionalized, Twain’s Joan of Arc is acknowledged by scholars to be not only well written but also historically accurate. Twain uses conversations between Joan’s friends to show how popular she was and to illustrate her personality. In fact, historical documents show that Joan had a sense of humor even when facing a trial for her life. She also showed the vulnerability of any teenage girl, crying the first time she was shot by an arrow, or insulted by the enemy. But she was also gentle, compassionate, filled with the conviction of her mission, and stubborn. Twain brings this girl alive before our eyes without distorting history or the truth.

He does employ literary devices throughout the book such as using a fictional character like the giant soldier called Dwarf. Dwarf deserts the army to go home and tend to his dying family. However, he returns after their deaths to seek his own death. Joan forgives him his desertion, and he stays to fight by her side. Dwarf is Twain’s symbol for France who abandoned Joan to the British only to later reclaim and venerate her.

I first read this book sixteen years ago and have never forgotten it. It is a wonderful and well-written depiction of Joan of Arc’s short life. Twain’s novel is part of the reason I continue to seek out works about her. This book is worth reading whether you enjoy historical works or just take pleasure in reading a good book.

Judith Woolcock Colombo: Author of The Fablesinger & Night Crimes
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