Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words, Translated and Edited by Willard R. Trask

Mark Twain and I have some things in common.  Neither one of us are Christian, neither one of us are French, and both of us are fascinated by the story of Joan of Arc.

I first read this little book a couple of years ago, and in the aftermath of the Paris attacks I found myself reading through it again a little at a time.  And then before I knew it, I’d read it completely again.  Why not review it properly this time?  I can’t believe I didn’t do so the first time.

This little book packs a singular punch.  The contents of this book are compiled solely from the transcripts and testimonies of Joan’s trials.  The only words not her own are those spoken to her, added for context here and there.  The quotes are curated in this presentation so as to offer the closest thing we’ll ever get to an autobiography of the Maid of Orleans.  The quotes are dated according to the timeline of events.  For example:

Last Day

May 30 [1431]

In Her Prison: Early Morning

It was I who brought the message of the crown to my King.  I was the angel and there was no other.  And the crown was no more than the promise of my King’s coronation, which I made to him.

Alas!  Am I so horribly and cruelly used, that my clean body, never yet defiled, must this day be burnt and turn to ashes!  Ha!  Ha!  I would rather be beheaded seven times than suffer burning.

Alas!  If I had been kept in the Church’s prison, to which I had submitted — if I had been kept by churchmen, instead of my my enemies and adversaries, I should not have come to such a miserable end.  Oh, I appeal to God, the great judge, from this great wrong and oppression!

Bishop, I die through you!

Master Peter, where shall I be this night?  By God’s grace I shall be in paradise.

There is no interpretation of her words to be offered.  None.  There is zero commentary on anything from a more modern perspective, save for an afterward written in 1851 by Sir Edward S. Creasy.  There is no diagnosis of mental disorder or other dismissive wave of the hand.  There are only her words and the raw emotion behind them.  For those with knowledge of the story, those words ring as clearly through history as any bell, as powerful today as they were in her own time.  Her charisma, her dedication, her cleverness, her hopes and fears… it all shines through for you to make of it what you will on your own terms.  For my part, that only further lends to the fascination.

5 stars

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