The many gaps in the verifiable history of Jeanne d’Arc’s early years in rural France, as well as her improbable rise to prominence and martyrdom, have left room for a considerable amount of speculation and projection over the centuries. There is no shortage of fictional or historical accounts of her life, or ways of characterising the Maid’s struggle, but with The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc Ali Alizadeh breathes fresh life into a story that has been retold and re-contextualised over and again.
Alizadeh’s approach hinges on one of the primary gestures of historical fiction. The narrator notes that, ‘Everyone thinks everything has been written about, has been repeated ad infinitum, and there’s nothing left to excavate ...’ before highlighting the contested and unknown elements of Jeanne d’Arc’s legend. In Alizadeh’s account, Jeanne’s miraculous personal and military feats have as much to do with a need for personal liberation from constraints pertaining to her gender, and the nature of her desires, as the need to liberate France from the rule of its English despoilers. While many around her are motivated by the enemy’s cruelty, Jeanne hopes to win the spiritual right to be her true self.