Christine de Pizan

Venice, 1364 – Poissy, 1430

"Turning these things over carefully in my mind, I began to reflect on my own behaviour, I who was born a woman; and I also thought of the many other women with whom I have had dealings, from princesses and great ladies to women of the middling and lower sorts. […] However long I considered these things […], I could neither understand nor admit the premises of [men’s] judgment of the nature and conduct of women."

Christine de Pizan was a French writer of Italian origin who lived in the French court during the transition of Charles V and Charles VI’s reigns. Her literary activity began at 25 when she became a widow, already being a mother and an orphan from her father’s side. At that moment she decided to become a professional writer in order to overcome a delicate economic situation and sustain her family alongside her mother.

Her childhood education was that of a princess’s, including the study of liberal arts. Christine expresses on several occasions the intensity with which she dedicated herself to studying; to be more precise, she states that studying is her most priced treasure. Her father, “a great philosopher and wise man”, fostered Christine’s tendencies towards knowledge, while her mother nurtured her daughter’s future through the “arts of the needle”. Both sides motivated her so that what was inside her could emerge and sprout through her plume.

Christine’s work is made up of very diverse genres and topics, but she is, above all, an unavoidable model in the history of women and in occidental political thought. Her political and proto-feminist streak is fully developed in her magnum opus, The Book of the City of Ladies (1405), in which she uses an oneiric literary device to lay out the construction of a city, both physical and symbolic, built for and by women from the past, present and future. The city protects these women and is built on the arguments that they tell each other, allowing them to combat dominant misogyny by use of reason and words. This misogyny, she states, is expressed in a general judgment on women which, however, is false, for it is not rooted in reality, given that reality is composed of feminine subjectivities in which we find numerous examples of all types of virtues.

With The Book of the City of the Ladies, Christine begins the intellectual debate known as the querelle des femmes. This controversy on the feminine condition continued until the 18th century, and in it stand powerful voices of women writers who fought different misogynistic waves.

Selected Works

1986, Le livre de la cité des dames, intr. & trans. Eric Hicks & Thérèse Moreau, Paris: Stock.

2000, Le Chemin de Longue Étude, ed. Andrea Tarnowski, Paris: Le Libre de Poche.

2012, Cien baladas de Amante y Dama, intr. & trans. Evelio Miñano Martínez, Palma de Mallorca: La Lucerna.

Secondary Literature

PERNOUD, Régine, 2000, Cristina de Pizán, trans. María Tabuyo & Agustín López, Palma de Mallorca: José J. de Olañeta.

OTERO VIDAL, Mercè, 1997, “Christine de Pizan y Marie de Gournay“, in: Rosa Mª Rodríguez Magda (ed.), Mujeres en la historia del pensamiento, Barcelona: Anthropos, pp. 77-93.

OTERO VIDAL, Mercè, 2004, “La ciutat de les dames sense llibertat?“, in: La passió per la llibertat. Acció, passió i política. Controvèrsies feministes /A Passion for freedom. Action, Passion and Politics. Feminist controversies, eds. Fina Birulés & M. Isabel Peña Aguado, Barcelona: Publicacions y Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona, pp. 196-200.

RIUS GATELL, Rosa (ed.), 1997, D’unes veus no previstes. Pensadores del XIII al XVII, Barcelona: Columna.

SEGURA GRAÍÑO, Cristina (coord.), 2010-2011, La Querella de las mujeres, 3 vol., Madrid: Al-Mudayna.

SEGURA GRAÍÑO, Cristina (coord.), 2007, Mujeres y espacios urbanos. Homenaje a Christine de Pizan en el VI Centenario de la edición de «La Ciudad de las damas» (1405-2005), Madrid: Al-Mudayna.