She was an unschooled country peasant that lifted the fortunes of her uncrowned King and nation on her shoulders, but when she needed them was abandoned. Joan of Arc stands alone among Mark Twain’s bibliography as a historical novel about the one person in history he admires above all others.
Twain’s account of Joan of Arc’s life is written from the perspective of a fictional version of Joan’s former secretary and page Sieur Louis de Conte written at the end of his life to his great-nephews and nieces. The first part of the book focuses on her life in the village of Domremy, essentially where all but the last two years of her life occurred, and the beginning of her visions then quest to fulfill the commission she received. The second part is her successful meeting with the King, formal acknowledgement of the Church that she wasn’t a witch, then her year-long military campaign—with numerous breaks due to political interference and foot dragging by Charles VII—that saw her mission completed, and finally her capture by the Burgundians. The final part of the book was of her year in captivity and the long grueling “legal” process that the English-paid French clergy put her through to murder her as a heretic. The final chapter is of Conte giving a brief account of the feckless Charles VII waiting over two decades to Rehabilitate his benefactor after allowing her to be murdered by not paying her ransom all those years before.
This was a labor of love for Twain to write and it was easy to tell given how professionally researched it was in every detail. While many 20th-Century critics and other Twain admirers don’t like this book because it’s not “classic” Twain because of his praise of Joan given that she’s French, Catholic, and a martyr when he disliked or hated all three; they didn’t seem to understand his hero worship of this teenage girl who put a nation on her shoulders to resurrect its existence. Yet, while this was a straight historical novel there are touches of Twain especially in Conte’s “relating” the adventures of the Domremy boys when they were not in Joan’s presence, especially Paladin.
Joan of Arc is not the typical Mark Twain work, but that doesn’t mean one can not appreciate it for well, if not professionally, researched historical novel that it is.