Ladies Guide to History: Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison

Who Was She:

Joan of Arc’s story is absolutely captivating. As woman called to save her kingdom through warfare she went against so many social norms and conventions for her gender. She was many things people look up to: fearless, strong, brave, and utterly determined to save France. It’s with good reason her story has captivated so many people including a pope who had her canonized and the author Mark Twain. Kathryn Harrison’s Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured is the biography I chose to read and she does a good job at providing a detailed account of Joan’s life.

Joan came from fairly humble beginnings as part of a middle-class family. She lived in the midst of the Hundred Years War between England and France. She watched as her village was ravaged by war by one side or the other.

When Joan was 13 she began to hear the voices of angels and saints convincing her that she had an important role to fill. Joan was the predestined Pucelle or virgin that would lead France to victory. But she faced an uphill task, convincing people of who she was destined to be, including her own family.  That a woman could lead an army to victory was hard to swallow. Eventually, the people around her were convinced, in no small part due to Joan’s conviction. Once she convinced the people close to her she was able to gradually convince more and more people including the king and his advisors. Who was able to give Joan an army.

Joan’s ultimate goal was to get the King of France to his coronation in Reims. But in order to get there, the King had to travel through many cities captured by the English. Joan went from city to city freeing them from the English and was able to safely lead the King to her coronation. With each victory, her knights and the people in the cities she passed through became more and more enthralled by her. But even though she succeeded in her task, this was not enough. Joan wanted to free France from the English so she kept fighting battles and during one of these battles after the coronation she was injured and captured.

The English held her captive for a year during where she was imprisoned in small dark cells subjected to the treatment of antagonistic guards and many brutal interrogations from people who wanted nothing more than to prove that she was a liar and prove the visions she claimed came from God were instead from the devil. After a year captivity a trial was held and to avoid execution she said that her voices came from the devil but later when it became clear she was to be executed anyway she recanted, everything was true and from heaven. She was accused of wearing men’s clothes and was executed the same way witches were executed by burning alive at the stake.

After the execution people were convinced they had made a horrible mistake. Later, after Joan’s death another trial was held, one where she was declared innocent. She was eventually beautified and made a saint.

My Thoughts on the Book:

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Kathryn Harrison provides a very detailed account of Joan’s life, especially of her military campaigns. The author does many things well in this biography, she provides a thorough accounting of Joan’s life and the skepticism that Joan faced. Although, at times the author herself comes off as a skeptic. But the reader can tell that the author finds this woman remarkable for what she accomplished.

The writing tended to be a little overly detailed for me. But I think that’s probably because I had very little background knowledge about the time period and about Joan herself so at times I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of detail. However, I think that someone who had an interest in Joan of Arc and had read some other materials and had some background knowledge would find this book quite interesting.

What I particularly liked about this book was the comparisons of the conceptions of Joan that pop culture has perpetuated. There are many different aspects of Joan and people create a Joan that mirrors the point that they are trying to make. The author includes many examples of how film and the other forms of media have changed the story of Joan to fit with the point that they are trying to get across. But the author makes sure that you know what is fact and what is fiction. I think I would actually have enjoyed learning more about the people and groups that identified with Joan of Arc, like the suffragettes.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It gave me a detailed understanding of a cultural icon that is ubiquitous in our society and this understanding will help me understand what these people are championing when they identify with Joan of Arc. This was a fascinating read.


Previous Ladies Guide Posts:

Ladies Guide to History: The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

The Ladies Guide to History: The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldier by Elizabeth Cobbs

Ladies Guide to History: Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey

The Ladies Guide to History: Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford

The Ladies Guide to History: Hildegard of Bingen

 

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A Ladies Guide to History… So far.

 

What is the Ladies Guide to History

As today, or what remains of today is International Women’s Day I thought I would update you on all the cool women I have been reading about this past year. The Ladies Guide to History is a series of posts where I’ve been chronicling reading my way through history through women’s biographies. (albeit not in any kind of order as most of my biographies comefrom library book sales) What I’ve learned so far is that women’s place in history has been vastly underestimated. So many of these women have impacted history in a major way. This is an ongoing series and I’m looking forward to what and who I’ll be learning about next.

My Past Ladies Guides:

Ladies Guide to History: The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

The Ladies Guide to History: The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldier by Elizabeth Cobbs

Ladies Guide to History: Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey

The Ladies Guide to History: Lucrezia Borgia by Sarah Bradford

The Ladies Guide to History: Hildegard of Bingen

The Ladies Guide to History: Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

The Ladies Guide to History: Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir 

Do you have any women’s biography recommendations? Let me know!

 

Ladies Guide to History: The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

Who Was She?

Hatshepsut was a woman who had the courage to take power and the fortitude to hold that power in a society where women in power went against the status quo. Because she went against the status quo she was often thought of as power hungry, and that she stole power from the true (male) owner of that power. The author, Kara Cooney, of The Woman Who Would Be King goes a long way in proving Hatshepsut’s story was different than what was previously believed. Continue reading

The Ladies Guide to History: The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldier by Elizabeth Cobbs

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Who Were They?

When the United States Army entered WWI they soon realized that they had a problem. They needed experienced operators to run the switchboards that had become the primary source of communication between commanders in the field while in Europe. Army commanders realized that the enlisted men they had trained to do the job just weren’t able to gain the experience and efficiency that they needed. So the higher-ups decided to recruit some of the women who did it professionally. Continue reading

Ladies Guide to History: Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams by Lynne Withey

 

 

“I desire you would Remember the Ladies… Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to forment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Repersentation.”

– Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams is often thought of one of the United States first feminists and in some respects, this is certainly true. She believed that women were not, as often thought, the intellectual inferiors to men and many of her actions back this up. In Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams Lynne Withey discusses Abigail’s life and her contributions to the newly formed United States and to feminism.  Continue reading

The Ladies Guide to History: Hildegard of Bingen

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Hildegard was a woman who did everything she never was supposed to do and made no apologies for it. She was an abbess, although never officially given the title, composer, prophet, scientist, preacher, author and so many other things. Hildegard came to my attention in music history class when listening to the music of the Medieval Period. Imagine my surprise when a piece of music  played turned out to be beautiful and was written by a woman. This was indeed rare as any other student of music history can attest. Even after a few years this woman still had my interest so I decided to read a biographies about her.  Continue reading