Christine de Pizan

(b. 1365 - d. 1430)

Christine de Pizan was a French Renaissance writer who wrote some of the very first feminist pieces of literature. During the Renaissance, Christine de Pizan broke with the traditional roles assigned to women in several ways during a time when women had no legal rights and were considered a man's property. Because she was one of the few women of the time period that were educated, she was able to write. When she was unexpectedly left to support herself and her family on her own, she became the first woman in Europe to successfully make a living through writing. She wrote in many different genres and styles depending on her subject and patron. Eventually, she began to address the debate about women that was happening during her life through works like Letters to the God of Love (1399), The Take of the Rose (1402), and Letters on the Debate of the Romance of the Rose (1401-1403). Her writing finally culminated in her most famous book, The Book of the City of Ladies (1404-05) and its sequel Book of the Treasury of Ladies (1405).

Christine de Pizan's early life left her well prepared for the challenges that she would later face. Born in Italy, she moved to France at a young age when her father, Thomas de Pizan, became the astrologer of King Charles V. Her father assured it that she had the best education possible. She was married at the age of fifteen to Etienne de Castel. Though an arranged marriage, they were very happy together. Etienne was a nobleman and a scholar who encouraged Christine to continue her studies while they were married.

Soon after their marriage, tragedy struck Christine 's life. When Charles V died in 1380, her father lost his position at the court. he became ill and eventually died in 1385. She and her husband assumed the care for her family after this. Then, in 1389, Etienne suddenly took ill while he was abroad with Charles VI. Christine was left alone to support her mother and her three small children.

Despite wishing for death, Christine persevered and turned to writing as a way to support her family. She began to write both prose and poetry that she sent to various members of the court. As was the custom, they began to send her money in return. She would make copies of poems and send them to multiple people. Eventually, they started commissioning work from her and she was able to pull herself out of debt and save her family. Christine 's ability to write for specific audiences helped build her popularity with her patrons. After her children grew up and became independent from her, Christine was once again able to read and study along with her writing.

As her life progressed, she began to deal directly with the cause of women in her writing. Her most important work, The Book of the City of Ladies, was written to combat the current ideas that existed about woman's nature. City of Ladies is divided into three sections in which Christine builds her symbolic city for women. She includes all the famous women who have ruled in history, women who have honored their parents, guarded their chastity, been faithful to their husbands, and all of those women who have become martyrs for their faith. Her book honored all kinds of great women and gave them a place to be safe from the attacks of men. Christine's book stood as a testimony to the greatness and accomplishments of women, putting them on the same level as men.

Christine's life was remarkable because of the age she was living in. Women were not allowed to have a voice or be independent, but she managed both. Her writing allowed her family to survive and gave her the means to create not just for money, but for her own purposes. She worked to refute the negative ideas that scholars were spreading about women in the Renaissance and showed at least the elite women of her time how they could navigate successfully in what was a man's world.

Annotated Bibliography

Brown-Grant, Rosalind. Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defense of Women: Reading Beyond Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
This was written by a French professor at the University of Leeds. Brown-Grant writes on medieval literature and has translated a version of the Book of the City of Ladies. Here she does an in-depth analysis of Christine's major work, examining it from a feminist perspective. Brown-Grant's aim is to show how the culture and audience effected Christine's writing and her moral vision of the world. She looks at Christine's strong beliefs in good morals and how she changed the genres and voices she wrote in so that she could convince men that women should have more rights. This is an interesting and informative source that is written on a scholarly level. It would be suitable for students and professors of literature.

Chess, Simone. "Vision and Revision: Christine de Pizan and Feminist Histography." (Last Updated 2002) <> (22 November 2005).
This site looks at Christine's work from a feminist perspective, specifically looking at how The Book of the City of Ladies can be used to start a reading of history that focuses on women's history rather than more traditional male dominated historical texts.. Chess finds that Christine's book can be seen as a model for future feminist modern revisions of history. This is an interesting essay that would be useful for anyone interested in a feminist critique of Pizan. However, Chess offers a few warnings about her page. While her work was certainly original, the author tends to disregard the fact that City of Ladies did not result in any large change in thinking, nor did a large number of women read it. Keeping these points in mind will help the reader interpret the page better. This site also features quite a few paintings of Pizan working and reading. It also has a fair selection of links to other online sources on Pizan, though several of them are in French. 

Desmond, Marilynn, ed. Christine de Pizan and the Categories of Difference. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
This collection of essay comes from a conference titled "Christine de Pizan: Texts/Intertexts/Contexts"  that took place at Binghamton University in 1995. There are several illustrations in the collection. They include paintings of Pizan, paintings included in her work, and other paintings of places or situations that influenced her writing. Much of the focus of the essays is how Pizan was able to write in so many different styles and tailor her work to specific audiences. This is a good source that focuses on her work more than her life. It is easy to understand and would be accessible to college level students.

Desmond, Marilynn, Harris, Roy, Sheingorn, Pamela.  Myth, Montage, and Visuality in Late Medieval Manuscript Culture. Binghamton: University of Michigan Press, 2003.
This book focuses specifically on Christine's work Epistre Othea and how she uses the appearance of the text itself to affect the reader. The authors look at the process of creating a text during Pizan's time and how these luxury items used illustrations as well as text to shape the reading experience. This is an excellent source for anyone looking to explore in great detail how Pizan would fit her texts to suit her audiences. She wrote to her rich patrons in different styles and genres depending on their tastes and the topics. It is not as helpful for someone trying to learn about her life or all of her works, and is written on a scholarly level.

Disse, Dorothy. "Christine de Pizan." Other Women's Voices. (Last Updated 16 November 2005)<> (22 November 2005).
This site is filled with quite a bit of useful information, but the format is quite cumbersome. It will take some time to find what you are looking for here. The page starts with a list of links to Christine's works online along with some essays written about her. The next part of the page, which makes up the majority of it, contains excerpts form a variety of her works. Next, collections that feature her work are listed, followed by a list of secondary sources on Pizan. This single page contains a lot of information, but the poor formatting makes it difficult to find what you want. The most helpful part is the small table of contents at the top. It has links to the different sections on the page, including each of the translations. Using this is much easier than trying to scroll straight down the page. It would be worth the time for anyone who is having trouble finding print sources on Pizan because the list on the site is extensive.

Dufresne, Laura Rinaldi. "Women Warriors: A Special Case From the Fifteenth Century: The City of Ladies." Women's Studies. 23, no. 2 March 1994, 111-132.
This article examines how the text and imagery relate in The City of Ladies. In the opening, the author compares it to how Boccaccio's Concerning Famous Women portrays the 'women warriors'. When comparing the two, Dufresne finds that Pizan takes women much more seriously and tries to defend the idea of the woman warrior. Yet, she also notes that the images of women throughout City are highly conservative when compared to the ideas in the work. Dufresne discusses the reasons for this and goes on to compare the original images that Pizan used to images that were used in editions that came out after her death. This is a scholarly article that would be helpful for studying City of Ladies and the relationship between images and text in medieval literature.

Enders, Jody. "The Feminist Mnemonics of Christine de Pizan." Modern Language Quarterly. 55, no. 3 Sept 1994, 231-250.
This article examines how Pizan developed her theories on women through rhetoric, which was a male dominated and controlled institution. Enders, a professor of French at the University of California, argues that Pizan is successful in using the tool that has been so often used to criticize and belittle women to make her case. Examining the visuals in City of Ladies shows how Pizan was able to rework history and give women a place in it. This is an interesting essay, but it requires some previous knowledge of Pizan and her work. Advanced students of language would best be able to understand and work with this piece. 

Forhan, Kate Langdon. The Political Theory of Christine de Pizan. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002.
Like the title suggests, this book looks at Christine's work from a political perspective. By looking at historical context and the work of her predecessors, Forhan shows how Christine's theories differed from her contemporaries. Her works are also examined to find out how she felt about things like kingship, laws and war. In the preface, the author states that this book is intended for political scientists and theorists. While this is a good source, it will be difficult to read for those who don't understand the language of politics.

Isman, Josette A. "The Resurrection According to Christine de Pizan." Religion & the Arts. 4, no. 3 Sept 2000, 337-358.
This is one of the more unique articles on this list. Isman chooses to explore the work of Pizan from a religious viewpoint. Specifically, it looks at what Pizan has to say about the resurrection of Christ. Isman looks at how she uses the sermon genre to discuss this topic and the significance of this. The article also uses Biblical and theological sources to explain the resurrection. Isman looks at how Pizan presents her information and what that says about how people of the Renaissance understood this doctrine. This is an interesting and useful article that would help anyone looking to understand how Pizan fit the style of her writing for her purpose. It also would be a great source for anyone interested in the connections between Pizan and religion.

Nowacka, Keiko. "Reflections on Christine de Pizan's 'Feminism.'" Australian Feminist Studies. 17, no. 37 March 2002, 81-97.
This article examines The Book of the City of Ladies from a feminist perspective, paying close attention to Christine's claims to the moral and intellectual equality of the sexes. The author examines the literary styles of Pizan and what makes up 15th century feminism. Nowacka examines her work through the lens of 15th century feminism because she feels that judging the work through the current standards would be unfair and result in a condemnation of all of Pizan's work. This is one of the best articles on this list and is worth reading. It would be acceptable for any undergraduate student wanting to better understand Pizan and her work. By looking at Pizan not through what we see as proper feminism, but through the feminism of her time, the reader learns just how different and important her ideas were.

Pedro, Ana. "Christine de Pizan." (No date) <>  (22 November 2005).
This is one of the more useful pages on Christine . It offers a full biography, bibliography, and a gallery. The page features a nice essay on The Book of the City of Ladies, and there is also a detailed timeline of her life. Unfortunately, most of the links to other Christine web sites are no longer working, which would indicate that this page may not have been updated for a while. The site is still worth a quick look because it contains links to quite a few sources on Christine and would be accessible and easy for a wide variety of readers.

Willard, Charity Cannon. "Christine de Pizan as Teacher." (1991) <,CharityCannon.htm> (22 November 2005).
Willard's article on Christine focuses less on her role in developing feminism than on her developing talents as a writer and her idea about the education of children. The essay goes on to examine what Christine had to say about some of the current methods of education during her time. Willard examines the methods Christine recommends for raising children, as well as her ideas about the qualities of effective rulers. This article is different from many of the other online resources on Christine because it examines something other than her role in feminist history. Willard is cited in many different works on Christine and is a reliable source for information about her. 


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Written by Jean Lloyd December 2005
Last Revision: 7 July 2006

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