There are two critical editions of La Cité des Dames:
Monica Lange, Livre de la cité des dames: Kritische Text-edition auf Grund der sieben überlieferten “manuscrits originaux” des Textes, PhD thesis, University of Hamburg, 1974.
Maureen C. Curnow, The Livre de la Cité des Dames by Christine de Pisan: A Critical Edition, 2 vols., PhD thesis, Vanderbildt University, 1975, (based on the manuscript at the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, ms. fr. 607, the oldest, dated at 1407), [“Dissertation Abstracts International”, 36 (1975-1976) 4536-4537ª].
Many manuscripts of this work have been conserved (around 25); there is one that is autographed, revised by Christine around 1410, which belonged to Isabel of Baviera (London, British Library, ms. Harley 4431).
Pizan, Cristina de, La Ciudad de las Damas, text and trans. by Marie-José Lemarchand, Madrid, Siruela, 1995.
Christine de Pisan explains how one afternoon, tired of studying, she started to read a book she had been lent, thinking that it would distract her. It was a book criticising women. She left it because her mother called her to dinner; the next day, reflecting on this and many other misogynistic books, she became aware that, reading them, she recognised more authority in those writers than in her feminine experience.
“Sitting in my study, completely surrounded by the most disparate books, as is my custom, since the study of the liberal arts is a habit that governs my life, I found myself mentally tired, after having reflected on the ideas of various authors. I raised my eyes from the text and decided to leave the difficult books to entertain myself with reading some poet. Being in this state of mind, a certain strange tract fell into my hands, which was not mine but rather one that someone had lent to me. I opened it then and saw that it had as a title The Lamentations of Mateolo. It made me smile, because, although I had not read it, I knew that this book was famous for discussing respect towards women. I thought that leafing through its pages might amuse me a little, but I had not got very far in my reading when my good mother called me to the table, because it was time for dinner. I left my reading immediately, with the intention of postponing it until the next day. When I returned to my study in the morning, as I usually do, I remembered that I had to read the book by Mateolo. I got somewhat into the text but, as it seemed to me that the subject was not very pleasant for those who do not enjoy falsity and did not contribute at all to the cultivation of moral qualities, in the light also of the ugliness of style and argumentation, after looking over it here and there, I went to read the end and I left it in order to return to a more serious and fruitful kind of study. Although this book has no authority at all, its reading left me, however, perturbed and sunk in a profound perplexity. I asked myself what the reasons could be that lead so many men, clergymen and laymen, to vituperate against women, criticising them whether it be in the spoken word or in writings and treatises. It is not that it is a question of one man or two, it is not even a question of that Mateolo, who will never be held to be of much worth because his treaty goes no further than ridicule, but rather that there is no text that is exempt from misogyny. On the contrary, philosophers, poets, moralists, all –and the list would be too long- seem to speak with the same voice in order to arrive at the conclusion that woman, bad in essence and nature, always leans towards vice. Going back over all these things in my mind, I, who have been born a woman, started to examine my character and my conduct and also that of many other women that I have had the opportunity to know, both princesses and great ladies and also women of an average and modest condition, who saw fit to confide in me their most intimate thoughts. I put my mind to deciding, in all conscience, if the testimony gathered together by so many enlightened males could be mistaken. But, whichever way I looked at it, consuming the ideas like someone peeling back a piece of fruit, I was not able to understand nor admit as well founded the judgement of men on the nature and conduct of women. At the same time, however, I insisted in accusing them because I thought that it would be very improbable that so many illustrious men, so many doctors of such profound understanding and universal discernment –it seems to me that all of them must have enjoyed such faculties- had been able to expound in such an incisive way and in so many works that it was almost impossible to find a moralising text, whoever the author might be, without coming across, before reaching the end, some paragraph or chapter that accused or spoke with despising about women. This sole argument was enough to bring me to the conclusion that all of that had to be true, even if my mind, in its ingenuity and ignorance, could not manage to recognise these great defects that I myself shared with no doubt with other women. Thus had I come to trust more in the judgement of the other than in what I felt and knew in my being as a woman.”
It is very interesting to compare this argument of Christine de Pisan with that of Virginia Wolf in A Room of One’s Own (1929), another of the great works of feminine and feminist essays: “Professors, schoolmasters, sociologists, clergymen, novelists, essayists, journalists, men who had no qualification save that they were not women, chased my simple and single question – Why are some women poor? – until it became fifty questions; until the fifty questions leapt frantically into midstream and were carried away” (Virginia Woolf, Un cuarto propio, prologue and trans. by María-Milagros Rivera Garretas, Madrid, horas y HORAS, 2003, p. 53).
Scentific Direction: Maria Milagros Rivera Garretas
We are thankful to the Research Project from the Instituto de la Mujer I + D entitled: "Entre la historia social y la historia humana: un recurso informático para redefinir la investigación y la docencia" (I+D+I 73/01) for its financial support to this project.
Institut Català de la Dona de la Generalitat de Catalunya and the Agrupació de Recerca en Humanitats de la Universitat de Barcelona for they contribution to its development (22655).
Technical Direction: Dr. Óscar Adán
Executive Production: Dr. Sonia Prieto
Edition: Marta García
Correction: Gemma Gabarrò
Catalan Translation: David Madueño
English Translation: Caroline Wilson
German Translation: Doris Leibetseder
Italian Translation: Clara Jourdan
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(1364-1420) French writer of the fifteenth century. She is considered to be the first French woman author. She actively participated in the controversy of the “querelle des femmes”, writing a novel in defence of women, the gynecotopy called La cité des dames. Christine de Pisan was born in Venice in 1364. Her mother was the daughter of the anatomist Mondino de Luzzi; her father, the doctor Tomasso di Benvenuto da Pizzano. At the age of three or four, she went to live in the court of Charles V de Valois, in Paris, where her father was named as the King’s doctor. She received an exquisite humanist education and had access to the Bibliothèque Royale, recently set up in a part of what today is the Museum of the Louvre. When she was twenty five years old and had three children, her husband Etiénne Castel, notary of the King, died, and she began her career as a prolific writer and great intellectual, managing to maintain her family with her work. She was the great promotor of the Parisian episode of the Querelle des femmes, and a master of the politics that knew how to respond to masculine attacks with the firmness of the between-women, and without forgetting the maternal order.