Sunday 31 May 2009

The Mistress Bookshelf: Christine de Pizan (1363 - c. 1434)

Writer of lyrical poetry and of the polemic and equally pioneering "The Book of the City of Ladies":

"I had to accept their unfavorable opinion."

[From the opening. Christine is trying to understand the discrepancy between what she had read about women and her own experience. It is the depressing conclusion that she describes here that her visitors, Reason, Rectitude and Justice, will have to refute:]

No matter which way I looked at it and no matter how much I turned the matter over in my mind, I could find no evidence from my own experience to bear out such a negative view of female nature and habits. Even so, given that I could scarcely find a moral work by any author which didn't devote some chapter or paragraph to attacking the female sex, I had to accept their unfavorable opinion of women since it was unlikely that so many learned men, who seemed to be endowed with such great intelligence and insight into all things, could possible have lied on so many different occasions.... Thus I preferred to give more weight to what others said than to trust my own judgement and experience. [p.6]

original manuscript of The Book of the City of Ladies


De Pizan instructing her son

L'Avision-Christine (1405-06)

[L'Avision-Christine is an allegorical dream vision in which Christine learns about the history of France, its present problems, and the meaning of her own life. This translation by Glenda McLeod and Charity Cannon Willard is based on a new edition of the work and so supersedes a 1993 version by McLeod. Willard's introduction summarizes Christine's life; McLeod's notes and interpretive essay incorporate newer research. The bibliography includes an annotated list of relevant critical studies (the annotations especially valuable for the French-language studies included):]

The vision of Christine de Pizan / translated from the French by Glenda McLeod, Charity Cannon Willard; with notes and interpretive essay by Glenda McLeod (Library of medieval women, 1369-9652). Cambridge: Brewer, 2005. (viii, 188 p.)
LC#: PQ1575.A954 E5 2005x; ISBN: 1843840588
Includes bibliographical references (p. [159]-174) and index

"An amazing vision overcame me."

[The opening:]

I had already passed halfway through the journey of my pilgrimage when one day at eventide I found myself fatigued by the long road and desirous of shelter. As I had arrived here eager for slumber, after I had said grace and taken and received the nourishment necessary for human life, recommending myself to the author of all things I betook myself to a bed of troubled rest.

Soon thereafter, my senses bound by the weight of sleep, an amazing vision overcame me in the sign of a strange prophecy; even though I am hardly Nebuchadnezzar, Scipio, or Joseph, the secrets of the Almighty are not denied the truly simple. [Book 1, section 1; p.18]

source:, click on the link that is this post's title to find out more!

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In this blog I intend to do some historical justice to the many, many women who have contributed with their genius, creativity, adventurous spirit, nurturing - amongst other qualities - to the apparent linear and male dominated prescribed notion of History. This is just the beggining.