The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc V1The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc V1 by Mark Twain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ok so the heading above says V1, but this covers V1 & 2, and is the audiobook besides.

i’m not entirely sure what to think of this book. historical accuracy is not the fulcrum on which my love of historical fiction rests, and i suppose, particularly from reviews, that the accuracy of this book can be questioned. not derided, mind you–just questioned. Twain was clearly a fan of the lady warrior, and you’ll not find a line in this book that degrades her.

but… but. Jeanne d’Arc herself is such a puzzle–where did this girl come from? how on earth did she raise up a degraded nation and teach it to fight, when she herself was unlettered, unlearned, and unfamiliar with the arts of war and statecraft? one cannot but hope that a mind as perspicacious as Twain’s would offer us a way to understand this enigma.

even Twain can’t really do it, though. he just admires her, swoons over her, extols her virtues and, in best Twain style, heaps vitriol on those who condemned her and those who failed to stand up for her. having read a lot of Twain’s work, and understanding that at base a satirist is a romantic, i can see how her story bowled him over.

for me, the dilemma of this book is this: i trust Twain’s judgement. he was not a man ignorant of human nature. he had few if any illusions about our foibles and failings. he did a lot of research on her life, he spent years and years on this book, and he considered it his best. and he found her spotless.

so, being the modern person that i am, i have to ask: is any person spotless? can we trust Twain’s judgement? didn’t Jeanne, at least once, feel a need to hit some English twit with a sword just because it felt good, or wish to pee in a clergyman’s beer at the trials?

and then, you know, i loathe my times and my modern outlook, because i am unable to believe that she hadn’t significant flaws or weaknesses. at some level, i want to drag her down to the dirt with the rest of us. i won’t be happy until i have proved her human.

and then, my trust in Twain intervenes: maybe she was all he said. it’s possible.

so, the question i am left with has nothing whatsoever to do with the book itself. that question is: what the hell is wrong with us, that we cannot believe that a person could be spotless? not perfect, but spotless–true to the bone to the exalted moral values: fidelity, honesty, bravery, valor in battle, genuine patriotism, utterly generous and not one whit self-serving.

why can’t i quite believe in this depiction of Jeanne d’Arc? what a debased creature i am. i might as well be one of Jeanne’s English judges, who sold their religion and their morals for a such a small advancement. if every person has her price… i dread to think of mine.