Medieval Book Review: Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

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.

PRSJOA

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!

Joan of Arc Coronation King Charles VII

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!

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6 comments on “Medieval Book Review: Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

  1. Paul Dang says:

    Agreed about Joan of Arc. A very big shame that many modern film depictions of her are so wrong, including the aforementioned Drifters, depicting her as psychopathic or delusional! The 50s film, with Ingrid Bergman, was actually quite good, though from what I’ve read, the ’20s silent film The Passion of St. Joan of Arc may be the best!

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    • Thank you for the recommendations. It is a shame how modern media often depict St. Joan in a bad light. Then again, critics of the great saints have some of their roots in communist ideology, and I know the Russian communists sent one man to the gulag for “insanity,” by which they meant believing in God.

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  2. I suddenly remembered – though I’m not sure if I do remember it correctly – a progressive professor of mine once talking about Twain being an isolationist. But hey, that’s pretty much a tangent when it comes to this post of yours, so yeah, more about your post…Well, this looks promising. That, and I’m sent into thought about soldiers who became saints. War’s a difficult backdrop to live with, and even tougher when you’re a part of that backdrop, but I’d expect shining beacons of light to come out strong during such times. Maybe such a book would give me a worthwhile experience in terms of learning about such difficult things, no?

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    • “War makes good men great and bad men worse,” as Joshua Chamberlain said. War is pretty much one of the worst calamities which can occur to a nation. But, because it is the most extreme situation one can be placed in, it calls for the most heroic virtues and the most heroic saints can be forged in war. I think that you would enjoy how Mark Twain gets into St. Joan of Arc’s patriotism and love of God.

      I did not know that Mark Twain was an isolationist. That word gets a lot of bad press these days, but there are some legitimate reasons why someone might subscribe to that extreme–even as there are legitimate reasons to ascribe to the other extreme, imperialism.

      If one looks at the years Twain lived, 1835 – 1910, he would have seen the Mexican War (a war conducted to expand the scope of slavery and U.S. territory), the American Civil War (very destructive to Twain’s fellow Southerners), the Spanish-American War (a war with good results, but one which began with a false pretext and increased the imperial reach of the U.S.), and the arms race in Europe which climaxed in WWI four years after Twain’s death. So, I can see why Twain would be an isolationist with that experience.

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      • I see. I think I understand it better now, especially when I remember people like the Salesian martyrs of World War II. It’s scary to think about being put into such a situation, but it would be worse if we don’t put our faith in God. So yes, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.

        And hey, such a brand of difficult life for America, indeed. Goes to show that God has a different set of standards when it comes to greatness, no?

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  3. Gaheret says:

    Great recommendation! The book is amazing, and I think it does justice to St Joan, who was at once a war heroin, an courageous prophet, a very humble Christian and a kind, resourceful and sincere young maiden from a peasant family.

    Twain himself (who had a cynical approach to almost every other subject I know) seems transformed in this book. He really gets into the spirit: except for the somewhat “modern” attention to some details, private conversations, childhood memories and such, he could pass as a contemporary. It’s my favorite book by him.

    I have yet to see Bergman’s film and the one from 1920 (I won’t see the others, I find the way the Moderns usually depict saints plainly ridiculous). For me that’s a big deal. In the case of St. Joan, I think the one who attacked her the most was Voltaire. Well… Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rosseau/ mock on, mock on, is all in vain…”

    Saints who are soldiers and legitimate Empires are both really interesting subjects, by the way.

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