Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured

Kathryn Harrison. Doubleday, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-53120-7
Joan of Arc was the subject of rumors and legends even in her own time, and from the 15th century onward her experience has been appropriated according to the needs of the age and artist. Novelist and memoirist Harrison (Enchantments) makes Joan’s story almost surreal as it’s untethered from time or context. Harrison compares Joan to Jesus: “Where no tangible historical records or artifacts provide a counterweight to the pull of a narrative tradition shaped by faith, the historical truth of a life like Joan’s or Jesus’s gives way to religious truth.” But it is never clear whose truth is being discussed. Harrison relays the events of Joan’s life by quoting other interpreters such as George Bernard Shaw, Jean Anouilh, Cecil B. DeMille, and Luc Besson. Often it is implied that these are a reflection of Joan’s own reality. Harrison draws on previous biographies—and the records of her trial—for the established facts of the brief life and tragic execution of the Maid of Orléans. However, just as many, if not more, of Harrison’s citations refer to films or fictions, and a host more from other biographers. Too many other reported conversations are not cited at all. In the end, Harrison’s jumble of biography and hagiography falls between two stools. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/18/2014
Release date: 10/28/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-7679-3249-3
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-307-87659-1
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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