The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan

During the 14th and 15th centuries in France, lived a woman named Christine de Pizan, and she is the first female author of the Middle Ages. In a time when misogyny ran freely and unchecked, Christine de Pizan worked to build women up, and she was praised for it. She was born in Venice, Italy around 1364, but her father accepted a position as an astrologer for Charles V of France, causing the family to move there when she was four. She was soon a loyal Frenchwoman, but always embraced her Italian heritage. She married, had three children, and was widowed by 1389. Along with her children, she was taking care of her mother and niece, making fiances tight. Christine decided to try her hand as a writer to make money. A risky move for a woman then, but she had all the right connections, and the French nobility loved her poems. 

Some call Christine the first feminist, and it is clear why when you read her works, I would also call her one of the leaders of the Renaissance in France. Letter of Othea to Hector was a story about Hector of Troy being schooled in government by the goddess Othea. Letters to the God of Love almost openly mock the concept of courting traditions. Tale of the Rose was a huge f– you to the misogynistic poem The Romance of the Rose by Jean de Meun. The list continues, as she had many best-sellers, but today I would like to discuss The Book of the City of Ladies. 

In this story, she places herself as the main character, a woman spurred by the negative portrayal of women as immoral and inconsistent, who is visited by three women by flashing light: Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. They tell her to build a city solely for women, where the best women can congregate away from the cruel judgments of men. 

Lady Reason is the first to help, and she brings Christine to a beautiful plain that she tells our author will be the base of her city and grab a pen, so they may build it. Reason then describes various women, ones who are intelligent, strong, prudent, and political, as the inspiration and base of the city. With the foundation and walls set, Reason turned Christine to her sisters; Lady Rectitude joins her next. She spoke of women of prophecy, who accurately predicted the future, of faithful and pious women. Then she spoke of the accomplishments of women, the benefits and positivity they brought to the world. Finally, she spoke of chastity and how horrendous rape was, and made claims men were fickle and weak compare to the benevolent and honest nature of women. As she spoke homes, just as palaces, mansions, and domiciles were formed. When she finished, she moved aside for her sister Lady Justice to complete the city. Justice spoke of those who had been martyred and of Holy Women. She spoke of the Virgin Mary as their protector, and of the women who were tortured for their beliefs, that some even disguised themselves as monks to be left alone. This conversation adds doors, roofs, and gates to the city. 

After finishing their city, they hand the reins to Christine, who spreads the word of this sanctuary for women. A place to be free of men’s judgment and violence; a place to celebrate what makes them unique. 

The story was meant to help reshape the view of women from the weak and dependent to strength through kindness. She attempts to give voice to women through showing their similarities and differences, as well as highlighting the benefits that women brought to the world. She would use motifs and themes similar to the Renaissance to entertain and enlighten her readers, as many of her contemporaries would. Hers just happened to boast women in a way that would not be appreciated for another 600 years. 

Thanks to the printing press, her works were printed and spread throughout Europe (they are still printed today if you want to read some of her work). It influenced women, like Anne of Brittany, and challenged the minds of the time to perceive women as more. While it did not work as well as she probably hoped, her popularity at the time was astounding. She was a woman writing about how terrible men treated women during a period she could have been burned for even having the audacity to think she could write. Her work influenced women who would influence politics, and slowly began laying the ground for what is now the feminist movement. Considering this work came out in 1405, used many themes found in Humanism, and the fame her works observed during her lifetime, I would also consider her a father of the Renaissance. 

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