‘Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured,’ by Kathryn Harrison

Book review by Marie Arana, full review at The Washington Post.

Told and retold since time immemorial — by fabulists from Shakespeare to Bertolt Brecht — the story of Joan of Arc shows no sign of loosening its grip on our imaginations. “She was honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was,” Mark Twain rhapsodized, “a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing.” Five hundred years after her birth, the Maid of Orleans is a fixture in legend. In an era when women were chattel and courage was thought to be the sole dominion of men, she donned breeches and armor, rode at the head of an army and stiffened a nation’s resolve. In one scant year — from 1429 to 1430 — she drove back the English, checked an invasion and ushered a French monarch to his throne…

…It is impossible for Harrison to write an uninteresting book. She is too skilled a prose writer, too good a storyteller, too alert to passions and the human heart to produce a work that ever flags. But read “Joan of Arc” for what it tells you about the world in which the subject lived and the half-millennium of culture that has continued to mythologize her. In this striking volume, it is clear that Joan fell victim to more than an era’s intolerance. She became a victim to other dreamers’ dreams.

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