A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Introduction to The Book of the City of Ladies


I’ve so been looking forward to this book!  I’ve never done a group discussion blog or anything before, though, so I hope you’ll forgive me for being a newbie.

Christine de Pizan (1363-c.1430) was quite a well-known poet in her day.  She was born in Venice, but her father accepted a position at the French court soon after.  Christine grew up in Paris, privileged with with unusual opportunities for self-education, which she pursued with zeal.  She married at 15 and was widowed at 24, at which point she started writing as a professional pursuit in order to support herself and several dependents.  Over a 30-year career, she wrote exclusively in Middle French and moved from ballads and courtly poems to longer works and discussion with literary intellectuals of the time.  She was deeply involved in the “Querelle du Roman de la Rose,” an argument over the merits of of that work, and her Book of the City of Ladies is her answer to that rather misogynistic poem (which I just read!) and other texts that slandered women as weak, morally corrupt, and generally impossible to live with.

In her book, Christine builds an entire metaphorical city out of noble, heroic, or righteous women.  She creates three allegorical women, Reason, Justice, and Rectitude, who engage in a dialogue with her about why women are slandered and how to show that women do not deserve this reputation.  They help her to build the City of Ladies out of stories: first by dismantling literary lies about women, and then by building their city out of stories about great deeds done by women.  Finally they choose a queen for their city, and Christine appeals to her readers to refute the lies of men.

The Book of the City of Ladies was a big deal in 1405, but in the intervening centuries it fell into obscurity–in the English language, at least.  Simone de Beauvoir knew of it, but a modern English translation did not appear until the early 1980’s.  Scholars have brought Christine de Pizan back into prominence over the last few decades, for which I am thankful.  I hope you’ll join us in reading this early defense of women’s rights.

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12 responses to “Introduction to The Book of the City of Ladies

  1. Emily Jane March 3, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Wow, I didn’t really know anything about this book before…but it sounds SO AWESOME!!! I’m very excited to read it now 🙂 Thanks for the introduction!

  2. amymckie March 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Ohhh I also didn’t know anything about this book but am extra excited now to read it. Do you by chance have any links to where we can read “Querelle du Roman de la Rose” online?

    • dangermom March 4, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      It’s not a book, it was a discussion/argument (The Quarrel/Debate of the Romance of the Rose). Apparently Christine *started* the discussion by attacking the poem as slanderous, and it turned into an international debate on the status of women.

      I’m not finding a lot of easily-accessible information on it online, but there’s a 2010 book called “Debate of the Romance of the Rose (The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe)” which collects the letters and documents together! It also includes other selections of Christine’s writings. It’s not cheap, but there’s a less-pricey Kindle edition and the first chapter is free. There are also selected pages on Google Books. The book does not seem to be in libraries, so you might not have much luck with an InterLibrary Loan request.

  3. MJ March 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    I’m hoping to get a copy of this next week so I can start reading it. It’s one of those books I’ve wanted to read for awhile, so I’m glad it’s part of our 2012 list.

  4. Pingback: The City of Ladies, by Christine De Pizan. « Me, you, and books

  5. mdbrady March 25, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Yes, DePizan is a feminist, most of the time. I just posted my review on my blog.

  6. Pingback: Gender Focus Reads: The City of Ladies | Gender Focus – A Canadian Feminist Blog

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