Pizan, Christine de 1364–ca. 1430 French Writer

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Pizan, Christine de
1364–ca. 1430
French writer

Christine de Pizan was the first independent professional female author in Europe, and perhaps in the world. Though she wrote about education and French politics, Pizan's reputation rests mostly on her feminist writings. Her works on women's issues, such as the role and status of women in society, remain significant to modern readers.

In 1369 Pizan's family moved from Italy to Paris, France, where her father served as a medical adviser to the French king. At the age of 15 Pizan married Étienne du Castel, who worked in the French court. After 10 years of marriage, Castel died, leaving Pizan to raise their three children alone. She later wrote that she had to become like a man in order to survive this difficult period. In time, she created a new life for herself through reading and writing.

Literary Works. Pizan's poetry was greatly influenced through contact with the group of poets known as the Court of Love. Her writing attracted attention when she became involved in a debate regarding the work of Jean de Meun, a member of this group. Though poets in the Court of Love claimed to write in honor of women, Pizan accused de Meun of unfairly attacking women in his works. She argued her point in one of her longer poems, The Letter to the God of Love (1399). In 1402 she discussed her ideas about women publicly with several young men who were members of the royal chancellery*.

The humanist* ideas of these young men inspired Pizan's allegorical* poem The Book of the Long Road of Study (1403). In it, Pizan described a meeting with four mythical queens of the universe who were discussing the qualities of an ideal ruler. Scholars believe that this work reflects the early Renaissance idea that a writer has a duty to influence the thinking of political leaders.

Pizan's involvement in the debate surrounding de Meun's work inspired her to write The Book of the City of Ladies in 1405. This poem, influenced by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio's work On Famous Women, offered a new interpretation of the role of women in history. She followed that work with The Book of the Three Virtues (1406), in which she advised young women on how to achieve a proper life in society. This book is thought to have influenced young women for more than 100 years after its publication.

Political Writings. Scholars consider Pizan's political works valuable resources for understanding the France of her day. One of her earliest political writings was a biography of the late French ruler Charles V. She composed The Book of the Deeds and Good Customs of the Wise King Charles V (1404) to honor Charles and preserve his fame.

As France entered a period of political tension in the early 1400s, Pizan's works became critical of French rulers. In one book, she complained that the nation's leaders were not maintaining a stable government and offered suggestions on how to create a well-organized society. In another work, Pizan expressed the need to calm warring groups and restore the welfare of the country. She also addressed works to specific leaders, reminding them of their responsibility toward France.

Pizan's late works began to focus on how the country's political problems were affecting French women. As France continued its decline, she withdrew from society, though she continued to write. One of her last works was a tribute to France's national heroine, Joan of Arc.

(See alsoFrench Language and Literature. )

* chancellery

office of the chancellor, a high government official who composed official letters and assisted the ruler

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* allegorical

referring to a literary or artistic device in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities and in which the author intends a different meaning to be read beneath the surface