[The following passage is from Frances Gies’ excellent book, Joan of Arc: The Legend and the Reality, 1981.]
Fifteen-year-old Mark Twain was serving his apprenticeship as a printer when one day a page from a book about Joan of Arc—whose it was he did not say—blew across his homeward path. He read about Joan’s persecution in prison by her English captors and was enthralled. Querying his mother, he was surprised to discover that Joan was a real person. Subsequently he read everything he could find about her and about medieval history, and even taught himself a little Latin and French. He later claimed that the stray leaf from the book had opened the world of literature to him.
Twain did not actually embark on the writing of his fictional biography, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, using translations of Quicherat, until almost forty years later (the book was published in 1896). When he did, it was as an escape from potboilers. The book was “private and not for print, it’s written for love and not for lucre.” He was afraid to append his name to it for fear people would think it was meant to be funny. His Joan was a liberator, but much more important, a symbol of virginity and purity, modeled after his own daughter Susy (who died tragically the year the book was published). He read the manuscript aloud every night to the family. “Many of Joan’s words and sayings are historically correct,” Susy wrote to a friend, “and Papa cries when he reads them.” As he read the closing chapters to the family, they were all in tears. Bernard Shaw described Mark Twain’s heroine as “an unimpeachable American school teacher in armour,” who, however, “being the work of a man of genius, remains a credible human goodygoody in spite of her creator’s infatuation.”
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