"And to this end I thought that I would multiply this work in various copies throughout the world … so that it can be presented in various places to queens, princesses, and noble ladies … that through their efforts it may be circulated among other women" (qtd. in Willard 211).Further proof of her influence is that Anne of France wrote Enseignements à sa fille Suzanne de Bourbon for her daughter in 1505, which was heavily influenced by Christine’s Livre des trois vertus. Her daughter, recognizing the worth of her mother’s book for other women, had it published in 1521 (Bornstein 71). Today, “Christine is ... regarded as one of the major figures of late medieval French literature” (Huot 89).It is no great surprise that her writing is so influential. It was revolutionary in many regards. She wrote in the vernacular, French, when all around her, her male contemporaries, were writing in Latin, which was the language of the aristocratic intellectuals. Christine herself had Latin withheld from her education by her father: he provided her with “learning in the vernacular, i.e., the mother language, while withholding a full clerkly formation in Latin, i.e., the father language” (Brownlee 368). This may have resulted in her feeling as if a door had been shut in her face, which she wanted to open for others. Perhaps she could foresee a future when all citizens would be able to read, which they would naturally do in the vernacular, and therefore potentially have access to her books. To this end, the Livre des trois Vertus contains sections for bourgeois and peasant women along with one for ladies.
”Later, in Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V, a biography of King Charles V of France, she uses invective again:To all nobles and lovers of wisdom as well, I address to them my new invective in which I hope to treat the virtues and properties of nobility, chivalry, and wisdom, what follows from them, and what good comes from them (qtd. in Solterer). Here she is using invective in a positive way, but with the intention of agitating all “nobles and lovers of wisdom,” whom she sees as, in fact, not being virtuous and wise. According to Solterer, she was passing “blame ... by way of its opposite number – praise.” Christine’s autobiography, L’Avision Christine, is yet another example of a text in which she uses invective liberally: “L’Avision Christine inaugurated the nationalistic persona of France who attacked with the scorching terms of invective” (Solterer).
Le Livre de la Cité des Dames has yet more examples of Christine’s verbal violence. In the final passage of the work she writes speaks to her readers didactically making liberal use of aggressive language towards their detractors. She refers to them as women’s “enemies and assailants” and encourages her readers not to misuse the empowerment she bequeathes them, “like the arrogant who turn proud when their prosperity grows and their wealth multiplies” (Pizan 254). She could be referring here to prosperity and wealth of power, ie., held by men, who because they have all the power in society, have become arrogant and proud, thinking they alone are the virtuous ones. Later in the passage she warns the ladies to beware of “the snares of evil men” (Pizan 256). She uses abusive language selectively, insunuating that not all men are evil, but merely to beware of the ones that are (Pizan 256).
This noble lady will not be above calling sometimes on women in childbed, both the rich and the poor. She will give alms to the poor and honor the rich. She will sponsor the christening of their children and, in short, will show herself so charitable and so kind in all things and so humane toward her subjects that they will speak only good of her, praying for her and holding her in great affection (qtd. in Willard 149).
She clearly does not see their role ending there. She also instructs them to guard their estates while their husbands are away:
We have also said that she should have a man’s heart, which means that she should know the laws of warfare and all things pertaining to them so that she will be prepared to command her men if there is need of it, knowing how to assault and defend, if the situation requires it … She should try out her defenders and ascertain the quality of their courage and determination before putting too much trust in them, to see what strength and help she can count on in case of need; she should make sure of this and not put her trust in vain or feeble promises. She must give special attention to what resources she would have until her husband could get there… (qtd. in Willard 149).So, it would seem women were responsible for much more than familial and domestic roles as written by Barberino. Christine’s writing then must have come as a breath of fresh air to her readers, who could finally read about what was actually happening in their lives.
Bornstein, Diane. The Lady in the Tower Medieval Courtesy Literature for Women. Hamden: Archon Books, 1983
Brownlee, Kevin. “Literary genealogy and the problem of the father: Christine de Pizan and Dante.” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies Fall. 1993: 365 – 387.
Huot, Sylvia. Rev. of Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan, by Earl Jeffrey Richards, Joan Willamson, Nadia Margolis and Christine Reno. Modern Philology August. 1994: 89 – 93.
Pizan, Christine de. The Book of the City of Ladies. Trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards. New York: Persea. 1982.
Solterer, Helen. “Flaming words: verbal violence and gender in premodern Paris.” The Romanic Review March. 1995: v86
Sunshine for Women. Feminist Foremothers 1400 to 1800. 12 April 2001. http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/march99/pizan3.html.
Willard, Charity Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea. 1984.
Source for Modified Image: http://www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~kstaples/gallery.html
Christine Offering Her Book to the Queen of France, Isabeau of Bavaria. Christine de Pizan, British Museum, MS Harley 4431, f.-- c. 1411