Summary and book reviews of Joan of Arc by Helen Castor

Joan of Arc

A History

by Helen Castor

Joan of Arc by Helen Castor X
Joan of Arc by Helen Castor
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  • First Published:
    May 2015, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves, the complex, surprising, and engaging story of one of the most remarkable women of the medieval world - as never told before.

Helen Castor tells afresh the gripping story of the peasant girl from Domremy who hears voices from God, leads the French army to victory, is burned at the stake for heresy, and eventually becomes a saint. But unlike the traditional narrative, a story already shaped by the knowledge of what Joan would become and told in hindsight, Castor's Joan of Arc: A History takes us back to fifteenth century France and tells the story forwards. Instead of an icon, she gives us a living, breathing woman confronting the challenges of faith and doubt, a roaring girl who, in fighting the English, was also taking sides in a bloody civil war. We meet this extraordinary girl amid the tumultuous events of her extraordinary world where no one - not Joan herself, nor the people around her - princes, bishops, soldiers, or peasants - knew what would happen next.

Adding complexity, depth, and fresh insight into Joan's life, and placing her actions in the context of the larger political and religious conflicts of fifteenth century France, Joan of Arc: A History is history at its finest and a surprising new portrait of this remarkable woman.

Introduction
'Joan of Arc'

In the firmament of history, Joan of Arc is a massive star. Her light shines brighter than that of any other figure of her time and place. Her story is unique, and at the same time universal in its reach. She is, famously, a protean icon: a hero to nationalists, monarchists, liberals, socialists, the right, the left, Catholics, Protestants, traditionalists, feminists, Vichy and the Resistance. She is a recurring motif, a theme replayed in art, literature, music and film. And the process of recounting her story and making her myth began from the moment she stepped into public view; she was as much an object of fascination and a subject of impassioned argument during her short life as she has been ever since.

In outline, her tale is both profoundly familiar and endlessly startling. Alone in the fields at Domrémy, a peasant girl hears heavenly voices bringing a message of salvation for France, which lies broken at the hands of the invading ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Joan of Arc felt a little like two different books with conflicting goals – early chapters strictly about French history and infighting, then chapters about Joan the Maid and her remarkable success, and then returning to French history after Joan's death. Both narratives are exceptionally well written, and although I have very limited knowledge of the subjects, they kept me riveted. Anyone interested in learning more about this period will want to read Joan of Arc: A History; Castor's outstanding ability to convey the important events and people that made up the political landscape make this one a winner...continued

Full Review (668 words).

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Times Higher Education (UK)
Clear and elegant ... an engaging piece of popular scholarship that does not diminish Joan's star, but instead uses its light to illuminate a remarkable age.

Evening Standard (UK)
An elegant, subtle biography of great historical integrity and sensitive understanding. Castor lets the humanity of Joan's story shine through.

The Times (UK)
Enlightening ... [an] elegant and vivid account.

The Guardian (UK)
There have been many lives of Joan, and books about her times, some of them excellent. But none is quite like Castor's ... [her] book is a historian's achievement.

The Sunday Times (UK)
Compelling ... [Castor] succeeds triumphantly in rescuing [Joan] from the various straitjackets in which she has been confined ... a fascinating and privileged insight.

The Daily Mail (UK), Book of the Week
A fascinating biography ... truly thrilling.

The Literary Review (UK)
Excellent ... perhaps Castor's greatest achievement is to remind us of just how extraordinary Joan was.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)
Popular history at its best: pacy, clear and undergirded with a formidable array of scholarly footnotes. Helen Castor shows how well it can be done.

Kirkus Reviews
An unorthodox yet erudite and elegant biography of this 'massive star.'

Publishers Weekly
Castor creates a strong introduction to the courageous girl who swore she heard saints' voices, but also to the nation-rending struggle for power so fiercely waged that only that singular, obsessive teenager could finally save France.

Library Journal
Readers interested in history, rather than folklore, will find this detailed framing of Joan's story very rewarding.

Author Blurb Trevor James, Historical Association/The Historian
With the meticulous scholarship that she revealed in She-Wolves, and in the same captivating manner, Helen Castor presents us with a very compelling analysis.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Yolande of Aragon

Popular history remembers Joan of Arc but not so much Yolande of Aragon (1384 – 1442) who, according to Helen Castor's Joan of Arc, was more influential in placing Charles VII on the throne of France than "The Maid of Orleans," or indeed of the rather weak-natured Charles himself.

Yolande of Aragon The kingdom of Aragon was a wealthy, independent monarchy in northeastern Spain from 1035 to 1714 (when its constitutional system was swept away at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession). Born in Saragossa, Yolande was the eldest daughter of Aragon's king, John I (1387 -1396) of the House of Barcelona and his second wife Yolande of Bar, who in turn was related to the Valois family to which France's monarchs of the era belonged (Charles V was ...

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