This is by far the most readable book on Joan/Jeanne that I’ve found. Why oh why did it take me so long to fall into Vita’s arms? A cursory glance at some comments leads me to comments that question Vita’s scholarship, accusing her of reinterpreting 15th century sources to suit her needs. I disagree—she was candid throughout whenever she was making a digression or assumption based on the dry dusty books she had in front of her. Much more valuable was the expert weaving of the tale into a tasty treat, digestible and understandable. My only real complaint is the usual one for authors of the 19th/20th century– they assume English readers also have a passable knowledge of French, thus she freely quoted large sections in the original French.
Another treat I had was being able to tap into my personal Woolf research library and track down Virginia’s appraisal of the book. Twenty days after having received a copy, VW writes to Vita:
What a time I’ve been thanking you for your book! But my brain is an engine that only runs 10 minutes at a time. Now I’ve just done it, and if you want my opinion, worthless as I feel it considering the lump of putty where there should be a brain, I think its a solid, strong, satisfactory, most reputable and established work; stone laid to stone; squared, cemented, and all weather tight, roofed in and likely to last these many years… Only as there is so little one can know for certain, I wished sometimes you had guessed more freely… Whats interesting is the whole, however, not the parts. I keep speculating—which is what I enjoy most in all books: not themselves: what they make me think. How I wish you’d write another chapter on superstition: what the French peasant at that time believed. (June 29 1936)