Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint

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During the tumultuous Hundred Years' War between England and France, a teenage peasant girl followed her heart and helped save a nation. A vision from God, received in her parents' garden, instructed her to take up arms and help restore the kingdom of France. Without consulting her family, Joan left home on one of the most remarkable personal quests in history. As a young girl in a world of men, she faced unimaginable odds, yet her belief in her mission propelled her forward. Within months Joan was directing ...
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During the tumultuous Hundred Years' War between England and France, a teenage peasant girl followed her heart and helped save a nation. A vision from God, received in her parents' garden, instructed her to take up arms and help restore the kingdom of France. Without consulting her family, Joan left home on one of the most remarkable personal quests in history. As a young girl in a world of men, she faced unimaginable odds, yet her belief in her mission propelled her forward. Within months Joan was directing soldiers and bravely fighting for her nation. Before long she had become a national hero and was the guest of honor at her king's coronation. Yet fame ultimately became her undoing. The English shrewdly realized that Joan's demise and defamation would disgrace France and provide a more direct route to victory. Captured in war, Joan became a pawn in one of the longest and bloodiest wars in history.

Since her death at the age of nineteen in 1431, Joan of Arc has maintained a remarkable hold on our collective imagination. She was a teenager of astonishing common sense and a national heroine who led men in battle as a courageous warrior. Yet she was also abandoned by the king whose coronation she secured, betrayed by her countrymen, and sold to the enemy. In this meticulously researched landmark biography, Donald Spoto expertly captures this astonishing life and the times in which she lived. Neither wife nor nun, neither queen nor noblewoman, neither philosopher nor stateswoman, Joan of Arc demonstrates that anyone who follows their heart has the power to change history.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
According to biographer and theologian Spoto, Joan of Arc is a girl for the 21st century. She asserted and fought for the ideal that nations shouldn't invade and occupy others for the sake of empire building, a message to contemplate in today's political landscape. But it's unfair to read our contemporary concerns back into her 15th-century story, says Spoto. In this engaging and at times gripping biography, he examines Joan's life and particularly her faith in the face of a church threatened by her visions. Spoto details what is known or surmised about Joan's early life and military career, but the book's most fascinating aspect is the suspenseful day-by-day account of her year-long trial and conviction for heresy. Here we see the Maid's (as she called herself) sense of God's instructions for her life, and her efforts to obey God above all else, including earthly church authority. Spoto helps us understand her threat to political and ecclesiastical figures. The only person to have been condemned for heresy and later sainted, Joan of Arc continues to capture the popular imagination and is, Spoto argues, "the sign that God is free to act as He wills to act, not as we presume He ought to act." (Feb. 20) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Skilled biographer Spoto, who has written books on many celebrities (e.g., director Alfred Hitchcock and actor Laurence Olivier), has turned more recently to religious subjects, namely, Jesus and Saint Francis of Assisi. A former university teacher of religion and humanities, Spoto draws in readers by illuminating his subjects so that they give witness for themselves. Joan of Arc (1411/12-31) is presented with updated scholarship in clear historical context, with a fresh contemporary take on the country teenager whose faith led to a turning point in the Hundred Years' War and the molding of France as a nation. Spoto effectively refutes some earlier cynical views of Joan with facts showing the reasonableness of and precedents for her actions. Liberal quotes, especially from her trial record, demonstrate how much falsification took place for political purpose. Joan was burned as a "heretic" on trumped-up charges, but the trial was nullified in 1451, and she was finally canonized in 1920. Recommended for academic and public libraries as a worthy contribution to a renewed understanding of a figure who still speaks to today's realities. Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran biographer Spoto (Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, 2006, etc.) takes a fresh look at the much-analyzed Joan of Arc. The author portrays Joan not as a patriotic zealot but as a very human, very special teenaged girl. He delves into Joan's childhood in the early 15th century, examining the historical backdrop and the ways in which Joan's values and beliefs were shaped by life in her small French village. He follows Joan's slow emergence as a leader, as she began to hear voices and eventually left home compelled to do the seemingly impossible-lead an army against the English. The ups and downs of her journey are compared with the experiences of the many men who crossed her path. After chronicling Joan's military career, Spoto discusses her lengthy period of captivity, during which she endured misery and loneliness. Joan was burned at the stake in 1431, yet within a generation her name was cleared, and in time she was named a saint. She was, in Spoto's view, someone blessed with courage and conviction few of us can dream of, who suffered both physically and emotionally from a cruel trial and punishment. A short but compelling work in praise of its subject.
United Press International
“Thought provoking and very readable… Joan’s story is significant and should be retold….”
Denver Post
“Spoto’s new biography is like bringing reality TV into a 15th century courtroom . . .a stunning miscarriage of justice.”
“Spoto is a surprisingly apt biographer for [Joan] ….”
Washington Times
“…a lively, accessible book …with a cogent discussion of faith, mystery and early church politics.”
International Herald Tribune
“A fresh and definitive biography in the context of Joan of Arc’s times.”
Washington Post
“[Spoto] approaches his subject with the sophistication of a historian and the admiration of a true believer.”
Acclaimed Biographer - Mary S. Lovell
"Donald Spoto is one of the best biographers in the world today. "
James Martin
“A magnificent introduction to one of the most misunderstood and controversial of all the saints.”
Sr. Joan Chittister
“I have never read a biography that affected me so deeply as a Catholic or as a woman.”
From the Publisher
"Compelling…. Spoto...approaches his subject with the sophistication of a historian and the admiration of a true believer." —-The Washington Post
Acclaimed biographer Mary S. Lovell
“Donald Spoto is one of the best biographers in the world today. “
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400174003
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/2012
  • Format: MP3 on CD

Meet the Author

Donald Spoto has written two dozen bestselling biographies of film and theater stars—among them Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, Ingrid Bergman, and Marilyn Monroe. Born in Westchester County, near New York City, he now lives in Denmark.

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Read an Excerpt


The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint
By Donald Spoto

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Donald Spoto
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060815172

Chapter One

Of War and Occupation


The tiny village of Domrémy, in eastern France, seems hardly to have changed in the last six centuries. At the beginning of the fifteenth century it held fewer than two hundred people living in small houses, from which they went out to work as farmers and vintners. Although on the frontier of the duchy of Lorraine, Domrémy was ruled by and loyal to the kingdom of France. Perched on the left bank of the River Meuse, the village had been mostly spared the ravages of the Black Death, but not its widespread economic effects or the depredations of mercenaries on both sides of the Hundred Years' War, that series of skirmishes great and small between England and France. When the royal purse or residual idealism was lacking to encourage soldiers, men outfitted with little more than bow and arrow simply roamed through the countryside, pillaging, raping, purloining livestock and generally terrorizing the locals, who otherwise peacefully herded their flocks and tilled the soil.

The medieval tradition of serfdom had mostly disappeared; instead of owing their labors and lives to a vassal or lord, French peasants in places like the Meuse Valley could become as affluent asaristocrats: they had property to which they paid cash rent to a local seigneur, but they enjoyed the benefits of ownership and could increase their landholdings.

In 1400 Jacques d'Arc was an enterprising, respected landowner in Domrémy; by 1423 he was also the local doyen, bearing both the honor and responsibility of collecting village taxes and supervising the defense of citizens and livestock in times of assault. He was born about 1375 in Ceffonds, twenty miles west of Domrémy, but some historians theorize that his parents must have lived in Arc-en-Barrois, farther south. Their argument is based on the assumption that this location explains d'Arc, indicating the place from which Jacques came—a nom d'origine, often given to notable or honored citizens. But if Jacques had indeed hailed from Arc-en-Barrois, the local Latin manuscripts (the first to mention the family) would have identified him as "Jacques de Arco," in the contemporary style of patronymics. Further complicating matters is the fact that before the invention of printing in 1440 spelling was not standardized, and so the family name appears variously as Darc, Dars, Day, Darx, Dare, Tarc, Tart or Dart.

After living in Domrémy several years, Jacques had what might be called middle-class status. He owned about fifty acres of farmland and pasture on the edge of the village as well as cattle, sheep and a furnished home. The house was typical, with a slate roof resting on wooden beams, a hard-packed dirt floor inside, and a few rooms, some of them with a small window; year-round, the place tended to be damp and fetid. A single fireplace, in the main room just inside the front door, was used for warmth and cooking; here too the family dined and the parents slept. Water had to be hauled up from the river, and of course there was nothing like a bathroom: instead, people found all kinds of uses for the backyard. A wooden staircase led to an attic used for storing grain. At that time the d'Arc house would have been considered almost luxurious.

The small home was sufficient to accommodate a few pilgrims (without fee) or merchants (for a modest fee) who stopped in the village on their way to more prestigious towns. According to witnesses, visitors were treated with legendary kindness and warmth by Jacques's wife, Isabelle Romée, who had come from Vouthon, four miles from Domrémy; her second name was commonly conferred on those who had completed a religious pilgrimage to Rome. For centuries, such a pious journey had indicated profound devotion: traveling to sacred sites—to Rome, for example, where the apostles Peter and Paul were believed to have been martyred—was difficult, expensive and unsafe in any season. Women, even in the company of clergy, were easy targets of brigands, rapists and highwaymen.

At home, Isabelle's primary task was to raise her children as good Christians and to see that they knew their prayers. She and Jacques had three boys and two girls: Jacques or Jacquemin; Jehan or Jean; Pierre or Pierrelot; Jehanne or Jeanne; and Catherine. Jean and Pierre appear later in the story; of Jacques and Catherine almost nothing is known except that the latter married at about the age of sixteen and died soon after.

The name Jehanne is rooted in the late Latin Johanna, the feminine of Johannes, or John; in English the name takes many forms, among them Joan, Jean, Joanne or Jane. Jehanne was often (and eventually always) written as Jeanne, which was how the name was and is pronounced (the h being silent). "In my country," she said, referring to her region, "people called me Jeannette [the affectionate diminutive for Jeanne], but they called me Jeanne when I came into France," which meant, at the time, the central part of the kingdom, where the royal court could be found and the monarch resided.

As for her established name in history, chroniclers and poets of her time (and she herself) never referred to "Joan of Arc." The appellation "Johanna Darc" was first used twenty-five years after her death, at the trial striking down the validity of the court that sentenced and condemned her. The first accounts in English simply translated what was considered to be her father's nom d'origine, and so she was identified as Joan of Arc. The use of surnames was unusual at the time, but had she assumed or been given one, it would very likely have been, as was the custom, her mother's, Romée. For her part, things were much simpler: Joan referred to herself as simply "the Maid."

It has been customary to fix Joan's birth in 1411 or 1412. Not long before her death in 1431 she was asked her age: "Nineteen or thereabouts," she replied, which was a customary . . .


Excerpted from Joan by Donald Spoto Copyright © 2007 by Donald Spoto. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword     xi
Of War and Occupation (1412-1423)     1
Visions (1424-1427)     11
Tomorrow, Not Later (January 1428-February 1429)     27
Armor and a Household (March-April 1429)     45
The New Deborah (April-June 1429)     67
"I Won't Fly Away!" (May-July 1429)     85
A Leap of Faith (August 1429-December 1430)     103
Cunning and Clothes (January-February 1431)     123
A Dress for a Mass (March 1431)     147
A Matter of Honor (April-May 1431)     169
Afterword     191
Acknowledgments     207
Notes     209
Bibliography     215
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