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  • Susan Stoderl

Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) | First Paid Woman Writer

A medieval woman teaching her son.
The illustrations for her books are believed to be by a female artist named Anastasia

Many years ago, I discovered the medieval writer Christine de Pizan (also spelled Pisan) (1364-1430) when doing research for an opera libretto. She is a remarkable, fascinating woman. Christine’s husband died of the plague in 1389, and her father in 1388. Therefore, she was to care for her three children and mother. Her deceased husband’s wages were bound up in lawsuits. By 1393, she was a court writer, writing ballads for many of the French aristocrats. She wrote novels, poetry, and biographies, as well as literary, historical, philosophical, political, and religious analyses.

In The Book of the City of Ladies (1405) translated from Brit. Lib. Harley Ms 4431, and quoted in a book entitled The Writings of Christine de Pizan, elected and edited by Charity Cannon Willard, Christine wrote:

[O]ne day as I was sitting alone in my study surrounded by books.… By chance a strange volume came into my hands…. I thought I would browse through it to amuse myself. …[T]he subject seemed to me not very pleasant for people who do not enjoy lies and of no use in developing virtue or manners…. But just the sight of the book, …made me wonder how… so many different men—and learned men among them—have been and are so inclined to express both in speaking and in their treatises and writings so many wicked insults about women and their behavior.

Mathéolus was the author of the questionable book and wrote at the end of the 13th century. He proclaimed marriage was merely a trial to make a man worthy of Paradise, since women existed only to make men suffer.

Pizan believed her son should grow up to be an honorable, wise man in all things. In Christine’s Teachings for her Son, Jean du Castel the last verse of one of her moral teachings reads:

Never believe all the false blame Of women that some books proclaim, For women can be good and sweet; May it be your fortune such to meet.

(Translated from Oeuvres Poétiques de Christine de Pisan Ed. Maurice Roy)


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