Women's History Resource Site

King's College History Department

Book Review

Belloc, Hilaire. Joan of Arc. London: Cassell & Company, 1929.

There have been many women throughout history who have left an impression that spans the decades and even centuries since their deaths.  Some women have left an eternal mark, which compels us to relive their lives again and again.  But even among so many miraculous women one stands out.  A woman whose life is retold again and again through stories, legends, movies, plays, and books.  The story of Joan of Arc can be quite difficult to believe but what cannot be denied are the things she accomplished.  Hilaire Belloc, in his book Joan of Arc, is trying to give a concise overview of Joanís life and at the same time make it easy to read for just about any reader.  A review from the May 1930 issue of Catholic World makes the statement that it is simple enough even for a child to read.  Pratt from the New York Times reviewed it as not vivid or detailed but that it still brought across the essence of the type of person that Joan was.  In this review I want to focus on the way the book was written and decide whether this book contributes to the subject.

     What is this book about?  It tells the story of Joan of Arc from beginning to end.  The style in which the book is written is a narrative and progresses through her life in chronological order.  He writes the book in such a way that younger readers will find it very easy to follow.  It is almost written like a fictional story.  Belloc gives a voice, or really a dialogue, to the "voices" that Joan hears as a child.  If there is a written record of what the voices supposedly said he makes no reference to it.  For him to tell the life of Joan like a fairy tale allows the reader to not think of it so much as history.  The reader can escape from reality and accept some of the things that take place without question.  Only when the impact of her life and her accomplishments are mentioned at the end of the book is the reader brought back to reality and realizes that this really happened.  The book itself is very plain, that is to say that it has no art, pictures, or anything that might bring the story more to life or to make it more real to the reader.  Belloc has no bibliography at the end of the book to show you where he researched his information.  To me this is a huge omission and makes the validity of his work questionable.  Not to say that the information is false but that as a writer and researcher has he been honest. 

     This book had only a few commendable qualities.  The author clearly writes a concise biography of Joan of Arc.  It is easy to read and sticks with the important general facts, never going into great detail.  For a basic overview of Joanís life without getting bogged down with details and fruitless information this book does a top rate job.  As a childrenís to young adult book it is a valuable resource.  Unfortunately this is where the strengths of the book end.

     Its weaknesses are very clear even from the moment you pick the book up.  The lack of visual aids for starters.  Never have I seen a supposed scholarly work with nothing but writing.  There is no cover art, pictures, or any kind of extra effort put into this book.  Even the table of contents is bland with the Belloc naming his chapters I to V.  It is written for a younger audience and to have this work in a college library is not only embarrassing but also offensive.  The lack of a bibliography takes away from the authenticity of the work and further establishes itself as a lesser work. 

     This book does nothing for people who want to further their education.  I would recommend this to anyone who has to do a book report or project on Joan of Arc.  It is just a general work on the subject and is far from scholarly.  It does succeed as being a good starting point for younger people just starting to learn about the subject.  So the reviewers were on the right track when they said that it was written as if to a child.

     So in conclusion this was not a bad book.  Its target audience should really be grade school students rather than college students.  The author really needed to add some visual aids if only to offset the page after page of writing.  As far as a biography goes he covered Joanís life well.  It is a good place to start but should not be seriously considered a complete work on the subject.  As a college student the book was poor but by stepping back and looking at it objectively it is a well written work.  Again I would only recommend this book to younger readers and not for anyone who wants to really seriously study the subject.


Pratt.  Review of Joan of Arc, by Hilaire Belloc. New York Times Book Review, Summer 1930, 36.
Pratt gives a very brief review of this book but one that is very positive.  His comments are very favorable with statements like, "there is no finer book", and "no more beautiful or realistic book has ever been written on the Maid".  He praised the details in the book as accurate as well as moving.  Pratt's enjoyed this book and wrote that it was a very moving work.

No Author. Review on Joan of Arc. by Hilaire Belloc. Catholic World, May 1930, 220.
This review took a very positive response to the book.  It really only focused on the way it was written and how the story of Joan was told.  They seemed concerned on how she was portrayed and how her story was told.  They say that this book was not written by a professional writer but a person who really understood Joan's story and life.



King's College URL: http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/reviewbelloc.html
Written by Paul Lindenmuth, December 5 2000
Last Revision: 18 December 2001
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