CHRISTINE DE PIZAN

(Venice 1362 - Poissy monastery about 1431)She is recognized as the first european writer and forerunner of feminism.

 

Born in Italy, she lived in France from the age of 4, thanks to the profession of her father Tommaso di Benvenuto da Pizzano, physician-astrologer at the French court. Tommaso wanted her to be educated just like the other boys, which was extremely rare for a woman of the Middle Ages. This choice was in opposition with her mother’s opinion, who was very traditional. Christine grew at the court of France between the books, in an intellectually vibrant environment: Charles V himself had founded the Royal Library of the Louvre, it had no conparison with anything existing in Europe for the amount of books (which were rare before the invention of printing) and their quality, the details of beautiful miniatures. Christine had free access to the library (that she will describe later in years as “la belle assemblée des notables livres” - the beautiful collection of important books) and was an incredible scholar of philosophy, literature, poetry.

At the early age of fifteen she got married with Etienne de Castel, a notary and secretary of the court of Charles V, she loved him very much and they had three children, two of which (one died in infancy) she grew and nurtured with great capacity. Soon, however, Christine was in big trouble: Charles V dies and, with the new king, Charles VI, her father lost his job at the court. In 1387 and 1390 after her father and her husband Etienne Thomas died, the second for an epidemic she fell into an immense pain that she expressed in many of her poems, of which probably the most famous is “Seulete suis” - I am alone.

In the fall of 1300, at the age of 25 years, Christine was alone, without the protection of her husband and even the king, with her family into disgrace, an aged mother and three children to take care of, but she never lost heart. She experienced a symbolic metamorphosis, starting to live a more independent and empowered life, more than any woman of her time, a kind of life which was the exclusive prerogative of men; she put to good use her knowledge and engaged in endless lawsuits and in a valued activity as a copyist and illuminator (a scriptorium was responsible for illuminators with teachers specializing in reproductions, printing didn’t yet exist). She made even historical researches from which will derive her biography of Charles V, who was very dear to her. In just two years she composed the Livre des cent ballades, that was a great success and through which she obtained the protection and patronage of famous people, such as the Duke of Burgundy and Giovanni Philip, Duke of Berry (brother of Charles V). These guards allowed her to devote herself exclusively to her work as a poet and intellectual, she gained numerous awards and certificates of esteem from philosophers then in vogue such as Jean de Gerson and Eustache Deschamps. She also composes works for pedagogical, political treatises, poems, ballads, tales in prose ..

Christine will deeply reflect on the condition of women and this will characterize all her life; The role of women as a simple housewife didn’t satisfy her; basing on her own authentic experience, she considered women as something more, as important figures in politics, as the guarantors of peace and harmony of the state. She perceived as a fundamental issue the theme of female education. The inability for women to learn, combined with the forced insulation in their homes, caused the alleged inferiority of women and its absence from the cultural scene. It was clear to Christine that it was a cultural inferiority and not a natural one, as we can see in several passages of her writings. She promoted equality between men and women. Of particular note is her critical work to “Roman de la Rose”, many consider it the first feminist controversies of history. This work, begun by Guillaume de Lorris and completed by the cleric and university teacher Jean de Meung, paints "the woman as weak and miserable being, wicked witch, evil seductress who confuses, with her grace, the poor little man." The controversy of Christine unleashes a stink, scandalizing intellectual, religious and political and obtaining the support of some prominent ladies of the French court such as Isabella of Bavaria, the king’s wife.

 

In 1404-05 Christine writes the work that will give her the fame: The City of Ladies (Livres de la Cité des Dames), which will deal with prickly issues like misogyny and women's conditions using self-irony and sarcasm.

"Alas, my God, why have not you given birth to a boy? All my skills would be at your service, I wouldn’t make any error and I would be perfect in every way, as men say they are ... ".

During the rest of her life she continued to write works that were often criticized. Some examples: Le Livre de Corps de Police, in which she encouraged the princes to help the widows, the autobiographical Le Avision-Christine, L’Epistre au Dieu d'Amours, where she condemned the defamation of women, Le Livre de Trois Vertus, a continuation to The City of Ladies, that encourages women to be strong and demand respect.

We must not forget that it, unlike any men writer of his time, she had to buid, through her writing, an identity as a woman in a social and cultural environment not at all ready to accept her. She herself solemnly declared the entrance in the field of literature, of "a new point of view from which to write, the women’s one"

 

After her last work, the first poem about her enthusiastic contemporary Joan of Arc, and the only one to be actually composed while she was still alive, at the age of 65 years Christine retreats in a convent, the Monastery of Poissy. The exact date of death is unknown, but it should be somewhere around 1430.

 

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