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Christine de Pizan (1365-1430). Born in Venice but raised in Paris, France. Father was court astrologer to King Charles V. Married at 15 to court notary Estienne de Castel, who was 25 at the time of the marriage.

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christine de pizan 1365 1430
Christine de Pizan (1365-1430)
  • Born in Venice but raised in Paris, France.
  • Father was court astrologer to King Charles V.
  • Married at 15 to court notary Estienne de Castel, who was 25 at the time of the marriage.
  • Christine described her marriage as exceptionally happy, and her husband seemed to have encourage her literary and intellectual pursuits.
  • Estienne died in 1389 when Christine was 25. She had three children and no inheritance, so she began to write as way to earn a living.
  • In her lifetime, Christine was recognized as a gifted lyric poet, served as the official biographer of Charles V, and was also the “chief correspondent” in the great Quarrel over the Roman de la rose, in which she attacked the morality and antifeminism of the famous poem.
  • Wrote several works on commission and is thus often considered to be “the first professional writer” as well as one of the earliest European women writers.
  • Her prodigious literary output includes eleven major works in prose, of which she is most famous for The Book of the City of Ladies, eight major poems, and numerous shorter lyrics and proverbs.
book of the city of ladies
Book of the City of Ladies:
  • Written in 1405
  • A universal history of women in which Christine launches a number of feminist arguments. For example, she argues that women are fit to govern in religious as well as secular contexts and that women have an affinity for learning.
  • A vehicle by which Christine transforms “her own erudition into an emblem of women’s potential for erudition” (Davis, Introduction, xxxii).
book of the city of ladies1
Book of the City of Ladies
  • 1-7 Christine’s conversation with Reason, Rectitude, and Justice in which they explain to her the building of the City—why and how it must be done. And Christine accepts her commission.
  • 8-14 Christine digs the foundations and continues to dialogue with Reason: that is, she examines the real causes of antifeminism (generalizing, jealousy, resentment)
  • 15-48 or the remainder of part 1, powerful women rulers and others from history join the City (Semiramis, Artemesia, Lavinia, et al.).
  • Part 2: continues with the introduction of famous and virtuous women from antiquity and the Bible, interspersed with dialogue in which Rectitude refutes various anti-feminist ideas.
  • Part 3: The Queen of Heaven (Mary) is led by Justice to the City and a host of female saints are discussed and added to the City.
christine as author
Christine as Author
  • Manuscript page from Harley 4431. Cité des damesexists in 25 mss, but this ms was overseen by Christine herself and corrected in her own hand.
christine as author1
Christine as Author
  • MS Harley 4431, now in the British Library, contained Christine’s collected works written from 1399-1405 and was presented to the queen of France (Isabeau of Bavaria, wife of Charles VI) around 1414.
christine as author2
Christine as Author
  • Scholar Deborah McGrady points out that, in the illustrations in Harley 4431, Christine has herself pictured often as a teacher, even as a “learned master” before a clerical male audience, but above all as a reader (“Reading for Authority”).
  • In this manuscript and others, Christine often tried to teach her audience—her royal and noble patrons and patronesses, as well as lesser male and female members of court—careful reading and interpretive strategies through codicological means. For example, in the EpistreOthea, Christine herself added marginal glosses demonstrating alternate modes of interpretation (allegorical vs. anagogical); in other mss, she would embed anagrams in and around the text for the benefit or entertainment of her cleverer readers.