A famous name, and a famous story.
A peasant girl from rural France. A young woman who claimed that god had spoken to her, that she was destined to fulfil a prophecy. Who rose to lead the French army to a number of significant victories in the Hundred Years’ War. Who made the coronation of Charles VII possible. Who was captured, sold to the English, put on trial, and burned at the stake.
Years later she was exonerated and declared her a martyr. She was beatified, and finally she was canonised.
An extraordinary story. And one young woman’s life.
The story begins in the French village of Domremy, at a time when the country and its inhabitants were suffering at the hands of English soldiers as the Hundred Years War raged.
A young peasant girl named Jehanne was growing up.
I saw, and I understood. A way of life, and a faith, that had been passed down through the generations.
Jehanne was drawn to that faith, and in time she began to hear voices.
“You must raise an army and drive the English from France. Take the Dauphin to be crowned at Rheims. This is God’s command.”
“I’m only a girl, a peasant. I know nothing of cannons or lances. I have no money. I can’t even ride a horse. Please, ask me anything else. I’ll do anything else.”
“This is God’s mission child. we will help you. God will help you. Go to the king, drive the English out of France. Crown the king.”
I watched Jehanne rise, as her purposefulness, her determination, and her unshakeable faith slowly won people over to her cause.
And then I watched her fall. After her victory she struggled with fame and with powerful men whose political machinations she couldn’t understand.
The Maid retells a familiar story, simply and clearly, bringing both people and places back to life.
The author clearly knows the history, the period well, but she wears her knowledge lightly.
And she succeeds in balancing the saint and the fallible human in Jehanne. Almost. The broad strokes were right, but sometimes the details felt wrong. Jehanne was sometimes wise beyond her years and at others ridiculously insensitive to others.
That was maybe because the third person narrative stopped me from getting into her head, really understanding.
It held me at a distance, as an observer rather than a confidante, and now it is leaving me disinclined to analyse things too much.
But the story did sweep me along, and I have to say that The Maid is a fine piece of storytelling to relax with as summer slowly turns into autumn.
I’ve been looking forward to this because I don’t know much about Joan of Arc.