Polly Schoyer Brooks’s Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc is a well-constructed, readable book: approachable, without speaking down to its younger readership. Brooks nicely balances making sense of Joan’s visions in both a secular and sacred context. She conveys both the religious and political landscape of fifteenth-century France clearly and sensitively.
My one difficulty with biography is that it doesn’t have any universal standard of citation. Brook’s biography, like Brown’s of Tchaikovsky, doesn’t shy away from making claims without extensive footnotes or endnotes for each reference (though the bibliographies of both books indicate that they are well-researched). It’s not that biographies aren’t grounded in fact, but the line between fact and interpretation of fact, is sometimes difficult to pick out. I understand that the decision not to clutter the page with notes probably has a lot to do with the book’s readability, but eight years of writing with parenthetical and end notes has left me clamoring for this textual apparatus.
Nonetheless Brooks’s biography of Joan is quite deserving of attention, particularly for young readers interested in learning about the exploits of female heroes. I didn’t get to encounter many non-fiction books about historical women when I was growing up: I’m pleased to discover such books were out there.
14 April 2013 ~ Hamilton
Brooks, Polly Schoyer. Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.