Friday, December 31, 2010

Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

I write reviews which post on Amazon. I've been doing this for at least three years. My association with the other reviewers has been mixed, but mostly productive and beneficial, mostly pleasurable and amiable. The greatest benefit is meeting people who read all kinds of things. I'm an eclectic reader. It has been fantastic to "meet" other people who read deeply as I do (and frivolously as well).

The most shocking thing for me is that I am not as knowledgeable of writers and books as I thought I was. Just recently I discovered that Mark Twain had written a novel called Joan of Arc, one he considered his masterpiece. I didn't know it existed. So I read it. It took me two months to read, mainly because I found it tedious. Poorly written? Heavens no! The style is masterly. After all, Mark Twain did spend 12 years researching the topic and two years in writing the book. It truly is his masterpiece. I finally figured that the first two sections were written rather historically and the last section more like fiction.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc is not an easy read, but it is definitely a worthy one. I know Joan of Arc now. I know Mark Twain much better. It is my recommendation that you meet both as they come together in this novel:

Here is my review as it appears on Amazon:

Joan of Arc had no peer. "She is the Wonder of the Ages" and "the Riddle of the Ages." "In the world's history--she stands alone...." These thoughts come from the pen of Mark Twain (Samuel Longhorn Clemons) in his essay about Joan of Arc, located at the end of his mighty historical novel about this French peasant girl's too short life.

Twain absolutely loved Joan of Arc and found her just about a perfect gem. In saying that she stands alone, he compares her life and accomplishments with those of genius of various fields. Without exception, he says, all other genuises had background training, education, experience, practice. Joan alone was the master of everything she did the first time. The only one! She commanded an army as general at age 17, never having ridden a horse before or even seen a soldier. Everything she predicted came true. She decimated the case against her in the courtroom even though she was allowed no counsel and was chained 24/7 in the company of English soldiers. Add to that her ignorance in reading and writing, basing her responses on strict memory of proceedings and charges, evidence and its twisted nature.

Twain spent 12 years researching information about Joan of Arc and found his mother load in France's dusty archives. What he discovered was "The Official Record of the Trials and Rehabilitation of Joan of Arc" written in 1456 and buried in the Archives until re-discovered in the 1800s. Twain then had access to what he termed as "the most remarkable history that exists in any language...." (441). And it told a grand tale.

Joan of Arc came from a simple, backward village of Domremy in the Lorraine region (fairly near Germany). Voices began talking to her, advising her to round up an army, then drive the English out of France, and restore the King to his throne. She's a mere 16 and knows nothing beyond the limits of her village.

Why Joan to lead an army? Why Joan to sacrifice her life for the freedom of France? One thing Twain never says in this biographical/historical novel is that God chose her. He refers to the Voices (St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret), which Joan names. In life Twain was agnostic, but certainly never hinted through word or tone that he doubted her.

Various sources, various literary critics always include Twain as America's best novelist with "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" as best novel. Of course, others give the nod to other writers and name each one's "best" novel. The fact that Twain wrote this deeply profound and compassionately told novel confirms his reputation as America's Best Novelist. This is his best novel.

"Joan of Arc" is narrated by an 80-something-year-old childhood friend and constant companion of Joan, someone dear whom she appointed to be her secretary and recorder of history in the making. Being with her for the two years of her march through France and during the trial allowed him to record--accurately--all that happened to Joan and because of Joan.

The book itself is divided into three parts, not necessarily equally. The first deals with Joan, the Voices, and her gathering of an army. Frankly, despite my interest, I found this section tedious, albeit necessary for those details. One technique Twain included numerous times in Part I and Part II was narration of the amusing things various characters did. All chapters were short, thankfully, these, too. In actuality, usually each narration of these amusing characters was a brief distraction from the heaviness of plot development. I am reminded of both Silas Marner by George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans and by Twain's own Huckleberry Fin.

Part II details Joan's march through France to find the Dauphine in order to restore him to the throne of France and to narrate some of the battles they fought. As well, France is involved in the Hundred Years War, which Joan judiciously ends before her capture at the walls of Paris.

Part III is the most rousing. By this time--page 309--the reader has invested so much time and effort in reading this 452 page book in small print that discovering anything negative is heart-wrenching. Wisely, Twain does not describe the details of the actual burning, but he makes the reader feel those chills and recognize Joan's horror at the very thought of being burned at the stake. No descriptions were necessary.

Joan died this horrible death largely because of political/religious motivation by a bishop with powerful desire for higher office and because of loss of pride for being embarrassed in court by a "mere girl." Of actual evidence against Joan as a witch was her wearing of male clothing--battle armor, even though the Voices commanded it.

After her Rehabilitation, Joan was eventually named a martyr. She served her God well and knew how it would all end. Her behavior was always pure, full of integrity, honesty, patience, obedience, and endurance. Twain closes his book with this statement: "--[S]he is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced" (452). Comment

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I am amazed that people from these two countries--Slovenia and Slovakia visit my website. Why? What is their reason? How do they find me? Is this some sort of coincidence?

I ask these questions because I visited Yugoslavia, back in 1984, before the country was divided. Why did I go? I went with the ex-husband as part of a business/pleasure trip. We planned a three-week travel trip around a good chunk of Europe. He had never been and was terribly envious that I had toured most of Europe three times already. This was my fourth trip.

We planned trips around the wineries he represented with the distribution company for which he worked at the time and around sites of places included in the various high school courses I taught at the time.

He represented Avia (Ah-ve-uh), a Yugoslave wine, inexpensive and quite delightfully tasty. We wrote ahead, booking a tour of the winery and a tasting of various offerings. It was a profitable excursion all around, especially for the ex-. Here's a link to the winery:

Avia Winery is located in Ljubljana, a beautiful, part-modern, part-medieval city, that sits along the Sava River, right in the heart of Slovenia. A dear aspect of the people is their pride. We found ourselves lost and were seeking directions to our hotel. No one claimed to know English. "No English," we heard a number of times before a brave soul ventured to try his English. In fact, they all spoke English at various levels of experience, but wanted to speak perfectly and thus were afraid for us to hear them speak (just as I would have been in their place and am when I meet French speakers).
This man's English was better than I've heard actual Americans speak their own language. Anyway, he directed us on our way, leaving a very positive opinion of Slovenians.

If you're a blogger on Google, then you have at your use various charts that show who visits your site by country, by traffic source, and which posts they visit. I keep getting visits from Slovenia, usually two daily. Today, a visit from Slovakia showed up and I decided to write a brief blog, plugging these two countries and my pleasurable memories of them. Thank you, Slovenia.

Note: Slovakia was the other half of Czechoslovakia and now is the Slovak Republic. It was not part of our trip, but still interesting in that people there demanded their own country--and got it!

Note 2: One of the things our host at Avia suggested we do while in Slovenia was to go through one of the many caves in their area. So we did--and what a thrill! The guide told us that, at one point on our rail trip through this huge cave, we would cross the border of East Germany (this before the Fall of the Berlin Wall)! I know that "amazing" is an over-used word these days, but it perfectly describes that cave! Oh, we all had these overalls to put on to protect us from the frigid temperature inside the cove! It was all so -- amazing!

Note 3: The best, most lavish breakfast we had in all of Europe (and we were cheap) was in Ljubljana at our hotel. I have forgotten exactly what we had, but memory does tell me that it was "the best" and at a low price!

Here's a link to another blog dedicated to information about Slovenia:

In case you are interested in reading further about Slovenia: 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Time of Reflection: Our Savior Is Born This Day

Every time I sit down to write a new blog, I am blank. I have nothing to say--until this morning. There are two books and a year-old blog that speak to me.

The Crippled LambThe Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado is, of course, symbolic for each of us "crippled" by sin. There are Mary and Joseph and the new-born baby, Bringer of Peace, Leader of Battle, quietly making a peaceful tableau of parents and child, a quiet moment of love and family. Yet there is room for a crippled lamb.

So Christmas Day--every year--is a repetition, a repeat of that quiet family scene. Every year we spend huge holiday time getting ready for Christmas, celebrating Christmas, then recuperating from the excess energy. Yet it all has meaning, even the gross materialism--for the materialism is yet another form of "crippledness"--our "crippled" desire to give to others. It's crippled because it is extreme, yet that extreme is still part of our desire to give of ourselves, monetarily, financially, making it a burden. It is part of that crevice in our psyches that corrupts our values. It's our sin repository.

A year ago I commented--in a digression--about our Free Will and God's demand for submission and obedience. How can we have both? Here's that paragraph from "Our Savior is born," December 24, 2009: 

"Christ was born. Jesus lived and was crucified. He accepted his role. It seems an escape clause when we say we are not meant to understand the ways of God, to simply accept by faith. Obedience is required. Humility. Submission. Questioning. I've already stepped out of the circle. Control issues bother me. The garden and the forbidden fruit--the first of the obedience tests, yet the questioning, the choice of Will over submission that occurred so early in the human story."

It's that "crippled" lamb in the manger scene again. It needs to be there, it wants to be there, yet its flawed nature makes it feel unworthy. Of course, Lucado does not actually use that thought--unworthiness--in his story, but we all know how it feels. Are we really worthy to be there? A pastor in a church I once attended said that, upon entering the gates of heaven and seeing Christ for the first time, he would fall prostrate, feeling totally unworthy to be there. No bowing on the knee as the Shepherds and Wise Men did. It's that testimony to and reliance on Faith.

Battle (DK Eyewitness Books)And that though leads to Battle, another excellent book in DK's Eyewitness books. It is all about the history of battles, weapons, wars, leaders. And that reminds me of Christ, a leader in battle against sin and corruption. Yet, He, too, in His human form, questioned. In the garden He asks if this task  (crucifixion and death) can be removed. His difference from Adam and Eve, though ignorant in intention, is that He did not act. He accepted obedience.

But that's the last act. Today we celebrate the first act, set into motion from the very moment of creation. The Creator gave his creations Free Will and choice, very difficult gifts, but gifts nonetheless.

Each year that we celebrate the birth of our Savior, we celebrate with gifts, on our knees, in our crippled state. We celebrate the Leader of Battle-to-be, at this moment peaceful, quiet, calm. The Prince of Peace only after we render our Wills to his kingdom. Celebrate.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Baby Booming!

Slaughterhouse-FiveDecember 2010. Well, Baby Boomers, here we are at the cusp, having taking a long, long journey to get here. We're going to turn 65 next year. What?!

One of my favorite lines in literature comes from Billy Pilgrim's grandmother on her death bed. She beckons Billy Pilgrim to her side. He thinks she will have something profound so say--and so she does, but not in the way he wants. "How did I get to be so old?" Her tone is clearly plaintive.

How did I get to be so old? Today at lunch I mentioned that "my people" were going to turn 65 next year. "What do you mean by 'your people.'?"  asked my great-niece, now 12 years old. And thus a little history lesson leaped forth from my head like Aphrodite abirth in the foam.

"America's men were at war as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 until the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. With the end of the war, men marched home by the thousands and thousands, meeting wives, finding wives, and making babies. Beginning in June 1946 those little bundles began the huge birth explosion, creating the largest baby boom in American history and finally ending in 1965.

Some of us were born in the first half of 1946, but in my graduation class of 1964, only a handful in comparison to that vast number of June-December-borns. My mother lived in San Diego, where my father was stationed in the Navy. As soon as she learned she was pregnant, she headed home to Shreveport, LA. My grandmother accompanied her to the doctor one day. The lady sitting next to her asked what was wrong with her little girl. "Why, she's eight months pregnant," my grandmother declared. My mother was tiny and had a tiny baby.

Thus, the beginning of the Baby Boom, changing statistics forever in American history: building schools, colleges. Then Vietnam came along, our war, our social conscious, our shame, our loss of victory. My mother, ever the patriot, urged my brother to go to Canada if his number was called. And his lot was next, but the end of the war, the photo showing Vietnamese hanging on the helicopter forever burnished in our memories. A war that caused generations to collide. A war that caused one set of Americans to spit on another. My brother never had to go.

Forrest Gump (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition)And afterward, we documented our behavior. Perhaps the most all-inclusive movie about our generation is Tom Hanks' award winning Forest Gump.

Another disturbing movie of the time was Joe, an anti-material things movie.
Tom Cruise shows the horror of coming home disfigured in Born on the Fourth of July (Special Edition), Born on the Fourth of July.  Or, The Deer Hunter The Deer Hunter with damaged veterans.

Another movie showed the Boomer disdain for those age 30 and over (ha!). One book and movie (can't remember title) has those oldsters placed in compounds and safely out of the way, so they can rule the day. But every day ends and the leader turns 30 and faces his turn in the shade.

And "free love" and integration and civil rights. Bra burning, divorce, freedom, freedom, freedom, and then entrapment in that freedom. What did we do with that freedom? We changed the world. Yes, we really did. Remember the Beatles and the protest from adults they wrought? One thing leads to another. Drugs, mind-bending, overdosing, chemical fry-outs. Entrapment in the freedom.

But African Americans had the right they should have had all along: the right to a better and equal education. Women earned the right to be doctors, bankers, anything they wanted to be--and loaded with stress. Freedom.

This isn't where I meant to go when I started. I'm a Baby Boomer. I was a teacher. I made a difference and I'm about to retire from my librarian job--

When I turned 64 (am I really talking about myself who thought I would never grow old), I constantly sang that Beatles song to myself as consolation: "Will you still feed me, will you still need me when I'm 64?" Well, no is the answer. I'm no longer married and revel in that freedom but am sometimes overwhelmed in its entrapment of less income. Will I still feed me, will I still need me when I'm 65?

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.