Mark Twain and Joan of Arc

Awhile back I did a favor for a friend and to my shock they bought me a gift card to Barnes and Noble. I finally got around to going a few days before Christmas and after spending about two wandering around the store I finally bought Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc – one of a few works by Twain that I had not read. I was surprised at how restrained and stylish the book is. Clearly the twelves years Twain claims to have spent researching the book and the three years spent writing allowed Twain to write in a style he normally didn’t use – not that Twain was a bad writer or lacked a polished style. The humor one associates with Twain are confined to narrow sections that concerns the “Paladin” and one brief section concerning Joan’s uncle and his experience with a funeral. What I privately refer to as Twainisms (I’ll explain what these are in a future post) are also noticeably absent.

The introduction to the version I have says Twain’s voice is that of the translator and goes on to say that the reader will only appreciate and understand the work if one separates Twain’s voice from that of Sieur Louis de Conte – the alleged writer of the manuscript. I think this is complete nonsense. I started out trying this and the story just was not working. Once I forgot about the introduction and approached the book on its own terms the story was much better. But then I’m not a critic so I could be wrong. At any rate, I’m glad I’ve read it, it is one of Twain’s finer pieces. What do you think?

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2 Responses

  1. While I like Joan of Arch a great deal and consider it one of Clemens’ most important works, it plays to very mixed reviews among Twain scholars. The narrative style and the multiple levels of virtual narrators put many people off. Other think what humor there is is stale and rehashed. I like all of that. Twain, or should I say Clemens, himself thought it his most important and difficult literary endeavor. He wrote the book anonymously and tried for a short while to keep it that way. As I said the other day, “I wonder if it is ever correct to attribute Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc to Mark Twain even thought it is unquestionably from the hand of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.”

  2. Mark Twain’s biography about \ Joan of Arc is excellent and you can find it online at places like:
    Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
    Tell everyone they can read it there free.

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