Book Review: “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” by Mark Twain

Title: Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Author: Mark Twain

Genre: Biographical fiction

Year of Publication: 1896

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5 stars)

“With Joan of Arc love of country was more than a sentiment–it was a passion. She was the Genius of Patriotism–she was Patriotism embodied, concreted, made flesh, and palpable to the touch and visible to the eye.”

— The Sieur Louis de Conte

Today, I wrapped up my reading of “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” by Mark Twain. My aim was to see myself through 100 pages maximum, but Twain’s narration was like a magnetic field that kept me fixed till I completed the whole book.

Never have I before seen such a perfect concoction of pathos, inspiration and life lessons betwixt book covers.

Here, Twain, an anti-Catholic and a Francophobe, shockingly fashions out of himself a page and constructs a fact-based faux biography as a tribute to one of history’s most significant figures.

His haunting prose was one thing, but the real attraction was the characterization of  La Pucelle d’Orléans. Instead of a calculated academic approach or a neutral historical depiction, he showed that prodigious child to the world as a human being – an extraordinary one, it goes sans saying – through the lens of an almost inconspicuous, but an observant childhood friend and man-at-arms, the Sieur Louis de Conte.

His extensive, exhaustive research on his subject is crystallized in his pages. Every figure of speech, every word, every punctuation does justice to Joan of Arc’s wit, worth and while.

Personal Recollections, when you’re done, will feel like a reliving and not merely a retelling. One is bound to feel this way because of the many parallels that can be drawn between her life and that of anyone who has experienced exploitation on account of innocence, ignorance, piety and steadfastness.

The best part about the book is its simultaneous appeal to contrasting emotions. When you’re on the verge of tears, pondering the patheticness of Joan’s punic trial and imprisonment, you find your lips curling upward when you read her witty retorts that retained their oomph even when death stared her in the face.

Also deserving of special mention is his treatment of the Catholic Church and the figures that dominated it during Joan of Arc’s time. He rebuts the “religious” and their acts, while according respect to the religion and its theological framework through his narrator.

Although highly subjective where the titular character is concerned, Twain does not fail to leave an indelible idea of faith, inspiration, loyalty, humanity and courage.


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