Above is an image from a manuscript of The Book of the City of Ladies, a text written by Christine de Pizan (c. 1364-1430). The authoress of the book was a trailblazer—born in Italy, but raised in France, Christine de Pizan became an incredibly well-read woman and was married (and widowed) at a young age. As her father had also passed away, the widowed Christine worked in manuscript workshops, wrote poetry and eventually began composing books to sustain herself. Her ambition paid off and, as a result, she is often labeled as France’s first professional female writer. Yet, despite her success, Christine de Pizan still was well aware of sexism and inequality in her society, and in The Book of The City of Ladies, she attempted to address these issues. The text had two major goals. One goal was to present examples of competent and successful women from history, mythology and folklore to show that women could be as great or greater than men. Her other goal was to construct with her words a safe haven (a city of ladies) where medieval women could find a supply of life advice, pep talks about self-worth, and guidance for countering the criticisms of men. One quote from her book describes the above image well:
“Together we must construct the houses and buildings inside the walls of the City of Ladies which my sister Reason has now put up. Take your tools and come with me. Don’t hesitate to mix the mortar well in your inkpot and set to on the masonry work with great strokes of your pen…My dear friend, look at these beautiful gleaming stones, more precious than any others in the world, that I have quarried and cut ready for you to use in the building work. Have I stood idly by whilst you were toiling away so hard with Reason? You must now arrange them in the order that I shall give you, following the line that I have traced for you” (The Book of the City of Ladies, Part II, Chapter 1).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, translated by Rosalind Brown-Grant. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.