JOAN OF ARC by Régine Pernoud


Her Story
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A useful and innovative documentary history of the15th-century French insurrectionist. Pernoud, who died in April, has supplemented her previous biography, Joan of Arc (1966), by offering readers this annotated explanation of the controversial saint’s historical record. It isn—t a biography per se and doesn’t follow the standard biographical format of piecing together the available sources to present readers with a chronological narrative. Rather, Pernoud and Clin introduce readers to Joan as she has appeared in various documents, such as the one, contemporary with her lifetime, referring to her as a French peasant girl gathering armed forces to augment the beleaguered ranks of the dauphin’s regiment. Information about her birth and childhood is unveiled only in chapter nine, since Joan rose from relative obscurity, and since no one cared enough to inquire formally into her origins until almost three decades after her death. The approach of Pernoud and Clin, both independent scholars in France, thus offers valuable insight into the nature of history and its practices; documents, as their book demonstrates, should always be weighed carefully against one another when any past event is being interpreted. The authors note that while many legends have emerged about Joan (the third section delves into some of these), more verifiable factual information exists about her than about Plato, Julius Caesar, or Jesus. The details of her military leadership at age 17, her imprisonment and trial, and her execution at the stake at 19 are all surprisingly well attested by letters (three penned by Joan herself), trial transcripts, contemporary histories, and ecclesiastical records. Pernoud and Clin are perhaps overly sympathetic to Joan’s crusade and to the woman herself; her courage is described in almost hagiographic terms. Still, their well-crafted book also permits us to eyeball the documents and draw our own conclusions. Intriguing not only for Joan’s timeless enigma, but for an unusual methodology, which illuminates the detective work by which historians synthesize usable narratives.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-21442-1
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998


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