A Celebration of Women Writers

Christine de Pizan: c.1365-c.1430

Personal History

Christine's father, Tommaso di Benvenuto da Pizzano (Thomas de Pizan), moved from Venice to France as court astrologer to Charles V, when Christine was about three. In Paris, with her father's support and encouragement, Christine was given a classical education comparable to that of a well-educated boy of the time. Her early training included classical languages, literature, mythology, history, and biblical studies. She became an accomplished poet with noble patrons. At fifteen, she married. During a happy ten-year marriage, she and her husband (court notary Etienne de Castel) had three children. After the deaths of her father (1385) and her husband (c. 1890), Christine supported herself and her children through her literary work. She moved gradually from primarily writing poetry to primarily writing prose, and produced a wide range of works including letters, narratives, memoirs, treatises, and meditations. Around 1418, Christine entered a Dominican convent at Poissy, and wrote little more.

Poetic Work

Christine de Pizan deserves significant recognition for both her poetry and prose. Her poetic work is notable both for its technical mastery of the accepted forms of her time, and for its innovativeness. Christine excelled in the complex metrical forms of courtly poetry: ballads, lays, and rondeaux. She also went well beyond the conventions of her time by integrating personal, political, moral, religious, and feminist themes within those structures.

Her poetic writing includes Le Livre du chemin de long estude (c. 1402-1403); Le Livre de la mutacion de fortune (c. 1400-1403), and Cent Ballades (c. 1410). Christine's last work, Le Dittie de Jeanne d'Arc (1429) united and restated all of Christine's major concerns: political, feminist, and religious, in 61 stanzas reflecting on the life of Joan of Arc.

Prose Work

As a woman of letters and professional writer, Christine combined extensive historical knowledge with a deep concern for the political and social issues of her day. In her prose writings, Christine expanded and developed many of the themes first introduced in her poetry. The importance of responsible government and political ethics; women's rights and accomplishments; and religious devotion, appear consistently as themes throughout Christine de Pizan's writing.

A number of her works are of particular interest to women. As a feminist, Christine de Pizan directly challenged the destructive and demeaning attitudes towards women of a popular book of her day, Le Roman de la Rose, by writing Epistres du debat sur le Roman de la Rose (c. 1402), and arguing rather for the equality of women. Le Livre de la cite des dames (c. 1404-1405) used the image of a mythical city peopled by historical and contemporary women to catalogue the achievements of women, and describe their many contributions to history and culture.

Renewed Interest

Due to increased interest in her poetry in the late 1800's, a number of her poetic works and a collection, Euvres poetiques de Christine de Pizan, were published between 1890 and 1900. More recently, her prose has attracted renewed attention. A number of her prose works, including her autobiography, Lavision-Christine (c. 1405) have been published and translated since 1965.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom