Joan de Arc

Book: Joan of Arc

Author: Regine Pernoud

First Published in French in 1962 as Jeanne d'Arc by Editions du Seuil, 27 Rue Jacob, Paris VIe


The book still smells of dust and age. Lifting it to my nose I can see exactly the place where I pulled it from the shelf and feel the same surge of pure curiosity: what is that book? maybe it's the one? 

Walking in a bookstore I always feel there's a volume waiting for me on the shelf. There's at least one book meant exactly for me.    

When I finally stumbled upon Naughton Booksellers, at 8 Marine Terrace, Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, I was wanting to buy a book; I'd sought the bookshop out, walking alone down the winter-quiet streets of Dun Laoghaire, enjoying the aloneness and relishing the feelings of independence and adventure. I felt free and happy, and for me, books always meld particularly well with happy feelings. They just keep the happiness going. 

The bookshop was underground, and the doorway waited at the base of a stairway hedged with a bright cobalt hand railing. I entered the shop to absolute silence and the smell of a drafty basement. No one was in the shop. The bookseller sat at a desk piled high with old, used and new books, cardboard boxes sitting at his feet, half opened and gaping with even more volumes. I said hello. He looked up and said hello back, then just as quickly as I'd entered, he looked down. He didn't seem to mind that his shop was empty. But I still believed he wanted me to find something--the book I was looking for, maybe had been looking for for years. 

The shop smelled perfect. If you are a booklover, you know what I mean. It smelled old and wizened, as if it had been here for ages. Book shops like this are romantic: the type of place you remember forever. (I can still picture the shelves and the winding staircase in a bookshop in York, England, and see the bookseller peering over his half-rim spectacles to answer my question about Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind. I bought a folio of A Christmas Carol there, though not on that particular day). 

When I found Joan de Arc I was genuinely interested in the subject matter. Not to mention it was a beautiful, olive-green hardback with gold embellishments on the front cover and a (slightly unnecessary) yellow ribbon attached at the spine, for place-keeping. Within thirty seconds of pulling it from the shelf, I knew I'd buy it. And now I've had it for a full year. 

And I haven't finished it yet. (Another failed attempt! But. . . )

Seems like it's fair, since I've waited so long to crack it open, that I take just as long to read it. The book is organized into multiple chapters, rigins and Childhood, Vocation and Departure, Joan before the Dauphin, Orleans, The Road to Rheims, then lastly, Death and Rehabilitation. 

Though I can't tell you much about Joan's life yet, I can summarize this much: Joan of Arc, originally named Jeanne, was burned at the stake for heresy on May 30, 1431, after leading the French army at Orleans. She believed she was called by God to crown the Dauphin as King of France. Only nineteen when she died, "Chaucer died twelve years before her death" and "Leonardo da Vinci was born twenty-one years after it." (Editor's Foreword, 5). As a symbol she has been everlasting, and as a figure she stood for faith, conviction and utmost bravery. 

So. I'll be finishing this book. Just not this next week. 


next week's book: All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy