Places: The Book of the City of Ladies

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Le Livre de la Cité des Dames, c. 1405 (English translation, 1521, 1982)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Allegory

Time of work: Early fifteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Book of the City of Ladies, TheFrance’s capital city and Christine’s home. Parisian society of her time is typically misogynist, or antifeminist at best, with its attitudes fed by religious, philosophical, and cultural arguments against the virtue and worthiness of women. Numerous examples of worthy women in Christine’s recitations derive from French history. This probably serves to support the traditio theory, whereby ancient Rome’s greatness was translated to Christian France.

Christine’s study

Christine’s study. Surrounded by books on all kinds of subjects, while “solitary and separated from the world,” the widowed Christine ponders the role of women in western intellectual and literary history. Her visitations by the allegorical ladies are not a matter of a dream, but of a conscious struggle against the social prejudices of her age, as symbolized by her own books. She is thus both isolated from the world’s opinions, yet intimately fenced in by them.

City of Ladies

City of Ladies. The “city” that Christine is to build with her pen (“mix the mortar in your ink bottle”) will be gorgeous, peerless, everlasting, ever prosperous and unconquerable. Each of Christine’s three visitors provides her with a long list of examples of worthy women with whom she is to build the city. It is to be constructed on the flat, well-watered, fertile, and fruitful Field of Letters. Reason helps Christine with the ditches, foundations, and walls by refuting the misogynistic claims of male authors and by reporting on a long list of powerful and inventive women. Rectitude helps her lay out streets, build edifices, and populate the place by reciting a litany of worthy and virtuous women who were seers, loving and faithful wives, saviors of their nations, well educated, chaste, and who loved overmuch. Roofs of gold, as well as a queen, are provided by Lady Justice, in the forms of female saints and the Virgin Mary. Like the City of God of St. Augustine, Christine’s city is a community of virtuous people past and present, whose personal qualities segregate them from the common fold.

Amazonia

Amazonia. Vibrant empire ruled and defended by women. Located by tradition and by Christine in southwestern Russia (Scythia), Amazonia has deep roots in Western mythology. Christine uses it as a fount of powerful, exemplary women, as an example of a place ruled successfully by women, and as a fully female society like that of her own city, which surpasses it.

*Rome

*Rome. Ancient capital of the Roman Empire. True to her culture, Christine finds many of her heroines in the ancient city of Rome. Even this early in the Renaissance much was known of the valor and virtue of ancient Roman men and women, as celebrated by their historians, especially Livy. Rome’s special place in Western culture as the root of both secular and Christian empires made the stories of her chaste maidens, bold matrons, and female martyrs especially compelling.

*Troy (Ilium)

*Troy (Ilium). Ancient city celebrated by Homer and Vergil and discovered in western Turkey by Heinrich Schliemann in the late nineteenth century. Troy provides Christine with a number of heroic women, both on the battlefield (Penthesilea) and within the walls. Christine seems to compare Troy’s foundation and fate with those of her city.

*Carthage

*Carthage. Powerful ancient city-state, located on the coast of northern Africa in what is now Tunisia, and enemy of the young Roman republic. According to Christine, Carthage was founded by its female ruler, Dido. It serves as backdrop to Christine’s recounting of Queen Dido’s career.

BibliographyCurnow, Maureen Cheney. “‘La Pioche d’Inquisition’: Legal-Judicial Content and Style in Christine de Pizan’s Livre de la cité des dames.” In Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan, edited by Earl Jeffrey Richards et al. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992. Curnow finds much evidence that the author’s fourteen-year involvement in legal battles exposed her to a lexicon and style of argument which served her well in The Book of the City of Ladies.Kellogg, Judith L. “Le Livre de la cité des dames: Feminist Myth and Community.” Essays in Arts and Sciences 18 (May, 1989): 1-15. In this essay, which details Christine’s reworking of examples borrowed from Boccaccio, The Book of the City of Ladies is presented as a feminist revision of the mythographic tradition–the Christian allegorization of history and myth.Quilligan, Maureen. The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan’s “Cité des dames.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991. Drawing on her extensive research in the field of medieval allegory, Quilligan goes through each part of the book offering an in-depth commentary which often suggests Christine’s purpose in choosing certain tales to include in the work, indicates sociopolitical views intimated in the text, and expresses Christine’s ideas in terms of modern psychology. The author includes a defense of Christine against present-day detractor Sheila Delany and a discussion of Le Livre des trois vertus (1406; The Book of the Three Virtues), also known as The Treasure of the City of Ladies, Christine’s sequel to The Book of the City of Ladies.Richards, Earl Jeffrey, trans. The Book of the City of the Ladies. New York: Persea Books, 1982. A modern English translation of Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies. Contains a substantial introduction to the work and helpful notes on the text.Richards, Earl Jeffrey, ed. Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992. A collection of essays about the literary works of Christine de Pizan, several of which focus on The Book of the City of Ladies.Willard, Charity Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea Books, 1984. An extensive biography that contains thorough summaries of her works and documents Christine’s long and ardent involvement in the Quarrel of the Rose. The chapter entitled “A Feminine Utopia” examines the contents of The Book of the City of Ladies, its sources and its relationship to the corpus of Christine’s works. Numerous manuscript illuminations are reproduced in black and white.Willard, Charity Cannon. “The Franco-Italian Professional Writer Christine de Pizan.” In Medieval Women Writers, edited by Katharina M. Wilson. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984. A concise introduction to the life and works of Christine, this essay by one of the leading authorities on Christine de Pizan contains a brief summary and evaluation of the contents of The Book of the City of Ladies, twelve pages of abstracts from the 1982 English translation by Earl Jeffrey Richards, elucidating notes, and a substantial bibliography.Yenal, Edith. Christine de Pizan: A Bibliography. 2d ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1989. An extensive bibliography on Christine de Pizan. The section on The Book of the City of Ladies contains entries on primary manuscript sources as well as secondary books and articles.
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