Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

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Personal Recollections
Joan of Arc
First edition cover
Author Mark Twain
Illustrator Frank DuMond
Country United States
Language English
Genre Historical fiction
Publisher Harper & Brothers
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover, paperback)
Pages 260 pp
Preceded by Pudd'nhead Wilson
Followed by The Mysterious Stranger

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte is an 1896 novel by Mark Twain about Joan of Arc. It was Twain's last completed novel.

The novel is presented as a translation (by "Jean Francois Alden") of memoirs by Louis de Conte. The novel describes itself as "Freely Translated out of the Ancient French into Modern English from the Original Unpublished Manuscript in the National Archives of France". "Louis de Conte" is a fictionalized version of that of Joan of Arc's page, Louis de Contes. de Conte is presented as an individual who was with Joan during the three major phases of her life—as a youth in Domrémy, as the commander of the army of Charles VII of France, and as a defendant at her trial in Rouen.

Originally, Mark Twain's novel was published as a serialization in Harper's Magazine beginning in 1895. At Twain’s request, Harper's Magazine published it anonymously to avoid expectations for it to be humorous.[2]

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc was Twain's last completed novel. It was inspired by a lifelong fascination Twain had with Joan of Arc. Twain spent fourteen years on the novel and considered it his best work. The book was fairly well-received at the time of publication, though critics since then have generally dismissed it as overly sentimental.

The novel, like nearly all of Twain's writings, is in the public domain. The book has been published by Ignatius Press since 1989; this version of the book contains an additional essay by Twain entitled "Saint Joan of Arc".

Plot summary[edit]


The foreword is by fictional author Sieur Louis de Conte, writing from Domrémy, France to his great-great-grand nephews and nieces, in the year 1492. He relates his relationship to Joan as first a childhood friend, and later her page and secretary. He reminisces, “I was with her from the beginning until the end.”[3]

Book One: In Domrémy[edit]

Book One begins with the birth of de Conte on January 6, 1410, in Neufchâteau, France. He relates his early childhood as plagued with misery brought on by the English forces. For over seventy-five years, he states, France has felt the oppressive force of the English and Burgundian armies. With each battle lost, the despair of the French people grows. In 1415, following the death of his family by a Burgundian raiding party, de Conte is sent to Domrémy to live with the parish priest. Here he meets young Joan d’Arc, who lives a relatively quiet life in the small country village. Yet even in her early years, de Conte describes multiple incidents where Joan is shown to be the wisest and bravest child in Domrémy. For example, she defends the children’s friends (the fairies) against unfair banishment, convinces the townspeople to provide food and shelter for a wandering soldier, and peaceably stops a madman who threatens the village. In Chapter VI, the novel relates that, at fourteen years of age, Joan’s manner undergoes a change. Instead of being “the most light-hearted creature and the merriest in the village” de Conte says that “she had been mainly grave”.[3] In the next chapter, a year and a half later, de Conte finds the reason behind her solemn behavior. On the 15th of May, 1428, Joan reveals that she has been visited frequently by saints and angels. She states that God has chosen her “to lead His armies, and win back France, and set the crown upon the head of His servant that is Dauphin and shall be King”.[3] The book describes Joan as at first being hesitant; stating, “I am only a child; a child and ignorant—ignorant of everything that pertains to war.”[3] Book Two’s final chapters, VII and VIII, relate the difficulties Joan faces to follow her mission, beginning when the governor of Vaucouleurs refuses her an escort of men-at-arms.

Book Two: In Court and Camp[edit]

Book Two begins with the elimination of Joan’s hindrances. de Conte relates that, with the advice of her Voices, Joan remains steadfast in her mission and on February 23 begins her journey to the Dauphin, complete with escort. In Chapter VI, Joan arrives at the Castle of Chinon, prepared to fulfill her mission and speak with the future king. However, before allowing her entry, the Dauphin tests Joan by switching his royal clothes with those of a layman. Joan is unfazed by the test and identifies the true king-to-be. After receiving a further sign from Joan, the Dauphin is convinced that her mission is from God, and establishes her as General of the Armies of France. In Chapter X, Joan begins to organize her campaign, writing a letter to the English commanders at Orleans, demanding them to vacate France. She also instills order amongst her troops, banning prostitution, gambling, and requiring that “every man who joins my standard must confess before the priest…and all accepted recruits must be present at divine service twice a day.”[3] Starting at Orleans, de Conte describes the army’s march across France, winning multiple victories. He states that throughout the campaign Joan’s Voices remain with her, guiding and encouraging her efforts. On one occasion, in Chapter XXI, Joan’s Voices reveal that on May 7 she will be shot by an arrow, between her neck and shoulder. The prophecy is fulfilled the next day in the exact manner prescribed. Two chapters later, following a victory at Tours, the novel states that Joan is given the Dauphin’s permission to march upon Rheims. Once again, each English stronghold standing in her path is reclaimed. de Conte marvels that for the first time in ninety-one years, the French have the upper hand in the Hundred Years’ War. On July 5, the English forces at Rheims surrender, allowing the coronation of Charles to take place. Yet, even with this accomplishment, Joan refuses to halt her campaign. In Chapter XXVIII, Joan receives permission to march on Paris stating that, if successful, the move would cripple the English forces. However, with a victory at Paris in sight, the King declares the campaign ended. He instead makes a truce to leave Paris unthreatened and unmolested. De Conte bewails, “Joan of Arc, who had never been defeated by the enemy, was defeated by her own King.”[3] In the final chapter, de Conte laments that on May 24, 1430, Joan is taken prisoner by the Burgundians while assailing a small force at Marguy.

Book Three: Trial and Martyrdom[edit]

The third and final book opens with Joan d’Arc's imprisonment at Marguy. For five and a half months, the Burgundians hold Joan while waiting for King Charles to provide a ransom of 61,125 francs. When no attempt is made, she is sold to the English. For two more months, Joan remains imprisoned while her enemies, led by Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, prepare her trial. In an attempt to lessen her influence over the French people, it is decided that Joan must be tried by priests for crimes against religion. de Conte scoffs at the English’s methods of “raking and scraping everywhere for any odds and ends of evidence or suspicion or conjecture that might be made usable against Joan.”[3] Beginning in Chapter IV, the novel provides a detailed account of Joan’s three month long trial starting on February 21, 1431. de Conte, secretly serving as clerk to the chief recorder, describes the trial as unfair on multiple fronts. “Fifty experts against a novice,” he states, “and no one to help the novice!”[3] de Conte also includes an official transcript that states, “They asked her profound questions…the questioners changed suddenly and passes to another subject to see if she would not contradict herself.”[3] Yet, in spite of this, Joan is praised for boldly answering the questions put to her. de Conte states that many in the courtroom gaped in awe at the wisdom and prudence of her answers. Chapter VII recounts her most well-known answer after being asked by Beaupere, “Are you in a state of Grace.” de Conte states that with simple gravity she answers, “If I be not in a state of Grace, I pray God place me in it; if I be in it, I pray God keep me so.”[3] Yet, in Chapter XX, after nearly three months of imprisonment, Joan finally submits to her captors. Unable to read it, Joan signs a document “confessing herself a sorceress, a dealer with devils, a liar, a blasphemer of God and His angels…and this signature of hers bound her to resume the dress of a woman."[3] However, in Chapter XXII de Conte accuses the English of treachery, stating, “While Joan slept, in the early morning of Sunday, one of the guards stole her female apparel and put her male attire in its place…she saw that she could not save her life if she must fight for it against treacheries like this; so she put on the forbidden garments, knowing what the end would be.”[3] For breaking the condition, Joan is sentenced to be burned at the stake on the following Wednesday, May 30, 1431. The final chapter, XXIV, recounts Joan’s last few hours before she is consumed in flames, but not the execution itself.


In his writing, de Conte returns to the present year of 1492, where he is eighty-two years of age. He summarizes the lives and deaths of many of the characters including Joan’s family and King Charles the VII. He closes with a salute to the legacy of Joan, citing her impact on the country she loved so much.

Writing process[edit]

I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation and got none.

— Mark Twain

The author had a personal fascination with Joan of Arc. The work has a very different feel and flow from Twain's other works. There is a distinct lack of humor, so prevalent in his other works. He was first attracted to Joan of Arc in the early 1850s when he found a leaf from a biography of her and asked his brother Henry whether she was real.[4] In addition, Twain arguably worked harder on this book than any other. In a letter to H.H. Rogers he stated, “I have never done any work before that cost so much thinking and weighing and measuring and planning and cramming … on this last third I have constantly used five French sources and five English ones, and I think no telling historical nugget in any of them has escaped me.”[5] The published book lists eleven official sources as “authorities examined in verification of the truthfulness of this narrative.”[3] Twain based his descriptions of Joan of Arc on his daughter, Susy Clemens, as he remembered her at the age of seventeen.[6]


Twain considered this, his last finished novel, to be his best and most important work, a view not shared by critics then or since. Iconoclastic author George Bernard Shaw, in the preface to his own play, Saint Joan, accuses Twain of being "infatuated" with Joan of Arc. Shaw says that Twain "romanticizes" the story of Joan, reproducing a legend that the English conducted a trial deliberately rigged to find Joan guilty of witchcraft and heresy. Recent scholarship of the trial transcripts, however, suggests that Twain's belief may have been closer to the truth than Shaw was willing to accept.[7]

American author and historian Bernard De Voto was also critical of Joan of Arc, calling it “mawkish”.[8] De Voto also claims, “he (Twain) was uncomfortable in the demands of tragedy, formalizing whatever could not be sentimentalized.”[9]

American author Maxwell Geismar delivered a scathing review: “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, in 1896 was Sam Clemens’ (Twain) worst book…It is difficult to find anything of interest in Joan of Arc – except its badness.”[10]

Leading Twain scholar Louis J. Budd said, “Although Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc has disgraced Twain posthumously with several levels of readers, it met general approval in 1896.”[11]

At the time of its publishing, one paper positively reviewed Twain’s work stating, “We meet a dignified, ennobled, hero-worshipping Mark Twain. His language has undergone a startling change. Not flippancy, but pathos, meets us on every page; the sardonic mocking spirit has been conquered by the fair Maid of Orleans, and where aforetime we met laughter, we now meet tears.”[12]

Twain’s daughter, Clara Clemens, also stated, “Andrew Lang so much admired Father’s Joan that he suggested dedicating to him his own biography of the Maid.”[13]

See also[edit]


  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Duncan, Dayton, and Burns, Ken, (2001). Mark Twain: An Illustrated Biography. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40561-5.
  • Long, E. (1957). Mark Twain Handbook. New York: Hendricks House, Inc.
  • Twain, Mark (1989). Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. ISBN 0-89870-268-2.
  • Gerber, John (1988). Mark Twain. Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0-8057-7518-8.
  • Bloom, Harold (1986). Mark Twain. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-87754-698-3.
  • Bellamy, Gladys (1950). Mark Twain As a Literary Artist. Oklahoma: Norman University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Maxwell, Geismar (1970). Mark Twain An American Prophet. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  • Budd, Louis (1983). Our Mark Twain The Marking of His Public Personality. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-1204-5.
  • Clemens, Clara (1931). My Father Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.

Notes and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Facsimile of the original 1st edition.
  2. ^ Long, E. (1957). Mark Twain Handbook. New York: Hendricks House, Inc. p. 223. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Twain, Mark (1989). Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 
  4. ^ Gerber, John (1988). Mark Twain. Boston: Twayne Publishers. p. 144. 
  5. ^ Gerber, John (1988). Mark Twain. Boston: Twayne Publishers. p. 146. 
  6. ^ Ward Duncan and Burns (2001), p. 159
  7. ^ Joan of Arc: Her Story, by Regine Pérnoud and Marie-Véronique Clin, translated by Jeremy Duquesnay Adams, published by St. Martin's Griffin (New York, 1999) ISBN 0-312-22730-2
  8. ^ Bloom, Harold (1986). Mark Twain. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. p. 18. 
  9. ^ Bellamy, Gladys (1950). Mark Twain As a Literary Artist. Oklahoma: Norman University of Oklahoma Press. p. 324. 
  10. ^ Maxwell, Geismar (1970). Mark Twain An American Prophet. New York: McGraw-Hill Book COmpany. p. 140. 
  11. ^ Budd, Louis (1983). Our Mark Twain The Marking of His Public Personality. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 140. 
  12. ^ Clemens, Clara (1931). My Father Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. pp. 178–179. 
  13. ^ Clemens, Clara (1931). My Father Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. p. 179. 

External links[edit]