Encyclopedia Womannica

Beautiful Minds: Christine de Pizan

Episode Summary

Christine de Pizan (1364-c. 1430 ) was a writer, moralist and political thinker.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

Follow Wonder Media Network:

Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I'm Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

Today's beautiful mind was a genius moralist and political thinker. She lived at a time when women were often stereotyped as either virtue itself or immoral temptation and she became one of the first people in history to take up the pen in defense of her gender. Let's talk about Christine de Pizan.

Christine de Pizan was born in 1364 in Venice, Italy. Her father was a doctor, as well as the councillor and court astrologer for the Republic of Venice. In 1368, he became the court astrologer for the French king and moved the whole family to Paris.

In 1379, Christine married the French royal secretary, Etienne du Castel. Soon after, Christine took up writing as a career, leading her to become the first female professional writer of the Middle Ages.

At first, Christine wrote  love ballads, letter poetry, and advice for royalty, which captured the interest of French patrons. She even became the court writer for King Charles VI of France!

In 1402, Christine published her first feminist book, The Tale of the Rose. The work was a rebuttal of a piece by Jean de Meun called Romance of the Rose, an allegorical poem that paints all women as seductresses.  In The Tale of the Rose, Christine fired back by suggesting the other piece’s author was vulgar and misogynistic.

In the subsequent three years, Christine wrote two more well known works, called The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies.

In The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine featured three female allegorical figures named Reason, Justice, and Rectitude, who create a symbolic city that appreciates women, inhabited by female saints, women from the Old Testament and women from pagan history. Together, they publicly discuss women’s issues. Christine stressed the importance of allowing women a voice in public conversation to dispel misconceptions and harmful stereotypes. Christine argued that both men and women are created in God’s image, so both have souls and the same sense of morality.

In The Treasure of the City of Ladies, Christine stated that all women are capable of virtue. She used her own life as a guide for navigating French society in the Middle Ages, and urged female readers to strive for greatness.

Christine’s writing career changed course when the Hundred Years War broke out between France and England. After France suffered a devastating loss at the battle of Agincourt, Christine moved to a quiet convent for the rest of her life. During her time at the convent, she wrote a piece praising Joan of Arc, which is the only French-language work of its kind that came out during Joan’s lifetime. Christine died a year after writing that work, around 1430.

Christine de Pizan was a prolific author. Her books sat in the court libraries of royals like Elizabeth I, and some of her work remained in print for over a century. She has been studied by feminists and scholars ever since she wrote her first works.

She was one of the first female, professional writer to demand that women be allowed to participate in discussions about society and morality. Centuries later, her ideas are still relevant!

Join us tomorrow to hear about another extraordinary author and poet, whose life ended far too soon. 

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator!

Talk to you tomorrow!