Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison: A Book Review

Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured
Author: Kathryn Harrison
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 400
Source:Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis: The profoundly inspiring and fully documented saga of Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl whose "voices" moved her to rally the French nation and a reluctant king against British invaders in 1428, has fascinated artistic figures as diverse as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Carl Dreyer, and Robert Bresson. Was she a divinely inspired saint? A schizophrenic? A demonically possessed heretic, as her persecutors and captors tried to prove?

     Every era must retell and reimagine the Maid of Orleans's extraordinary story in its own way, and in Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, the superb novelist and memoirist Kathryn Harrison gives us a Joan for our time—a shining exemplar of unshakable faith, extraordinary courage, and self-confidence during a brutally rigged ecclesiastical inquisition and in the face of her death by burning. Deftly weaving historical fact, myth, folklore, artistic representations, and centuries of scholarly and critical interpretation into a compelling narrative, she restores Joan of Arc to her rightful position as one of the greatest heroines in all of human history.

     My review: The story of Joan of Arc is a classic underdog tale. When France was on the verge of losing their nation and suffered under the English invasion, a peasant girl who claimed she heard the voices of the angels and saints to take up arms and help restore the nation by crowning Charles VII in Reims. Joan claims she is the fulfillment of the prophecy that a virgin would restore France. Interweaving folklore and facts, this biography recounts the life of Joan of Arc to show the reader Joan’s accomplishments and controversy.

      I have always been fascinated by Joan of Arc, a peasant who inspired many soldiers and dressed as a man, defying the conventions of women at that time. Her story and her tragic end seemed like a good fable that I wondered about what was fact and fiction. Did Joan really hear the voices of the angels and saints? While I was intrigued about Joan of Arc, I never really had the chance to get around to learn about her life. However, when this book was on Netgalley, I finally got the chance to learn about Joan of Arc. I immediately gobbled the book up within twenty-four hours. 

     I have always thought of Joan of Arc as a saintly person, whom the average person could not connect with. However, In this biography, Joan is portrayed as human and flawed girl. She was pious but was also vain and prideful. She was courageous, yet she had many fears. She was a woman who bravely faced many trials and who never wavered in her beliefs. She was very intelligent and had a good memory. This Joan was very relatable to the reader that we could not help but root for her and sympathize with her plight.

     Overall, this book is about Joan’s unwavering faith in God. While the book does not answer the question straightforwardly of if Joan was God’s agent, it is clear that the author admires her subject and believes that Joan is who she claims to be. I also liked how the author analyzes Joan through how she is portrayed in popular culture. This shows how her story has captured people’s imaginations of her throughout the centuries.Therefore, this book is a great introduction to Joan of Arc for anyone who is looking to depict the facts and the myths of Joan.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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