Authors: Christine de Pizan

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

French Italian political writer

ca. 1364

Venice (now in Italy)

ca. 1430

Probably at the Convent of Poissy, near Versailles, France

Biography

Christine de Pizan (krees-teen duh pee-zahn), sometimes spelled Pisan, was the daughter of an Italian scholar, Thomas, known for his work as a physician and his studies in astrology. Both King Louis I of Hungary and Charles V of France noticed these attributes and invited Thomas to become a part of their courts. In 1364 Thomas moved from Bologna to Paris, and in 1368 Christine and her mother joined him there. In two of her writings Christine provides some biographic information. In L’Avision de Christíne she discusses her life in relation to her father, and in Le Livre de la mutacion de fortune she writes of her struggles as a woman in a male-dominated world.

Christine de Pizan.

By Kelson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Christine de Pizan’s birth date is speculative; what evidence there is comes from L’Avision de Christíne, where she mentions the death of her husband, Étienne du Castel, a notary and secretary for the court, who died suddenly in 1389 when she was twenty-five years old. Both Étienne and Christine’s father encouraged her thirst to learn.

After the death of her father and her husband, when Christine was left to take care of her mother, her niece, and her three children, she began to write. She is often referred to as the first writer to make a living from writing. Initially she wrote lyrical love poems, but she became perhaps best known for her attack on Le Roman de la Rose for its defaming portrayal of women. In 1399 she wrote The Letter of Cupid, which sparked a quarrel with the humanists. She continued the controversy with the publication of Le Dit de la Rose. Christine not only championed women in the abstract, she also fought in the courts of law for her small inheritance after the death of her husband, and she supported her family through her writing, which brought her the support of important patrons. She wrote with authority about issues concerning women, as in The Book of the Three Virtues, where she warns women of certain pitfalls and discusses the behavior expected of them during this period. The Book of the City of Ladies, in which she highlights important female characters and heroines represented in previous literature, is often referred to as her most “feminist” piece.

Christine de Pizan lived during turbulent times, which saw the Hundred Years War, the English invasion of France in 1415; civil war between the House of Orléans and Burgundy; the insanity of Charles VI; and the Great Schism. Some of her writing reflects her political views of such events. The Duke of Burgundy commissioned her to write a biography of Charles V, and in 1410 she produced The Book of Fayttes of Arms and of Chivalry.

Christine felt indebted to Charles V not only because he was her father’s benefactor but also because he allowed her access to his library, where she could read and learn from the ancients, an influence often evident in her writings. She also completed a series of political treatises dealing with the problems of France.

Author Works Poetry: L’Epistre au dieu d’Amours, 1399 (The Letter of Cupid, 1721) Le Livre du dit de Poissy, 1400 Le Livre de la mutacion de fortune, 1400–1403 Le Livre du chemin de long estude, 1402–1403 Le Dit de la Rose, 1402 Le Livre du duc des vrais amans, 1405 (The Book of the Duke of True Lovers, 1908) Cent Ballades d’amant et de dame, ca. 1410 Le Ditié de Jeanne d’Arc, 1429 (The Tale of Joan of Arc, 1977) Nonfiction: L’Epistre d’Othéa à Hector, 1400 (The Epistle of Othea to Hector: Or, The Boke of Knyghthode, ca. 1440) Les Epistres sur “Le Roman de la Rose,” 1402 Le Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roi Charles V, 1404 Le Livre de la cité des dames, 1405 (The Book of the City of Ladies, 1521) L’Avision-Christíne, 1405 (Christine’s Vision, 1993) Le Livre des trois vertus, 1405 (The Book of the Three Virtues, 1985) Le Livre du corps de policie, 1406–7 (The Body of Polycye, 1521) Les Sept Psaumes allégorisés, 1409–10 La Lamentation sur les maux de la guerre civile, 1410 (Lament on the Evils of Civil War, 1984) Le Livre des fais d’armes et de chevalerie, 1410 (The Book of Fayttes of Arms and of Chivalry, 1489) Le Livre de la Paix, 1412–13 L’Epistre de la prison de la vie humaine, 1416–18 Bibliography Altmann, Barbara K., and Deborah L. McGrady, eds. Christine de Pizan: A Casebook. New York: Routledge, 2003. A collection of essays on various aspects of Christine de Pizan, including her role as defender of women, and analyses of various works. Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate, ed. The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. Translated by Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Kevin Brownlee. New York: Norton, 1997. Includes selections from a wide range of Christine’s writing as well as seven critical essays on her work and a selective bibliography. Brabant, Margaret, ed. Politics, Gender, and Genre: The Political Thought of Christine de Pizan. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1992. Contains fourteen critical essays examining Christine’s political writings and assessing her contribution to Western political thought. Brown-Grant, Rosalind. Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defense of Women: Reading Beyond Gender. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Examines the cultural contexts that define Christine’s choice of literary and rhetorical strategies to counter misogyny. Campbell, John, and Nadia Margolis, eds. Christine de Pizan 2000: Studies on Christine de Pizan in Honour of Angus J. Kennedy. Atlanta: Rodopi, 2000. A collection of papers on Christine de Pizan, focusing on her poetry and her poetic techniques. Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1979. This work describes the creation of a monumental work of art celebrating the contributions of thirty-nine significant female figures in Western civilization. The Dinner Party includes Christine for overcoming social barriers placed before women in the Middle Ages and becoming the first female professional writer in France. Christine de Pizan. Christine de Pisan: Autobiography of a Medieval Woman (1363-1430). Translated and annotated by Anil De Silva-Vigler. London: Minerva, 1996. A biographical treatment of Christine de Pizan translated into English, with annotations. Illustrations. Delaney, Sheila. Writing Woman: Women Writers and Women in Literature Medieval to Modern. New York: Schocken Books, 1983. This study contains an insightful comparison of Christine and Virginia Woolf, showing similarities in their family backgrounds and education and in the motifs and themes of their works. Dishaw, Carolyn, and David Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A compilation of essays by scholars that provides valuable context for the literary works of medieval women. Forhan, Kate Langdon. The Political Theory of Christine de Pizan. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2002. An analysis of the political and social views of Christine de Pizan. Bibliography and index. Kennedy, Angus J., et al., eds. Contexts and Continuities: Proceedings of the Fourth International Colloquium on Christine de Pizan, Published in Honour of Liliane Dulac. Glasgow: University of Glasgow Press, 2002. A collection of papers from a conference held in Glasgow in July, 2000, on Christine de Pizan. Bibliography. McLeod, Enid. The Order of the Rose: The Life and Ideas of Christine de Pizan. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1976. A lively, engaging, and comprehensive biography. Pizan, Christine, de. The Book of the City of Ladies. Translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards. New York: Persea Books, 1982. This volume includes a translation of Christine de Pizan’s major feminist work and an excellent commentary by Marina Warner on the principal themes and stylistic characteristics of Christine’s work. Quilligan, Maureen. The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan’s “Cité des dames.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991. A page-by-page commentary on the Livre de la cité des dames, explicating it as an antimisogynistic allegory. Richards, Earl Jeffrey, ed. Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998. Nine critical essays on the lyrical works, all but one written expressly for this volume and first published here. Richards, Earl Jeffrey, ed. Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992. Sixteen critical essays, organized thematically under the headings of feminism, medieval literature, and Christian humanism. Includes a selective bibliography covering scholarship from 1980 to 1987. Smith, Sydney. The Opposing Voice: Christine de Pisan’ Criticism of Courtly Love. Stanford, Calif.: Humanities Honors Program, Stanford University, 1990. Smith examines the political and social views of Christine de Pizan, in particular her opposition to the idea of courtly love. Bibliography. Tuchman, Barbara W. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978. A comprehensive history of fourteenth century Europe, Tuchman’s work discusses Christine as the one explicit female exponent of women’s status in her time. Welch, Alice Kemp. Of Six Mediœval Women. London: Macmillan, 1913. Reprint. Winston, Mass.: Corner House Publications, 1972. Welch’s work includes a survey of Christine’s life and works which views Christine as a Janus-headed figure in a time of transition. Willard, Charity Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea Books, 1984. This is a thorough and scholarly biography, with in-depth analysis of Christine’ works and an extensive bibliography. Yenal, Edith. Christine de Pizan: A Bibliography of Writings by Her and About Her. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1982. This is an excellent resource, containing an overview of Christine’s background, writings, and ideas; summaries of all of her published and unpublished works; and an annotated bibliography of books and articles dealing with Christine and her works.

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