If you're like me, squeezing in my reading time before bed is about the only way I can get through a book or novel or magazine these days. So this weekend I started reading our next book for our November 18th discussion, JOAN OF ARC: HER STORY by Regine Pernoud. I would encourage you to get it soon because it's our most in-depth so far and the one that makes you want to read more and other books about the times in which Joan lived...that's likely because its author was a medievalist, and you can feel it..she's tenacious about the details. It's also of course wonderful to read a book (albeit translated) by a French historian about Joan of Arc, compared to the first book we read by an American Catholic feminist (Mary Gordon) and the second by an Irish socialist (George Bernard Shaw)!
What makes Pernoud's research and presentation all the more credible is that in the introduction Pernoud admits to having been a Joan skeptic and completely indifferent to Joan for years. Her attitude reminds me of the kind of adolescent disdain I've had for people that "everyone" seems to be interested in...if she's so popular, I'm going to ignore her...I am not going to fall for it!
But when she comes across Joan's trial notes she finds herself undeniably astounded and cannot resist the pull to find out more. What results is several books about Joan, a testament to her sincere fascination in someone she'd written off originally as no more than an overused symbol of nationalism (as Joan was so used during Pernoud's lifetime in France) and a possible myth.
Indeed, this change of heart and attention to documentation is what makes this book so satisfying. It's not a traditional biography, as Kirkus Reviews explains:
A useful and innovative documentary history of the15th-century French insurrectionist. Pernoud, who died in April, has supplemented her previous biography, Joan of Arc (1966), by offering readers this annotated explanation of the controversial saint's historical record. It isn't a biography per se and doesn't follow the standard biographical format of piecing together the available sources to present readers with a chronological narrative. Rather, Pernoud and Clin introduce readers to Joan as she has appeared in various documents, such as the one, contemporary with her lifetime, referring to her as a French peasant girl gathering armed forces to augment the beleaguered ranks of the dauphin's regiment. Information about her birth and childhood is unveiled only in chapter nine, since Joan rose from relative obscurity, and since no one cared enough to inquire formally into her origins until almost three decades after her death. The approach of Pernoud and Clin, both independent scholars in France, thus offers valuable insight into the nature of history and its practices; documents, as their book demonstrates, should always be weighed carefully against one another when any past event is being interpreted. The authors note that while many legends have emerged about Joan (the third section delves into some of these), more verifiable factual information exists about her than about Plato, Julius Caesar, or Jesus.
Remember that Garden District Book Shop, who hosts our discussions, also offers Joan of Arc Book Club members a discount. Deborah McDonald, store manager, is well-read about Joan and much much more...stop in and visit..and come back Wednesday November 18th if you can for our conversation about Joan.