(Rütten & Loening, Germany, Hardcover, 1996, read: January 99)
''Joan, a young girl with a phenomenal intellect, grows up in 9th century France. The daughter of a
strictly religious father and a pagan mother she achieves what all other girls and women of the
medivals are banned from: a sound and thorough education in medicine and philosophy. But Joan
knows that, being a woman, the final portals to wisdom will forever be closed for her, yet she
struggles to survive. Disguised as a monk she joins the abbey in Fulda, and years later she is bound
for Rome. There she quickly rises to fame as physician to the pope. And eventually it is she who
governs the fate of the catholic church: as Pope John Angelicus she ascendes the papal throne.''
(Translation of the German cover text)
I don't know anyone who needed more than 5 days to finish this book. And it has not less than
566 pages! Truly a huge tume. But this true story of a young woman who, against all odds and
obstacles goes for what she wants most -namley knowledge- is on none of its pages boring.
The author admits in her epiloge that she had to supplement Joans personal background with
fictious details. "Not much is known about Joans childhood and adolescence; ... however the
momentous events in her adult life as described in Pope Joan correspond to the actual historic
sources; the same applies for the historic framework ... " (p 563). Although some facts have been
made to fit for the tale, this book paints a very vivid picture of the 'dark' Middle Ages.
As a woman one is sometimes short of throwing up, having to read how women are generally treated.
Here is one example of what the oh so well learned clergymen had to say about women who wanted
nothing more than to learn how to read and write: "Some women have -not unlike some animals-
developed a great ability to mock, and thus are able to memorize the words of men, repeat them and
in that fashion giving the apperance of erudition. But this ability to mock may not be confounded with
the true reason, which is by nature a sole attribute of men." (p115f).
How much better off are we today! However, women like Joan are the ones who paved the ground
for all the ways open for todays women. But this is by no means a piece of "women's literature".
The story is certainly very appealing to men as well. Eventually this is a story about a person who
rose to the highest position of christianity, unregarded of her personal heritage and the world she
[Dorothée Büttgen, May 99]