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The Girl Behind The Legend

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In the early fifteenth century the tide of the Hundred Years' War in Europe was reversed by a series of astounding. Amidst the widespread destruction and political turmoil, it was a young, unschooled peasant girl who emerged as the saviour of France and altered the course of European history.  The Maid by Kimberly Cutter deftly documents the extraordinary life and experiences of Jehanne d'Arc; popularly known as Joan of Arc. Canonised as the legendary warrior who was chosen by God to fulfil her destiny, in her book Cutter focuses on how Jehanne challenged the traditional concepts of war through the display of her courage and determination to persist against the face of all odds in the single minded focus to answer her calling. She remained undeterred in the pursuit of her cause even as she transgressed societal norms and faced repercussions of being branded a heretic; an offence punishable by death.

The author showcases excerpts of Jehanne's first person narrative which is naturally woven into the story.Born to a family of seven in Eastern France, Jehanne, the youngest of five children - the first three were boys Jacquemin, Jean and Pierrelot, followed by Catherine and Jehanne - was a tomboy. Although they were common people they commanded respect because their father owned land. From a very young age, Jehanne was overcome with a consuming love for God and mentions how she first started hearing voices at the age of twelve. In her visions she saw Michael, the Archangel, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. Jehanne was instructed to raise an army and drive the English out of France. She was then to take the Dauphin, Charles VII to be crowned King at Reims.

In her journey to meet this end Jehanne consequently   faces many trials as no one was willing to take her seriously. Yet standing firm in her belief of the mission entrusted to her, she persists and gradually wins supporters to her cause. The prophecy that "France will be ruined by a woman and restored by a virgin from the forests of Lorraine" lends credence to her visions. Yet the heir, The Dauphin of Viennois and his court and church officials are relentless in their examinations to ensure that Jehanne was indeed hearing voices from God. Finally she is declared to have no evil in her by the churchmen of Poitiers.

In almost all occasions Jehanne received visions and the power of God flowed through her when she addressed huge armies which looked up to her. In spite of being wounded in battle she courageously bore the pain and exhorted her army to fight as God had revealed His plans of victory. She singlehandedly led the French army to numerous victories, thus overcoming years of humiliating defeats. Despite being faced with the knowledge of her own death, Jehanne courageously defied anyone who would dare question the power of God and motivated those around her to use her abilities to the maximum during the brief period she had remaining to live. Captured and sold to the English for a ransom, she was put on trial and excommunicated from the church. Doubts and fears overcame her towards her end. But at the final instance she bravely faced her death by being burnt at the stake at age of nineteen.

The Maid is story of a true historical persona laid bare on paper in a very authentic way. It tells the inspiring tale of how a mere peasant girl defied natural traditions and wilfully chose a path of painful trials and tribulations in order to fulfil her destiny, in spite of being scorned by everyone. Jehanne's sense of justice is demonstrated by her continuous efforts to warn the English army each time to surrender and avoid battle.  Her turmoil during the last moments of her life is well depicted by the author.  Cuttler has rendered an extremely sensitive and humane account of the legend who is Saint Joan of Arc, the Maid of France.