Joan of Arc
A Life Transfigured
By Kathryn Harrison
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385531207, 400pp.)
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
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The profoundly inspiring and fully documented saga of Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl whose "voices" moved her to rally the French nation and a reluctant king against British invaders in 1428, has fascinated artistic figures as diverse as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Carl Dreyer, and Robert Bresson. Was she a divinely inspired saint? A schizophrenic? A demonically possessed heretic, as her persecutors and captors tried to prove?
Every era must retell and reimagine the Maid of Orleans's extraordinary story in its own way, and in Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, the superb novelist and memoirist Kathryn Harrison gives us a Joan for our time—a shining exemplar of unshakable faith, extraordinary courage, and self-confidence during a brutally rigged ecclesiastical inquisition and in the face of her death by burning. Deftly weaving historical fact, myth, folklore, artistic representations, and centuries of scholarly and critical interpretation into a compelling narrative, she restores Joan of Arc to her rightful position as one of the greatest heroines in all of human history.
KATHRYN HARRISON has written the novels Thicker Than Water, Exposure, Poison, The Binding Chair, The Seal Wife, and Envy and Enchantments. Her autobiographical work includes The Kiss, Seeking Rapture, The Road to Santiago, and The Mother Knot. She has also written a biography, St. Therese of Lisieux, and a book of true crime, While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their three children.
Praise for Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured:
"The versatile Harrison—novelist, biographer, memoirist and true-crime writer—becomes the most recent in a long list of authors to tell the story of the unusual warrior... Harrison knew, of course, about the daunting list of previous interpreters, including William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht and Mark Twain. She wisely examines some of those previous interpretations, finding some of the speculation and historicism plausible but some of it wanting. Harrison examines Joan as a sexual being as well as a warrior and perhaps a schizophrenic. The sexuality angle becomes especially provocative when Harrison discusses how God may have favored Joan due to the virginity she advertised so boldly... Harrison joins the psychobiography school of life writing, doing so with memorable writing and an energetic approach."
“If you want a badass heroine like Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild crossed with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (only with angels & Jesus) read Kathryn Harrison's hair-raising bio of Joan of Arc—the best of six I've read. She weaves a mesmerizing tale of this cross-dressing warrior who made her torturers weep, who plowed her way to the throne and led an army while never shedding a drop of blood. This year's cult book.”
—Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club and Lit
“A girl walks into a prophecy and winds up a myth. How does that even happen? In Joan of Arc, Kathryn Harrison makes the most improbable of lives—that of the restless farmer’s daughter who casts a spell over 15th century France—seem possible again. Working from trial records and modern literature, the Bible and Bresson, Harrison marshals all the forces. The result is sumptuous, as rich and radiant as Joan’s (apocryphal) golden cloak.”
—Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra
“I’m impressed by the way Kathryn Harrison so brilliantly blends narrative and scholarship in this gorgeous rendering of Joan of Arc’s story. Harrison draws on her deep understanding of religion, feminism and literature to produce the biography of one of the most interesting women in history. She was a mystery, a virgin, visionary, soldier and martyr, and Harrison shows vividly how all these strands connect. If you’ve never quite managed to get around to reading a book about Joan of Arc (I hadn’t), this is the one to read. If you’ve read all the others, you’ll need to read this one, too.”
—Roxana Robinson, author of Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life