Christine – 1699 words – College Essay Essay

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De Pizan

An unlikely candidate to dispute the unfair, misogynistic treatment of women by

men and society, Christine de Pizan successfully challenged the accepted

negative views that were being expressed about women by the all-male literary

world of her era. Part of Christines uniqueness stems from the time in which

she lived, the middle to late 1300s. The lack of a positive female role model

to pattern herself after made Christine a true visionary in the fight for the

equal rights of women. Her original ideas and insight provided a new and more

intelligent way to view females. Pizans work, The Book of the City of Ladies,

provided women much needed guidance in how to survive without the support of a

man. Born in Venice around 1364, Christine was the first professional woman

writer in Europe. Her father, Thomas of Pizan, was a famous astrologer and

physician who took Christine as an infant to France. His fame as an astrologer

allowed him to be appointed to the court of the French King Charles V (Kosinski

xi). Depending on her father for the majority of her education, Christines

great love as a child was learning; however, Christines mother felt that

educating Christine was inappropriate, which led to a premature halt in her

instruction. (Kosinski xi). Christines accomplishments and her mothers views

that “ladies should not be educated” (Kosinski xi) show the contrast between

mother and daughter. Although she is said to have described her education as”nothing but picking up the crumbs of learning that fell from her fathers

table” (Kosinski 299), Christines writing is filled with allusions to”classical authors, church fathers, poets, and historical writers”

-revealing intellect greater than table scraps (Kosinski 299). At the age of

fifteen, Christine married Etienne de Castel, a notary and secretary of the

royal court (Kosinski xi). Just as her writing reflected her uniqueness, so did

her marriage which was evidently a “love match,” something remarkable in the

medieval days of arranged marriages (Kosinski xi). Christine spoke of a loving

relationship by describing her marriage to Etienne as, “a sweet thing” and

her husband as “kind and considerate” on their wedding night (Kosinski xi ).

Christines family relied on the charity of Charles V for their livelihood;

therefore, his death in 1380 proved detrimental to Christine and her family. The

successor to the throne, King Charles VI, was not as generous toward the Pizan

family, and both Christines father and husband lost most of their pay.

Between 1384 and 1389, Thomas de Pizan died leaving little inheritance for his

young daughter (Kosinski xi). Christine was left to depend entirely on her

husband for financial security. Christine and her husband would have three

children together before his death due to a 1389 epidemic (Leon 214). At the age

of 25, Christine was a widow with three small children and her mother to support

(Kosinski xii). Christine describes this period of her life as a time when she

was “forced to become a man,” as she began to seek out patrons for her

writing (Kosinski xii). Although Christine was obviously a brilliant and

talented writer, necessity was her true inspiration, as she literally had to

write in order to feed her family. Christines first literary endeavors were

the highly demanded love poems of the 14th century, as well as devotional texts

that emphasized her strong Christian faith (Kosinski xii). However, it is

Christines literary work The Book of the City of Ladies, that is most

intriguing to contemporary readers. Christine was the first woman writer to

possess the ability to identify and address the issues of misogyny in the

literature of her time, as well as society (Kosinski xii). This characteristic

made her a champion of the feminist movement that was yet to come. Although

Christine never addressed the issue of “changing the structures of her

society” (Kosinski xiii), her ability to identify misogyny during a time when

it was a normal aspect of womens lives, reveals the insight of the young

woman. The beginning scene of The Book of the City of Ladies describes Christine

looking at a book by Matheolus: When I held it open and saw from its title that

it was by Matheolus, I smiled, for though I had never seen it before, I had

often heard that like other books it discussed respect for women. (de Pizan 3)

Christines belief in intellectual equality is found in the theme of this

story with a young lady reading for pleasure. 14th century women were rarely

literate. Choosing reading as a pleasurable activity would have been uncommon.

What Christine discovers upon reading this text is just the opposite of her

expectations. She realizes that Matheolus is not respectful toward women, but

just the opposite. His work represents women as “devilish and wicked.”

However, she uses her wit to describe her displeasure in the text: Because the

subject seemed to me not very pleasant for people who do not enjoy lies, and of

no use in developing virtue or manners, given its lack of integrity in diction

and theme, and after browsing here and there and reading the end, I put it down

in order to turn my attention to more elevated and useful study. (de Pizan 3)

Christines remarks here criticize the subject of Matheolus text, and also his

choice in diction. Her comments not only let the reader know that she is

displeased with this piece of literature, but that she feels that reading it is

neither elevating nor useful. Thus, she insinuates the futility of the work

itself. Christine cleverly goes on to comment on the subject of the character of

women by flattering her male contemporaries. She writes: …it would be

impossible that so many famous men–such solemn scholars, possessed of such deep

and great understanding, so clear-sighted in all things, as it seemed–could

have spoken falsely on so many occasions…. (de Pizan 4) Christine

intelligently uses this “sugar coated” method to emphasize the point –

the point that these men were wrong. Although Christine was obviously outspoken,

she knew her limitations. Her work would not be recognized, or even read, if she

had openly attacked the male writers. Therefore, she instead chose to build them

up the “solemn scholars” before opposing their positions. Christines

ironic humility does not stop with the prominent male writers of her time. She

addresses God with the same rhetorical question as she asks: Oh, God, how can

this be? For unless I stray from my faith, I must never doubt that Your infinite

wisdom and most perfect goodness ever created anything which was not good. (de

Pizan 5) Again, Christine carefully opposed the male point of view this time

using Biblical references. Christine makes an unarguable point– God would not

create anything that was not good. Christine goes on to ask God how she could

possibly doubt what these “learned men” have written about women when He

Himself has said, “…the testimony of two or three witnesses lends

credence…why shall I not doubt that this is true?” (de Pizan 5). The irony

of her question is in the fact that she knows the testimony to be untrue. By

asking God for guidance and understanding in the matter, she is revealing that

she is a good, moral woman — not the stereotypical “devilish demon.”

Christine continues to question God as she asks: Alas, God, why did You not let

me be born in the world as a male, so that all my inclinations would be to serve

You better, and so that I would not stray in anything and would be as perfect as

a male is said to be? (de Pizan 5) As Christine describes men as “perfect,”

an ironic overtone is felt. Although Christine was a very devout Christian, her

question to God is not one of sincerity. The statement, “Indeed, I maintain

that when men are perfect, women will follow their example” (de Pizan 186), is

found much later in the text exemplifying Christines ability to use mens

own words against them and reveals the depth of her wit and wisdom. Upon crying

out to God for wisdom in these matters, Christine is visited, not by God

Himself, but by three women who He has sent to her. The fact that Pizan chose to

use these “three women” to bring forth comfort and wisdom is symbolic of the

importance of women. She could have had God speak directly to Christine in a

masculine voice, like the voice that spoke to Moses and Abraham. However, Pizan

uses the three wise and angelic women to strengthen her defense of women.

Another strategy Pizan uses to emphasize the moral strengths of women is by

alluding to powerful, mythological women throughout her text. She writes of

Thisbes love for Pyramus in Ovids tale Metamorphoses,of Medeas love for

Jason, and of Heros love for Leander. She cites these women as examples of

faithful and undying love by women, therefore, refuting the statement made by

men that, “. . . so few women are faithful in their love lives” (de Pizan

186). By using these women as examples, women who have been immortalized by the

writings of men, she again benefits from men,s contradictions. Men were saying

how unfaithful and frivolous women were with their hearts, yet they depicted

many women throughout literature who, “. . .persevered in their love until

death. . .” (de Pizan 188). Not only did Pizan allude to mythological women

who were faithful in love, she also mentions a city governed by powerful queens,

“…very noble ladies whom they elected themselves, who governed them will and

maintained their dominion with great strength” (de Pizan 11). This example of

powerful women portrays them in a masculine role -as leaders and successful

rulers. Pizan uses this example to foreshadow the building of the “City of

Ladies” that Christine has been chosen by God to construct. By giving an

example of a successful and strong dominion run by women, Pizan makes this idea

of a city of women a more believable concept. Christine de Pizan was an

extroidanary woman who has yet to be fully discovered. The wit and wisdom found

within The Book of the City of Ladies eclipses some contemporary literature that

defends the rights of women. Although Pizans writing was done for practical

reasons, survival, her work revealed a vision that women are still striving to

accomplish today – equality in all things.


The Selected Writings of Christine De Pizan. Ed. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski.

Trans. By Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Kevin Brownlee. New York: W.W. Norton

& Co., 1997. Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate. Introduction. The Selected

Writings of Christine de Pizan Ed. Renate Blumenfeld-Koninski. New York: W.W.

Norton & Co. Ltd., 1997. xi xvi. Zemon-Davis, Natalie. Foreword The Book

of the City of Ladies. By Christine de Pizan. Trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards. New

York: Pesea Books, 1998. xv-xxii. Lawson, Sarah. Introduction. The Treasure of

the City of Ladies or the Book of the Three Virtues. Trans. Sarah Lawson. New

York: Penguin Books, 1985. Leon, Vicki, Uppity Women of Medieval Times. New

York; MJF Books, 1997.

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