April 2, 2012
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Here we are at the end of March (well, close enough), and it’s time to wrap up our reading of the Book of the City of Ladies. I hope you all enjoyed it or at least got something out of it. I know my rather one-sided enthusiasm for Christine’s amazing book is not necessarily shared by all of you!
I was so pleased to have the chance to learn about this international debate, the “Querrel du Roman de la Rose,” and the resulting discussion about the status of women in society. I would love to read more of the documents from that debate, and hope to get that chance sometime.
Thanks so much for joining in this month’s reading. If you haven’t yet linked up your blog post, this is the place to do it. Please tell me your thoughts about medieval society, women, and Christine’s challenge to her contemporaries.
March 18, 2012
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I hope you’ve all been able to find copies of the book and are enjoying it. I have been having a great time with Christine! Her book is so medieval in its logic and sort-of-allegory, and so different in content from any other medieval text I’ve ever read. I enjoy how Christine poses a question about the misogynist point of view and then answers it with examples from history (or legend, as the case may be). I particularly like how she takes tradition and Christianity and uses them to support her points. She makes her ideas sound obvious and like plain common sense, and yet they must often have been quite stunning to her readers.
Some questions we might discuss:
Sometimes Christine changes the story she’s telling for her own purposes: Minerva, Ceres, and other figures we know as mythological goddesses become historical women, Biblical characters act a little differently than we might remember, or stories from history are changed. Some of this probably comes from Christine’s source material; she worked from fewer texts than we have now. Some of it must come from Christine herself. What do you think about this, and was it effective for her purposes?
Some people argue over whether Christine de Pizan can really be called a feminist. What is your opinion?
Once you get to the end, tell me what you think of Christine’s recommendations for society. What changes does she imagine? What do you think of her critique of her society and women’s place within it?
March 3, 2012
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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.