Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Christine de Pisan: Medieval Author

Hi, Ginger.  Thanks for having me today.  I wanted to share with your readers a fantastic book I discovered a couple of weeks ago.....wonderful research and great for defending those attacks on your heroine when people say, "women didn't do that back then."  To paraphase Mr. Darcy, aka Colin Firth, in Bridget Jones' Diary, "Oh yes they f*****g did."

The book is LADIES FIRST: History’s greatest female trailblazers, winners and mavericks by Lynn Santa Lucia. “LADIES FIRST is a fascinating account of some of history’s most inspiring women….Adventurers and athletes, politicians and scientists, artists and educations, revolutionaries and criminals—LADIES FIRST celebrates some extraordinary women who have singularly and collectively cleared a path for other females to follow,” so says the inside flap of the book. The book offers biographies and insight on more than three dozen women, from Pharaoh Hatshepsut (ruler of ancient Egypt) to Razia Sultan (warrior queen of India) to Hildegard of Bingen (Renaissance woman) to Marie Curie (two-time Nobel Prize laureate) to Sally Ride (America’s first female astronaut) to a whole bunch of other fascinating women.

Today, I’m going to write a little about Christine de Prisan (also spelled Pizan), Europe’s first professional female writer…a widow who made a living for herself, her three children, her mother and a niece writing.

Christine de Pisan: Medieval Author, page 70:

Christine was born in Venice, Italy in 1364 to Tommaso di Benvenutol da Pizzano, a philosopher and astrologer who became a favorite of Charles V of France. Christine benefited from her father’s position in the Court by having access to the royal library and it’s 900 plus volumes. Encouraged by her father, she learned French, Italian and Latin and explored “books on philosophy, science and geometry.” (73)

Her mother, who was not quite as enlightened as her father, saw to it that Christina learned the womanly arts, too…that of spinning, needlepoint and running a household. In addition, Christine wasn’t such a maverick that she didn’t conform to the codes of society and at the age of 15 married Etinne de Castel, a scholar ten years her senior. By all accounts, it was a happy marriage, but ten years and three children later, in 1489, Christine was a widow when Etinne died suddenly of the plague.

In addition to her husband’s untimely death, her father had died in 1487, leaving her mother a widow as well. Christine now had her own children, mother and a niece to care for and her husband’s estate was tied up in malicious lawsuits and disputes. Though eventually settled, for a few years, Christine had to support the family herself.

To find comfort in her new found grief, she turned to quill and scratched out poems, ballads and prose. “She sent her verses to various members of the court and, as was the custom, they began to send her gifts, then money in return.” Word of mouth brought her writing to the attention of others and commissions soon poured in. She quickly became known “for her skills as a scribe, translator, essayist, historian, and political analyst,” as well as a poet. For two decades “she would write allegories, instructional texts, even a manuscript on military strategy.” (75) In 1404, wrote a biography of Charles V at the behest of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, brother to the dead king.

This being the middle ages, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there were a great many treatise, poems and essays written by men attacking women as “vain, deceptive and lewd.” (70) Christine took up the quill, not to support her family, but in defense of the fairer sex against the unjust attacks. In return, the men “dismissed her as incompetent, or demanded she retract her commentaries.” (75).

Frustrated by the continued assault on women, in 1405, she wrote her most ambitious novel yet, Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (THE BOOK OF THE CITY OF LADIES). Using Reason, Rectitude and Justice as female guides, Christine relates the stories of “Queens, princesses, warriors, poets, inventors, weavers of tapestries, wives, mothers, sibyls and saints” to demonstrate both the power and the piety of women. (78).
Le Livre de la Cité des Dames is quite possibly the first biography on women ever written. It is also the first of fifteen major works Christine wrote.

In 1415, however, she was forced to flee Paris due to the Hundred Year’s War and take up refuge in a convent where her daughter was a nun. Her writing was on hold for eleven years, then “in 1429, a young peasant girl from Domrémy donned armor, rallied French troops and the tide of a war in stalemate in favor of the French.” After Charles VII’s coronation, Christine composed her last work “Hymn to Joan of Arc.” Christine died later that year.

Her death did not erase her from history, however. Her works have lived on as a memorial to “the first consciously feminist voice of modern Europe.” Even her contemporaries realized the importance of her works. In 1442, Martin Le Franc wrote in Le Champion des Dames “For the sake of strangers, let us celebrate the valiant Christine—although death has snatched away her body, her name will live forever.” (79)

For more information on Christine de la Pisan as well as links to her writings, check out these websites:

Distinguished Women of Past and Present
A Celebration of Women Writers
Other Women's Voices
xenophongroup

Anna Kathryn Lanier

Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats
http://www.aklanier.com/
http://annakathrynlanier.blogspot.com/

7 comments:

Ciara Gold said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. It's ture stories like these that inspire us to read.

Maryann Miller said...

What a great story. Thanks for sharing all that research and the introduction to a fascinating book.

Ginger Simpson said...

Anna K...thanks for being my guest today and posting something so interesting. Lord, woman when do you find time to read with all the things you do? You amaze me, and for those who haven't picked up one of your books, they're missing out. :)

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

This is a great book. There are little tidbits on other people, short little paragraphs, so you can get enough information to peek your interest. And it's on sale at Barnes and Noble!

Well, I don't read the whole book at once, Ginger..lol. I glance through it, and read the chapters that catch my attention ro that I want to write about.

Cate Masters said...

Loved this, Anna! That's definitely a book I could get lost in. :) I'm glad Christine didn't get lost through the ages. Maybe she should have used a male pen name!
Thanks for the great info!

jane davenport said...

Thanks a lot for your interesting blog.

I have been fond of Christine de Pisan for quite a while reading a lot about her life.

I am impressed by her courage in pointing out the misogynistic ideas spread among the male dominated world.

In "Le livre de la Cité des Dames", she mentions Anastaise praising her skills as an "enlumineresse".

It is amazing to notice the creativity of scribes, copyists and illuminators in Christine de Pisan’s circle.
I advise you the reading of the e-book "Anastaise, the Sharpened medieval Quill" by Alice Warwick.

The historical fiction deals with the “querelle du roman de la rose” and the ideas of Christine de Pisan and her role in the Court of King Charles VI.

The diary of Anastaise depicts her daily life with the French poet and first female writer in Europe.

Told from the perspective of a sharp-eyed teenage girl, the feminist ideas of Christine de Pisan offer an acute insight into the fight of women challenging misogyny in late medieval France.

http://www.amazon.com/Anastaise-Sharpened-Medieval-Quill-ebook/dp/B009W4FT4M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351151911&sr=8-1&keywords=Anastaise%2C+the+Sharpened+Medieval+Quill

jane davenport said...

Thanks a lot for your interesting blog.

I have been fond of Christine de Pisan for quite a while reading a lot about her life.

I am impressed by her courage in pointing out the misogynistic ideas spread among the male dominated world.

In "Le livre de la Cité des Dames", she mentions Anastaise praising her skills as an "enlumineresse".

It is amazing to notice the creativity of scribes, copyists and illuminators in Christine de Pisan’s circle.
I advise you the reading of the e-book "Anastaise, the Sharpened medieval Quill" by Alice Warwick.

The historical fiction deals with the “querelle du roman de la rose” and the ideas of Christine de Pisan and her role in the Court of King Charles VI.

The diary of Anastaise depicts her daily life with the French poet and first female writer in Europe.

Told from the perspective of a sharp-eyed teenage girl, the feminist ideas of Christine de Pisan offer an acute insight into the fight of women challenging misogyny in late medieval France.

http://www.amazon.com/Anastaise-Sharpened-Medieval-Quill-ebook/dp/B009W4FT4M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351151911&sr=8-1&keywords=Anastaise%2C+the+Sharpened+Medieval+Quill

Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Manic Readers

Manic Readers

She Writes

Historical Fiction Books

Readers and Writers of Distinctive Fiction