The profoundly inspiring and fully documented saga of Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl whose "voices" moved her to rally the French nation and a reluctant king against British invaders in 1428, has fascinated artistic figures as diverse as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Carl Dreyer, and Robert Bresson. Was she a divinely inspired saint? A schizophrenic? A demonically possessed heretic, as her persecutors and captors tried to prove?
Every era must retell and reimagine the Maid of Orleans's extraordinary story in its own way, and in Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, the superb novelist and memoirist Kathryn Harrison gives us a Joan for our time—a shining exemplar of unshakable faith, extraordinary courage, and self-confidence during a brutally rigged ecclesiastical inquisition and in the face of her death by burning. Deftly weaving historical fact, myth, folklore, artistic representations, and centuries of scholarly and critical interpretation into a compelling narrative, she restores Joan of Arc to her rightful position as one of the greatest heroines in all of human history.
About Kathryn Harrison
Kathryn Harrison is the author of the memoirs The Kiss and The Mother Knot. She has also written the novels Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water; a travel memoir, The Road to Santiago; a biography, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; and a collection of essays, Seeking Rapture. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their children.
Praise for Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured:
"It is impossible for Harrison to write an uninteresting book. She is too skilled a prose writer, too good a storyteller, too alert to passions and the human heart to produce a work that ever flags. But read Joan of Arc for what it tells you about the world in which the subject lived and the half-millennium of culture that has continued to mythologize her. In this striking volume, it is clear that Joan fell victim to more than an era’s intolerance. She became a victim to other dreamers’ dreams."
—Marie Arana, The Washington Post
"[Harrison] awes us with her incisive intelligence, her fierce curiosity, her literary prowess. These qualities, along with years of meticulous research, are on stunning display in Harrison’s latest work of nonfiction, which focuses, fittingly, on two aspects of the cross-dressing teenaged warrior: her sanity, and her sexuality. Harrison sets the scene, painting a layered portrait not only of Joan’s life, but of her times."
—The Boston Globe
"Most people know the outline of Joan’s story and remember that it ends badly for her, at a stake in the marketplace at Rouen. Harrison’s book helps us see how it came to that. It goes beyond that to show how her true story morphed with each retelling through the centuries, by such luminaries as Shakespeare, Mark Twain and Cecil B. DeMille. In Harrison’s telling, Joan loses her mythic accessories, but the unadorned truth is more than enough."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, by Kathryn Harrison, is a passionate portrait of the heroic peasant who led France against the British in 1429 only to be martyred at age 19. Harrison superbly teases out the politics and paradoxes of the Maid of Orleans' wildly improbable saga, shedding fresh light on her visionary faith and ultimate sacrifice."
—Elle, "The 5 Must-Read Books of November"
"The versatile Harrison—novelist, biographer, memoirist and true-crime writer—becomes the most recent in a long list of authors to tell the story of the unusual warrior... Harrison knew, of course, about the daunting list of previous interpreters, including William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht and Mark Twain. She wisely examines some of those previous interpretations, finding some of the speculation and historicism plausible but some of it wanting. Harrison examines Joan as a sexual being as well as a warrior and perhaps a schizophrenic. The sexuality angle becomes especially provocative when Harrison discusses how God may have favored Joan due to the virginity she advertised so boldly... Harrison joins the psychobiography school of life writing, doing so with memorable writing and an energetic approach."
"...In novelist [Kathryn] Harrison's deft hands, the latest analysis is both vividly detailed and historically grounded. Casting a modern eye on a medieval legend, she is able to breathe new life into the girl, the warrior, the messenger from God, and the saint. In addition to Joan's early years and her fiery path to battle, Harrison also includes Joan's trials, execution, and canonization in the compulsively readable narrative."
"Hundreds of books have been written about her, but the story remains astounding enough for new interpretations. Kathryn Harrison, the well-known author of novels, memoirs and a previous biography of a saint, has now taken up the challenge with the deeply researched and thoughtful Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured.... Harrison shows that Joan’s worst crime in their eyes was her revolutionary audacity in dressing and behaving like a man. Of course, the ultimate victory was hers."
"...A tour-de-force new biography... In Harrison’s provocative view, Joan is a multifaceted, flesh, blood, and bones leader who is both spiritually guided and politically astute. Harrison draws in the lines of Joan’s largely unexplored transformation from illiterate peasant girl guided by angels to a nearly unstoppable military force who played a major role in the fates of both England and France during the Hundred Years War. It is that explanation of the evolution of Joan of Arc that lifts this tale above recent takes on St. Joan, who will no doubt, enthrall you in the pages of this book, and readers of what are sure to be many more stories about her for the rest of this century and beyond."
“If you want a badass heroine like Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild crossed with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (only with angels & Jesus) read Kathryn Harrison's hair-raising bio of Joan of Arc—the best of six I've read. She weaves a mesmerizing tale of this cross-dressing warrior who made her torturers weep, who plowed her way to the throne and led an army while never shedding a drop of blood. This year's cult book.”
—Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club and Lit
“A girl walks into a prophecy and winds up a myth. How does that even happen? In Joan of Arc, Kathryn Harrison makes the most improbable of lives—that of the restless farmer’s daughter who casts a spell over 15th century France—seem possible again. Working from trial records and modern literature, the Bible and Bresson, Harrison marshals all the forces. The result is sumptuous, as rich and radiant as Joan’s (apocryphal) golden cloak.”
—Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra
“I’m impressed by the way Kathryn Harrison so brilliantly blends narrative and scholarship in this gorgeous rendering of Joan of Arc’s story. Harrison draws on her deep understanding of religion, feminism and literature to produce the biography of one of the most interesting women in history. She was a mystery, a virgin, visionary, soldier and martyr, and Harrison shows vividly how all these strands connect. If you’ve never quite managed to get around to reading a book about Joan of Arc (I hadn’t), this is the one to read. If you’ve read all the others, you’ll need to read this one, too.”
—Roxana Robinson, author of Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life