Book Review: The Virgin Warrior: The Life and Death of Joan of Arc


by Larissa Juliet Taylor

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Pp. xx, 251. Illus., maps, chron., append., notes, biblio., index. $30.00. ISBN: 978-0-300-11458-4

Although she stood on the world stage only for about two years, Joan of Arc has attracted more attention in literature, the arts and, of course, history, than any of her contemporaries, yet, as Prof. Taylor ( Colby College ) notes, most of what has been written about her is based on legend, myth, or outright fabrication, usually either devotional or debunking. Taylor then goes to note that there is an unusually rich body of primary sources about Joan, including not only letters, court records, and official documents, but also (and very unusual for the times) the transcripts of scores of interviews conducted with persons who knew her. It is on these, that he bases this biography.

Very well written, and very readable, The Virgin Warrior is a life of Joan within the framework of the Hundred Years' War, a still remarkable tale of an extraordinary young woman. He addresses the many different Joans presented by earlier authors, often with an axe to grind, from the divinely inspired maiden to the manipulated dupe serving clever political masters. Taylor suggests that Joan was her own woman, a strong willed, highly charismatic figure, capable of inspiring great devotion, as well as a surprisingly able warrior, despite only coming to the use of arms when she began her mission to save France, and a commander of some ability, who seems to have awed even those supposedly manipulating her, as well as her persecutors and executioners. 

This is likely to be the standard life of Joan for some time to come, and serves as a valuable look at the French side of Hundred Years' War in the 1420s and 1430s.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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