Pope Joan (Paperback)
Broadway Books, 9780307452368, 432pp.
Publication Date: June 9, 2009
"Pope Joan has all the elements one wants in a historical drama – love, sex, violence, duplicity, and long-buried secrets. Cross has written an engaging book."–Los Angeles Times Book Review
In this international bestseller and basis for the 2009 movie of the same name, Donna Woolfolk Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor and shares the dramatic story of a woman whose strength of vision led her to defy the social restrictions of her day.
For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die–-Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter. Now in this riveting novel, Cross paints a sweeping portrait of an unforgettable heroine who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.
Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn. When her brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak--and his identity--and enters the monastery of Fulda. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great scholar and healer. Eventually, she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics. Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest office in Christendom--wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. But such power always comes at a price . . .
"Brings the savage ninth century vividly to life in all its alien richness. An enthralling, scholarly historical novel."
--Rebecca Fraser, Author of The Brontës
About the Author
In 1973, Cross moved to Syracuse, New York, with her husband and began teaching in the English department at an upstate New York college. She is the author of two books on language, Word Abuse and Mediaspeak, and coauthor of Speaking of Words. The product of seven years of research and writing, Pope Joan is her first novel. Cross is at work on a new novel set in 17th century France.
Praise For Pope Joan: A Novel…
“A fascinating and moving account of a woman’s determination to learn, despite the opposition of family and society. Highly recommended.”–Library Journal (starred review)
“Cross makes an excellent, entertaining case that in the Dark Ages, a woman sat on the papal throne. . . . A colorful, richly imagined novel.” –Publishers Weekly
“Pope Joan reveals the harsh realities of the Dark Ages. Violence is rife in the government, church and home; logic and reason are shunned as “dangerous ideas” and women are considered useful only as men’s servants and child bearers. The novel explores the extraordinary life of an independent, intelligent and courageous woman who overcomes oppression and ascends to the highest level of religious power. . . . Cross’ masterful use of anticipation, as well as the sweeping historical landscape of the story, keep Pope Joan intriguing. . . . An exciting journey through history as it’s being made.”–San Francisco Chronicle
“Eloquently written and spellbinding in its account of this legendary figure.” –Arizona Republic
“The life of an intelligent, headstrong woman in 9th-century Europe, the kind of woman who might have dared such an adventure in an era when obedience was a woman’s most admired trait. . . . Cross succeeds admirably, grounding her fast-moving tale in a wealth of rich historical detail.” –Orlando Sentinel
“A story of passion and faith–and a reminder that some things never change, only the stage and players do.”–Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“A remarkable woman uses her considerable intellect–and more than a little luck–to rise from humble origins to become the only female Pope, in this breakneck adventure.” –Kirkus Reviews
“A page-turner!” –Glamour
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Did Joan make the right choice at that moment when she decided to disguise herself as her dead brother? What would her life have been like had she chosen differently?
- What happens to Joan when she tries to improve the lives of women and the poor? Why do you think Church and civic leaders were resistant to such improvements? Have there been similar instances in modern society?
- Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Are they ever truly resolved?
- Do you think Joan's secret would ever have been discovered had she not miscarried during the Papal procession or had she not become pregnant?
- If the Viking raid had not intervened to keep them apart, do you think Joan and Gerold could have had a happy life together?
- Why do you think medieval society considered it unnatural and a sin for women to educate themselves or be educated? It was also believed that education hampered a woman's ability to bear children. What purpose might that belief have served?
- Although the position of women in society has changed dramatically since the middle ages, do you feel there are similarities between the way women live in various societies today and the way they lived in society then?
- According to one reviewer, "Joan has the kind of vices—stubbornness and outspokenness, for example—that turn out to be virtues." Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?
- How important is it that Pope Joan actually existed? Are there lessons to be learned from this story whether it's true or not? What do you think those lessons are?