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?