Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

Churchill is a master stylist who writes forcefully and clearly. The story of Joan is narrated with high suspense and moves quickly with hardly a pause. The author’s prose is replete with simple, action verbs yet is not without vivid images and well-turned phrases. Churchill is a storyteller who can...

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Churchill is a master stylist who writes forcefully and clearly. The story of Joan is narrated with high suspense and moves quickly with hardly a pause. The author’s prose is replete with simple, action verbs yet is not without vivid images and well-turned phrases. Churchill is a storyteller who can make history come alive for young readers. His book is not a social, political, or military analysis of this facet of the Hundred Years’ War. Rather, it relates a tale that is intended to incite wonder.

The reader is not told why Joan of Arc is fighting the English and the Burgundians. Because this biography of Joan is taken from Churchill’s A History of the English-speaking Peoples, the course of the Hundred Years’ War before the appearance of Joan is omitted and she is discussed only for her role in the expulsion of the British from France. Churchill presents Joan as a French patriot and a courageous leader. Even more so, he portrays her as a universal type, who can be understood and admired outside any specific time and space. From this perspective, Churchill’s picture of Joan can stand on its own as a self-contained episode in this period of English history.

Churchill does not present his heroine as a foe of the English, but rather as a formidable resistance leader who might have appeared at any time in history. He is not biased in favor of a nationalistic viewpoint. Yet Churchill views Joan more as a national figure than as a Catholic saint. Thus, while Joan’s voices from saints Mar-garet and Catherine are certainly not neglected, her actions are explained largely in human terms. He believes, for example, that sympathizers supplied her with information that might have made her appear to have received divine messages. Churchill’s Joan acts for God, not for the church. On the whole, she behaves more from secular than from religious motives. Churchill even asserts that Joan was secretly coached for her examination by the theologians at Poitiers.

Fortunately, unwarranted interpretations of this kind are infrequent in the book. In fairness to the author, it should be noted that this narrative of Joan of Arc is taken out of context. The first volume of Churchill’s A History of the English-speaking Peoples presents the Hundred Years’ War as a time when England was struggling to achieve a national identity. The French, for their part, were similarly developing a national consciousness, and Joan of Arc is viewed as a facet in this larger historical evolution.

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