Women's History Resource Site

King's College History Department

Book Review

Pernoud, Regine. Joan of Arc. New York: Grove Press, 1961.


Joan of Arc is one of the most intriguing people in all of history.   Her name is known virtually all over the world and authors throughout history have tried to capture the essence of Joanís life in the numerous books they have written.   This is a very hard thing to accomplish due to the fact that her life, in the arena of history, is a unique one.   It is hard for an author and even a historian to put aside bias, skepticism, and religious beliefs.   It is even harder to ignore the accomplishments and historical documentation.   In the book, Joan of Arc, by Regine Pernoud the author tries to bring together all aspects of Joanís life into one definitive work.   As C.V. Wedgwood puts it from her book review in the November 1966 issue of Book Week, Joan of Arc by herself and her witnesses, "She gives only the essential framework necessary to join it together into a clear narrative".    Pernoud has compiled numerous sources many of them being primary sources.   If one were to read they would find out just how much comes from the actual time period.   The intended audience of this work is for the advanced popular to the professional person.  

     This particular book breaks up the story and life of Joan of Arc into four sections.   The first is the legends of Joanís life, the second and third are the story of her life and her place in history, the fourth and last section is about events after her death and her eventual saint-hood.   One of the conclusions that Pernoud reaches in the first section is what she calls, "the paradox of the posthumous fate of Joan" (28).   During her life she became a legend, a heroine, but it is not until the nineteenth century that Joan was seriously looked at as a historical figure and a force in history other than fairytale.   Other than the differentiation between legend and historical figure the book gives a very detailed and specific account of Joanís life.   Pernoud uses various primary sources such as accounts of her trial and rehabilitation, and numerous original documents in both French and Latin.   She also puts into use many secondary sources which includes previous studies on Joan and works on the time period and people of importance.   The book is also supplemented with numerous pictures and maps, which makes reading the book quite easy.   Many of the pictures depict Joan in either a saintly manner, at war/battle, or in some sort of holy crusade.   The maps are not all that helpful but they do give you a picture of the area that Joan operates in.   This is one area I think that the author could have improved on.   With the addition of more useful maps the reader could identify with the environment in which Joan lived.

     This work had some very admirable qualities.   First was the goal that the author was trying to reach, which was to give as good a description of Joan of Arcís life as possible and separating the legend from the history, and she was very successful in her task.   Right from the beginning she tells the reader what the popular beliefs of Joan are and how as a true historian or anyone interested in history you must look beyond these "epic" stories and get to the facts.   Her entire first chapter supports this way of thinking.   Her style of writing, to me, was not turgid but palpable.   I could stomach the reading but as the book went on she seemed to lose me with very detailed information.   Her narrative could at times, as I said, be very detailed and hence become very boring.   I became bogged down with the sheer weight of all the names, dates, cities, battles, titles, and countless other needless information.   But as far as complete works go, Pernoud does not fail to cram her full of detail.   She uses her primary sources extremely well.   Most of these sources are on the events at Joanís actual trial and her rehabilitation.   She quite frequently towards the end of the book quotes these sources and uses the actual translations of Joanís statements.   This I found to be very interesting if I am to believe in the validity of the original documents.   Never in my reading on this particular topic have I seen anyone use original documents as sources and incorporate them into their work.   This was, to me, extremely scholarly and she does it quite well.  

     While it is true that I did enjoy this book it was not without itsí flaws.   One of the most obvious was her extremely overused pictures/illustrations.   Though many of them were interesting they could have been cut back without taking anything away from the book.   Secondly, many of the illustrations are very poorly described.   On page 35 there is an illustration of a manuscript written in French and the description indicates that the manuscript is a listing for the amount of money spent on Isabelle Romee.   It even tells you what the line number is in the manuscript.   But since it is in French I have no clue what I am looking at.   For all of my knowledge the picture could be a television listing.   The other major flaw is her citing.   As I mentioned she uses many primary sources effectively and quotes them quite well.   There are cases though with other sources that she seems to rely heavily on.   Not so much in how often she uses them but in the fact that she uses large bodies of quotations.   On page 112 there is a quote that literally takes all but about ten lines of the page.   Then not four pages later she uses another, which is equally as long.   For me I wanted to read what this person had to say and what new information she had to contribute to this subject.  As I read I became more discouraged because I began to realize I was reading excerpts from many different books.   I quickly grew tired of reading block after block of quotes, which were only, followed with a few paragraphs of her, I hope, original thoughts.   This took away from my opinion of this author and made me seriously consider the validity of her work.

     As a book contributing to the field of Joan of Arc and to this era of Medieval history I would say her was an excellent book.   It had a wealth of information, supplied names, dates, cities, towns, battles, documents etc.   This book is strongly recommended for the college student as a great all around source.   It gives great detail and supplies enough information to give whoever reads it an extremely strong base to work from.   Aside from itsí weaknesses this work is highly recommended to all who want to gain a stronger understanding of all the events leading to Joanís death and her posthumous rise in the annuls of history.

     In conclusion Regine Pernoud has done an exceptional job of putting together a solid piece of literature.   In review of another of her works, Retrial of Joan of Arc; the evidence at the trial for her rehabilitation, Geoffrey Bruun, of the New York Herald Book Review, November, 1955, makes numerous comments about her running commentary with the testimony of Joanís second trial.   Again this shows her ability to use primary sources not just for information but she is also able to interpret them and help the reader to better understand what it is they are reading.

 One area that I would have been interested in reading about further was her first chapter on the legend of Joan.   I would like to have seen more time spent on discussing in more detail the legends of Joan.   What they were?, How did they get started?, How did it take away from her validity as a part of history until now?, What were the reasonsí for the legends?   To review, Pernoud writes on the life of Joan of Arc from the earliest of legends, to her life, to her place in history, and on through her saint hood.   Each of these areas she does a fine job, especially in the section about her life.   It is very detailed and for anyone doing any kind of research would have seriously consider using this book.  

This book was well written and fascinating at best.   As far as research materials go I give it a "10", but it does not always read well.   As I said I would like to see the first chapter expanded and less crutch work in the quotations.   If I were to recommend this book it would have to be, "get it, use it, get what you need, and put it down".   It is not the best reading in the world but the information is extremely useful.


Bruun, Geoffrey. Review on Retrial of Joan of Arc; the evidence at the trial for her rehabilitation. by Regine Pernoud. New York Herald Book Review, November 1955.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Bruun provides an excellent paragraph on this particular work of Pernoud's.  Again it shows the use of information as being well used and written.  Bruun is especially pleased with how Pernoud's work cpontributes to the work already done on Joan.  He examines how well this book was written and commends it as a scholarly work with great attention to the facts and details.  He notes the use of primary sources and how important those facts are to the work.

Wedgewood, C.V.  Review of Joan of Arc by herself and her witnesses, by Regine Pernoud. Book Week, November 1966.
Wedgewood's review is a short paragraph on his reactions to this work.  He concentrates on the work as a biography and its' impact on the field.  Wedgewood concentrates on the style of writing as a useful tool and the strength of this scholarly work.  Wedgewood makes his opinion clear that he likes this book and finds it very helpful due to its' clearly well written style and use of narrative.  He makes further comments on the information used in the book and their ability to paint a full picture.



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