For Women’s History Month I’m going to include some brief histories of famous women you may not have heard of. The first of these is Christine de Pizan.
Christine de Pizan has been called Europe’s first professional woman writer. Born in 1365, married at 15 and widowed at 24, she turned to writing to support her mother, niece and three young children. Uncommonly well-educated for a woman of her day, she wrote extensively about love and chivalry, mythology and legends, peace, history and the misogyny of male authors who she felt denigrated women in their writings.
She began her writing career composing love ballads for wealthy patrons in the court of Charles V of France, writing over 300 in a span of 20 years. She also wrote and became well-known for her poetry. But she gained prominence at the turn of the century when she dared to criticize the author of the thirteenth-century poem, “The Romance of the Rose,” Jean de Meun, for what she considered to be the slander of women. She specifically objected to his depiction of women as nothing more than seductresses.
From there she moved on to her most successful literary works, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Book of the Three Virtues (or The Treasure of the City of Ladies). In them she attempted to show the importance of women’s past contributions to society and to teach women how to develop qualities that could help to counteract the problem of misogyny. Her final work, Tale of Joan of Arc, is valued by historians because it is the only record of Joan of Arc besides the documents of her trial.
- The standard biography about Christine de Pizan is Charity Cannon Willard’s Christine de Pisan: Her Life and Works (1984).
- Quilligan, Maureen, The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan’s “Cité des Dames”. New York: Cornell University Press, 1991.
- Green, Karen, and Mews, Constant, eds, Healing the Body Politic: The Political Thought of Christine de Pizan, Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2005.
- In the Sisterhood’s excellent blog post, which introduced me to Christine de Pizan in the first place!