Birth Date: 1364
Date of Death: 1430 (age 66)
Place of Birth: Republic of Venice
Place of Death: Poissy, France
Nationality: Italian
Occupation/Field of Study Writer and women advocator. Pioneer in feminist writing.

 

KEYWORDS: Biography, Arts; Christine de Pizan, Women advocator,  Poetry, Writer, Feminism, Medieval literature, France, 15th century.

SHE THOUGHT IT

Christine de Pizan was a medieval educated woman who loved studying and literature. First  she lived at court but ended up as a close-to-poverty widow. To support herself and her family when bad times arrived, she created a copyist workshop where she would edit and copy the books she was writing. As Laurenzi states: “She was one of the first femmes de lettres that turned intellectual practice into a profession editing the books she wrote in her copyist workshop”¹ (My translation) (p. 305). Her anger, sadness, intelligence, creativity and detailed knowledge of literature made her write breathtaking ballads, poems and songs, turning her into a famous writer that counted on various wealthy, cultured patrons.

She became famous as a woman advocator around 1399 with some lyrical texts that confronted Jean de Meun´s completely misogynist ideas of women (women as vicious, sinners and witches) expressed in Le Roman de la Rose. This was a text, written by Guillaume de Lorris, that was already famous in the fourteenth century  European cultural scene when Jean de Meun decided to write a second part to it. A century later, this second part had become strongly influential and well-known as well, and Christine decided to confront its view of womankind. In the lyrical compositions called L’ Épistre au Dieu d’amours (1399), Débat  des deux amans (1400) and in Dit de la Rose (1402) she fought with reason and eloquence to Jean de Meun´s slander of women. And she succeeded in doing so in many intellectual circles. So big was her success that we are able to read a medieval feminist text written by a woman  more than six hundred years after its writing.

She decided then that fighting with intelligence and through literature for women equality was her life´s course.

Shifting to prose because it allows better argumentation she wrote her most famous piece: La cité des dames, or The book of the City of Ladies. (1405)

This magnificent artwork retrieves the lives and achievements of hundreds of women in history, mythology and her own time (she includes stories about her own neighbours) to show the world, and specially men, how women are capable of many deeds. She fights every misogynist reason with examples of notable women and eloquent logical proof, creating at the same time a kind of woman encyclopaedia and an utopian space for women to live safely (she does this a hundred years before Thomas More started his own Utopia, known as the first of the kind.) The book starts with a monologue of Christine:

 

“There is no text that is exempt from misogyny. On the contrary, philosophers, poets, moralists, all–and the list would be too long- seem to speak with the same voice in order to arrive at the conclusion that woman, bad in essence and nature, always leans towards vice. Going back over all these things in my mind, I, who have been born a woman, started to examine my character and my conduct and also that of many other women that I have had the opportunity to know, both princesses and great ladies and also women of an average and modest condition, who saw fit to confide in me their most intimate thoughts. I put my mind to deciding, in all conscience, if the testimony gathered together by so many enlightened males could be mistaken. But, whichever way I looked at it, consuming the ideas like someone peeling back a piece of fruit, I was not able to understand nor admit as well founded the judgement of men on the nature and conduct of women. At the same time, however, I insisted in accusing them because I thought that it would be very improbable that so many illustrious men, so many doctors of such profound understanding and universal discernment –it seems to me that all of them must have enjoyed such faculties- had been able to expound in such an incisive way and in so many works that it was almost impossible to find a moralising text, whoever the author might be, without coming across, before reaching the end, some paragraph or chapter that accused or spoke with despising about women. This sole argument was enough to bring me to the conclusion that all of that had to be true, even if my mind, in its ingenuity and ignorance, could not manage to recognise these great defects that I myself shared with no doubt with other women. Thus had I come to trust more in the judgement of the other than in what I felt and knew in my being as a woman.”²

 

The intellectual debate that was originated would spread through the centuries until the French Revolution.¹ (p. 303) Christine de Pizan continues to be relevant today, as Hicks states: “It is therefore not so much that Christine’s feminist consciousness in the City is surprisingly modern, but rather […] that the problems facing women in our own time are so surprisingly archaic. They too have survived”³ (p. 13)

Christine kept on writing on the topic for 30 years.

 

SHORT BIOGRAPHY

Daughter of Thomas de Pizan (Tomasso di Benvenuto da Pizzano), medical doctor and astrologer educated in the prestigious University of Bologna, Christine de Pizan was born in Venice. Thomas de Pizan was appointed to court by Charles V of France and therefore he and his family moved to Paris in 1369. Young Christine would accompany her father to court and because of it she was able to access the colossal palace’s library. She received a extensive education as any (rich) boy would have because her father would not bend in this matter. In 1380 she would marry her love Etienne du Castel who encouraged her to pursue her studies as her father had also done.

In 1387 Christine´s father died and soon after, in 1389 her husband died as well. Young Christine (only aged 25) was left alone with three kids, a widowed mother and an orphan niece and no income or way to support them⁴. (p. 13). Her father had contracted debts and the family’s connection to the monarchy ended. Furthermore as a woman she could not access her dead husband’s money for which she plead over long years.

However, Christine was not the kind of person to despair. In that event, she turned herself to writing. She started with poetry, “her first poems being ballades of lost love written to the memory of her husband. These verses met with success, and she continued writing ballads, rondeaux, lays”⁵ (p.1). She became famous and started a copyist workshop to copy her own manuscripts and later sell them. “Among her patrons were Louis I, duke of Orléans; the duke of Berry; Philip II the Bold of Burgundy; Queen Isabella of Bavaria; and, in England, the 4th earl of Salisbury.”⁵ (p.1)

Ergo, in 1399 she started what would later be known as la querelle des femmes. In this year Christine composed a poem answering to Jean de Meun´s second part of Le Roman de la Rose in which he gave an extremely misogynist view of womankind. She replied point by point, condemning him for his mistaken allegations, for his slander of women. And many poets, thinkers and intellectuals replied. Having women as the main topic in their discussion the letters where published and followed by the general public. This public debate was held for a long time and there was plenty participation in it.

This way, Christine was becoming very popular and she shifted her writings from love ballads to intellectual polemicizing prose about women’s situation in her time.

In 1405 she finished her most famous book “La cité des dames” and had written over three hundred ballads. (p.3)

In 1418, because of the Hundred Years War France was going through, she left Paris and went to Poissy´s monastery where she wrote her last remaining poem talking about Juana de Arco. Twelve years later, in 1430, she died in the same monastery aged 65-66.

 

SHE SAID IT

“If it were customary to send little girls to school and teach them the same subjects as are taught to boys, they would learn just as fully and would understand the subtleties of all arts and sciences.”

Source: La Cité des Dames

“The man or the woman in whom resides greater virtue is the higher; neither the loftiness nor the lowliness of a person lies in the body according to the sex, but in the perfection of conduct and virtues.”

Source: La Cité des Dames

 

“Just as women’s bodies are softer than men’s, so their understanding is sharper.”

Source: La Cité des Dames

“Condemning all women in order to help some misguided men get over their foolish behaviour is tantamount to denouncing fire, which is a vital and beneficial element, just because some people are burnt by it, or to cursing water just because some people are drowned in it.”

 

“Men who have slandered the opposite sex have usually

known  women who were cleverer and more virtuous

than they are.”

 

PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS

2004: The Making of the Queen’s Manuscript – Research program-the largest surviving collected manuscript of the works of Christine de Pizan.(“This research programme has been funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant of £199,716 over the five years from 1 October 2004 to 31 October 2009, and is being carried out in partnership with the British Library which has contributed a complete set of high-resolution digital images of Harley MS 4431.)<http://www.pizan.lib.ed.ac.uk/index.html>

 

INTERTEXTUAL MATERIALS

Sandrelli, Stefania (dir.) (2010), Christine Cristina, Italy.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY (BY THE AUTHOR):

Cent Ballades (1399)

L´Epistre au Dieu d´Amours (1399)

Le Debat Deux Amants (1400)

Le Livre des Trois Jugemens (1400)

Le Livre du Dit de Poissy (1400)

Enseignements Moraux (1400)

Proverbes Moraux (1400)

Epitre d’Othea (1400)

Epistres du Débat sur le Roman de la Rose (1401-1403)

Cent Ballades d’Amant et de Dame (1402)

Le Dit de la Rose (1402)

Oraison Nostre Dame (1402)

Livre du Chemin de Long Estude (1403)

Le Livre de la Mutation de Fortune (1403)

Dit de la Pastoure (1403)

Le Livre du Duc des Vrais Amants (1404)

Livre des Fais et Bonnes Meurs du Sage Roy Charles V (1404)

Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (1405)

Le Livre des trois vertus à l’enseignement des dames (1405)

L´Avision Christine (1405)

Epistre à la reine Isabeau (1405)

Le Livre de la Prod´hommie (1405-1406)

Livre du Corps de Policie (1407)

Sept Psaumes Allegorises (1410)

Le Livre des Fais d’Armes et de Chevalerie (1410)

La Lamentation sur les Maux de la France (1411-1412)

Livre de la Paix (1413)

L´Epitre de la Prison de Vie Humaine (1418)

Heures de Contemplation sur la Passion de Nostre Seigneur (1420)

Le Ditie de Jehanne d’Arc (1429)

De Pizan, Christine (1404-05) La cité des dames (Manuscript) (Available in: Worldwide Digital Library < https://www.wdl.org/es/item/4391/>

de Pizan, Christine (1998) The Book of the City of Ladies, New York, Persea Books.

FURTHER READING:

Pernoud, Regine (1982) Christine de Pisan, France, Calmann-Levy. (Available online: <http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k4808365k/f32.item.zoom>)

BBC Podcast, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Christine de Pizan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiSkQxjRAKg

 

WORKS CITED

  1. Laurenzi, Elena (2009), “Christine de Pizan: ¿una feminista ante litteram?”, Lectora, Vol.15, pp. 301- 314.
  2. De Pizan, (1998) The Book of the City of Ladies, New York, Persea Books.
  3. Hicks, Eric (1992) “The Political Significance of Christine de Pizan”, in Politics, Gender, and Genre: The Political Thought of Christine de Pizan, ed. Margaret Brabant, Westview Press.
  4. Langdon Forhan, Kate (ed.) (1994), Christine de Pizan: The Book of the Body Politics, New York, Cambridge University Press.
  5. Encyclopaedia Britannica (eds.) (2017), “Christine de Pizan”, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Christine-de-Pisan> [last accessed 24 Jan.2018]
  6. www.thefamouspeople.com

 

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