Joan of Arc is a captivating historic figure, so when I saw a new book about her, I knew I wanted to read it. Moya Longstaffe, the author of Joan of Arc and ‘The Great Pity of the Land of France’ does a thorough job of capturing the world in which Joan lived. In the prologue, she explains her goal in writing the book, “My aim is to bring Joan and those who knew her vividly to life…” Within the first few pages, it was obvious that she would accomplish her goal. One way she does this is by giving a vivid direct voice to the indirect testimony of witnesses in Joan’s trials.
The book is broken into two main sections. The first section, “The Great Pity of the Land of France,” delves into the history of the conflict between France and England. The second section, “A Girl Called Joan from Domrémy,” explores Joan’s life, from her childhood until her death. Since one of the first things I look for in a biography is a bibliography, I was pleased to see that Longstaffe included an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources, as well as chapter notes.
Longstaffe crafts her prose in such a way to appeal to both academics and to the novice historian. In one chapter, she discusses a woman called Catherine de la Rochelle, who was rumored to have visions.In explaining Joan’s reaction to the woman, Longstaffe writes, “Joan saw her for a fraud, told her to go home and look after her husband and family and reported to the king it was all a load of rubbish, which greatly displeased both Brother Richard and his protégée.”
I appreciated the humor that Longstaffe inserted throughout the book. Joan had been admonished not to allow people to kiss her hand as she rode by, but Joan responded, “Truth to tell, I couldn’t protect myself against such things if God wasn’t protecting me.” Longstaffe dryly remarks, “Today’s celebrities are protected by bodyguards, but Joan had no such firewall.”
As in most books, a few typographical errors creep in, but this does not detract from the work as a whole. Longstaffe’s admiration for Joan seeps into the book, yet it doesn’t seem to keep her from presenting a balanced account. I enjoyed the way the author brings the book to an end, but to see that part, you need to read the book!