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The last days of Jeanne d'Arc by Ali…

The last days of Jeanne d'Arc

by Ali Alizadeh

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I loved every word of this spellbinding book, which kept me captivated to the last page even though I thought I knew what the ending must be.

(I had a conversation with The Spouse this morning about how we came to know the story of Joan of Arc: did we read it in The Victorian Reader, Fifth or Sixth Book? Or The School Magazine that came once a month? Was it one of those Annuals that we used to get each year at Christmas?)

[Edited a bit by me to reduce its length and the number of links & footnotes] Wikipedia summarises her life like this:

Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d’Arc), 1412-1431), nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans” (French: La Pucelle d’Orléans), is considered a heroine of France for her role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War and was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. Joan of Arc was born to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée, a peasant family, at Domrémy in north-east France. Joan said she received visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent Joan to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence after the siege was lifted only nine days later. Several additional swift victories led to Charles VII’s coronation at Reims. This long-awaited event boosted French morale and paved the way for the final French victory.

On 23 May 1430, she was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundian faction, which was allied with the English. She was later handed over to the English and put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon on a variety of charges. After Cauchon declared her guilty she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431, dying at about nineteen years of age.

This trial was later debunked and Jeanne was declared a martyr, and she was canonised as a saint in 1920. (The Catholic Church doesn’t rush into things, it seems).

Ali Alizadeh’s Jeanne d’Arc, however, is not quite the saintly Joan of my childhood memory. She is much more interesting, provocatively so. And although The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc is fiction, it is, according to the blurb, based on rigorous study of the historical material.

When the story opens Jeanne is a vulnerable captive, escorted into a dank cell by men waiting only for nightfall to violate her famed virginity.

Two more men enter, tense and compact. Steel helmets and poleaxes. In between them, another person. Being escorted by the guards. Being held by her wrists. She’s shorter than the room’s other occupants. A young woman. Filthy face. Her dark hair, a shoulder-length mess. Barefooted. Brought into the space unwillingly.

The guards take her to the centre of the cell. The captain with the key orders something in a foreign language. The other men avoid looking at the woman, continue to grip her wrists. She’s dressed like a man, in black tunic and black leggings.

The captain exits. The soldier with the spear glances at her. Her eyes are closed. The soldier’s fists tighten around his weapon. He grunts a phrase, puerile, forceful. Her lips tremble. One of the prison guards grins, stops grinning when the captain marches back in. (p.3-4)

As a condition of perpetual imprisonment rather than burning at the stake, she is forced out of the tunic and leggings which to some extent had protected her against sexual assault. She is shackled by the ankles and left alone to cry.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/09/23/the-last-days-of-jeanne-darc-by-ali-alizadeh/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Sep 23, 2017 |
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The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc blends fiction and nonfiction in its reconstruction of Jeanne’s life, not to offer a new conclusion about the warrior, but to urge us to view her otherwise than through the lens of her canonisation.
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