Christine de Pizan
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Christine de Pizan (also seen as de Pisan) (1363–c.1434) was a writer of the medieval era who strongly challenged misogyny and stereotypes that were prevalent in the male-dominated realm of the arts. Pizan completed forty-one pieces during her thirty-year career (1399–1429). She earned her accolade as Europe’s first professional woman writer. She is best-known for The Book of the City of Ladies.
By 1405, Christine de Pizan had completed her most successful literary works, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies, or The Book of the Three Virtues. The first of these shows the importance of women’s past contributions to society, and the second strives to teach women of all estates how to cultivate useful qualities in order to counteract the growth of misogyny (Willard 1984:135).
Christine’s final work was a poem eulogizing Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who took a very public role in organizing French military resistance to English domination in the early fifteenth century. Written in 1429, The Tale of Joan of Arc celebrates the appearance of a woman military leader who, according to Christine, vindicated and rewarded all women’s efforts to defend their own sex (Willard 1984:205). After completing this particular poem, it seems that Christine, at the age of sixty-five, decided to end her literary career (Willard 1984:207). The exact date of her death is unknown. However, her death did not diminish appreciation for her renowned literary works. Instead, her legacy continued on because of the voice she established as an authoritative rhetorician.
In the “Querelle du Roman de la Rose,” Christine responded to Jean de Montreuil, who had written her a treatise defending the misogynist sentiments in the Romance of the Rose. She begins by claiming that her opponent was an “expert in rhetoric” as compared to herself “a woman ignorant of subtle understanding and agile sentiment.” In this particular apologetic response, Christine belittles her own style. She is employing a rhetorical strategy by writing against the grain of her meaning, also known as antiphrasis (Redfern 80). Her ability to employ rhetorical strategies continued when Christine began to compose literary texts following the “Querelle du Roman de la Rose.”
In The Book of the City of Ladies Christine de Pizan created a symbolic city in which women are appreciated and defended. Christine, having no female literary tradition to call upon, constructs three allegorical foremothers: Reason, Justice, and Rectitude. She enters into a dialogue, a movement between question and answer, with these allegorical figures that is from a completely female perspective (Campbell 6). These constructed women lift Christine up from her despair over the misogyny prevalent in her time. Together, they create a forum to speak on issues of consequence to all women. Only female voices, examples and opinions provide evidence within this text. Christine, through Lady Reason in particular, argues that stereotypes of woman can be sustained only if women are prevented from entering the dominant male-oriented conversation (Campbell 7). Overall, Christine hoped to establish truths about women that contradicted the negative stereotypes that she had identified in previous literature. She did this successfully by creating literary foremothers that helped her to formulate a female dialogue that celebrated women and their accomplishments.
In The Treasure of the City of Ladies Christine highlights the persuasive effect of women’s speech and actions in everyday life. In this particular text, Christine argues that women must recognize and promote their ability to make peace. This ability will allow women to mediate between husband and subjects. She also claims that slanderous speech erodes one’s honor and threatens the sisterly bond among women. Christine then argues that "skill in discourse should be a part of every woman’s moral repertoire" (Redfern 87). Christine understood that a woman’s influence is realized when her speech accords value to chastity, virtue, and restraint. She proved that rhetoric is a powerful tool that women could employ to settle differences and to assert themselves. Overall, she presented a concrete strategy that allowed all women, regardless of their status, to undermine the dominant patriarchal discourse.
Christine specifically sought out other women to collaborate in the creation of her work. She makes special mention of a manuscript illuminator we know only as Anastasia who she described as the most talented of her day.