Most of you have not heard of this historical novel of Mark Twain’s; yet, he regarded it as his best work. In his own words, “I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation and got none.” Mark Twain is known as something of a humorist, and many humorists see the dark side of life and turn to humor as a way to cope with it. For example, many people know that Twain often wrote to underscore the injustice of Southern society towards blacks–both before and after the Civil War. Twain loved fairness and justice above all, and these things shone yet more gloriously when painted against a background of villainy.
In the story of Joan of Arc, we find a spotless and brave character who stands up against both the enemy of her country and the spineless traitors within it–only to suffer and be executed for it. Her tale is even more remarkable when we consider that she began her military career at the age of 17 and passed into eternal glory at 19. Despite the brevity of her life, we know more about St. Joan of Arc than any other medieval person, because her trial went into her life in detail. Indeed, few people have had their biographies examined under oath, and none have come out more spotless!
The story is told from the vantage point of a minor aristocrat whose family grew up in St. Joan’s village. Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc distinguishes itself in the choice of focusing on lower class characters from her village. I don’t think that a better novelization of St. Joan of Arc’s life has been written; and Twain displays a remarkable ability to get into the French Catholic mind. Read it if you want an entertaining way to learn about St. Joan–you won’t regret it!