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Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
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Pope Joan (1996)

by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,1881142,518 (3.89)125
  1. 40
    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (meggyweg)
  2. 20
    A Golden Web by Barbara Quick (Caramellunacy)
    Caramellunacy: Both are stories that weave around the few bare bones facts known about women who allegedly made great contributions while disguised as men. The themes of the importance of education are similar - as is the controversy surrounding whether they actually existed. A Golden Web is about a female anatomist who made a remarkable discovery, Pope Joan about the alleged female pope.… (more)
  3. 10
    The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth by Peter Stanford (amyblue)
  4. 10
    Pope Joan by Emmanuel Royidis (myshelves)
  5. 00
    Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell (BookshelfMonstrosity)
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» See also 125 mentions

English (100)  Swedish (3)  Dutch (2)  Lithuanian (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  German (2)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (113)
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Excerpts from my original GR review (Aug 2009):
- To get the positives out of the way: This story, despite relative length, had a steadily unfolding pace to it. The author seems to have invested much in making this an entertainment.
- However, I had several issues with this novel, my two major ones being:
1. One of the major threads is a stewing romance. Just not my thing.
2. Far! Far! too many contrivances...here. The all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipresent characterization of Joan is a huge put-off for me. Her ability to cure the sick, see through walls, arise from a dungeon as if a siesta, were borderline comic book heroics. Which is fine for comic books.
- I have other gripes,...the plastic personages of historic characters; and my quick realization that I have zero interest in 9th century papal intrigue. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Sep 4, 2018 |
I was completely unaware of the legend of Pope Joan, not to mention the evidence that she was more than just a legend, when I picked up this book. I quickly got into it and enjoyed reading it. I find it interesting that there were certain aspects/difficulties of a woman disguising herself as a man while surrounded by so many people that I didn't even think about until after I finished the book. I did find that the characters were a little stereotyped - they seemed to either be good (kind, educated) or bad (unkind, uneducated). But this was a creative take on the idea of a female pope that we know nothing about, so in all cases it is notunexpected that the author will take creative license with certain aspects. Overall I enjoyed the book.
  GretchenLynn | Feb 5, 2018 |
This is a great read. I had a hard time putting it down. It brings 9th century Europe to life, and makes you grateful you didn't live then--especially if you're a woman! The book is based on the legend of Pope Joan, a woman who lived as a man in order to fulfill her ambitions of education and independence. She eventually rose to rule Christianity as Pope. ( )
  Janellreads | Oct 18, 2017 |
This is another book I would like to give 3.5 stars. I thought the story was interesting and the descriptions of life in the 9th century. I enjoyed the bits of history (although we didn't need to make it almost to the end to find out that Karolus and Constantine are the same person!). But I thought the way the story was written, with all the last-minute saves and the fact that all characters were either good or evil, did not do justice to the story. It was an easy read and I am glad I read it but it's not a book I will come back to. ( )
  400mom | Nov 23, 2016 |
En stark kvinna som står för det hon tror på i en mansdominerad värld. Orädd och går mot strömmen, följer det hon tror på även om det krossar hennes hjärta. Stark bok!
  MalinHagman | Sep 15, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Donna Woolfolk Crossprimary authorall editionscalculated
Neuhaus, WolfgangTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my father,William Woolfolk
and there are no words to add
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It was the twenty-eighth day of Wintarmanoth in the year of our Lord 814, the harshest winter in living memory.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345416260, Paperback)

One of the most controversial women of history is brought to brilliant life in Donn Woolfolk Cross's tale of Pope Joan, a girl whose origins should have kept her in squalid domesticity. Instead, through her intelligence, indomitability and courage, she ascended to the throne of Rome as Pope John Anglicus.

The time is 814, the place is Ingelheim, a Frankland village. It is the harshest winter in living memory when Joan is born to an English father and a Saxon mother. Her father is a canon, filled with holy zeal and capable of unconscionable cruelty. His piety does not extend to his family members, especially the females. His wife, Gudrun, is a young beauty to whom he was attracted beyond his will--and he hates her for showing him his weakness. Gudrun teaches Joan about her gods, and is repeatedly punished for it by the canon. Joan grows to young womanhood with the combined knowledge of the warlike Saxon gods and the teachings of the Church as her heritage. Both realities inform her life forever.

When her brother John, not a scholarly type, is sent away to school, Joan, who was supposed to be the one sent to school, runs away and joins him in Dorstadt, at Villaris, the home of Gerold, who is central to Joan's story. She falls in love with Gerold and their lives interesect repeatedly even through her Papacy. She is looked upon by all who know that she is a woman as a "lusus naturae," a freak of nature. "She was... male in intellect, female in body, she fit in nowhere; it was as if she belonged to a third amorphous sex." Cross makes the case over and over again that the status of women in the Dark Ages was little better than cattle. They were judged inferior in every way, and necessary evils in the bargain.

After John is killed in a Viking attack, Joan sees her opportunity to escape the fate of all her gender. She cuts her hair, dons her dead brother's clothes and goes into the world as a young boy. Gerold is away from Villaris at the time of the attack and comes home to find his home in ruins, his family killed and Joan among the missing. After the attack, Joan goes to a Benedictine monastery, is accepted as a young man of great learning, and eventually makes her way to Rome.

The author is at pains to tell the reader in an Epilogue that she has written the story as fiction because it is impossible to document Joan's accesion to the Papacy. The Catholic Church has done everything possible to deny this embarrassment. Whether or not one believes in Joan as Pope, this is a compelling story, filled with all kinds of lore: the brutishness of the Dark Ages, Vatican intrigue, politics and favoritism and most of all, the place of women in the Church and in the world. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Set against the turbulent events of the Dark Ages, a fictional account of the controversial figure of historical record profiles a spirited woman who, disguised as a man, rose to rule Christianity as the only woman ever to become pope

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