At last the book I have ordered arrived today. Christine de Pizan’s “City of Ladies”. It is a while ago that I had read the French version of it and remembered liking it. The version I have now is in English, modern English to be accurate. But one has to keep in mind that this book has been written in the beginnings of the 15th century! I love it and recommend it to anyone.
To give you a taste of it, here a few quotes and descriptions:
Christine de Pizan is pondering over the fact that so many books written by philosophers or poets are describing women as evil. Overwhelmed by such statements and by feelings of disgust over man’s arrogance, she suddenly has a divine apparition of three women “crowned and of majestic appearance”.
It is then that one of them tells Christine “[..] that those who speak ill of women do more harm to themselves than they do to the women they actually slander”, but not before having told her that it is “all a pack of outrageous lies”.
Reason, which is one of the three “sisters”, gives Christine the advice to “take the spade of your intelligence” and create a city.
I love how from this moment nearly everything is told in allegories of planning and building the city, to depict the work that Christine de Pizan is undertaking opposing her ideas to the misogynistic opinions of men.
Also, good to remember that “[God] put His divine wish into action and made Adam from the clay of the fields of Damascus”. This reminds me of a book I have read about the three holy kings. One day they are all three resting in a cave and Melchior, taking a handful of clay says “if God has made us from this earth, we are dark by nature”.
But back to Christine de Pizan, who is in deep conversation with Reason to “build” her city. Why aren’t women allowed in courts of law? “My dear daughter, that whole ridiculous story is a malicious fabrication”…
The three Sisters conversing with Christine are, in order, Reason, Rectitude, and Justice.
Of course, you have to remember that at this time, the world was governed by men and very religious, as Christine is herself, and she very carefully incorporates both the word of God and the necessity of men into her accounts. Although Reason tells her about the “malicious fabrication” to keep women out of the court of law, she also explains that “God gave men strong, powerful bodies to stride about and to speak boldly, which explains why it is men who learn the law and maintain the rule of justice” (hmmm.. speak boldly, yes..). But we learn from Reason that women ARE smart and should not shun to use their minds and powers as it is proven that they, in many cases, exceed men.
And so Reason and Christine build the foundations, the walls of the city, until Rectitude appears and starts building the palace and houses, in which the citizen, the ladies of the city, will live. From her we learn how much women can love, be truthful and loyal. I have to admit that this is not really my favourite part, as the women seem to me at this point a bit too servile. But probably, as mentioned before, a necessity in Christine de Pizan’s book, to avoid too much criticism? Or just the way things where at that time. “Is it true what so many men say [..] about it being the fault of women and their shrewish, vengeful nagging that the married state is such a constant hell for men?”… But Rectitude starts describing how hard women actually work for the family, how much they actually care and sacrifice themselves, and all this for what (and here I thought, this is why Feminism does matter!): “Not to mention all those wives who are laden down with lots of tiny mouths to feed and lie starving to death in penury whilst their husbands are either out visiting places of depravity or living it up in town or in taverns.”
But listen to that: “It therefore angers and upsets me when men claim that women want to be raped and that, even though a woman may verbally rebuff a man, she won’t in fact mind it if he does force himself upon her” (!!!! Ay!!!!.. and still many men think like that!!!).
I think I can leave it by that, I revealed already too much, maybe just one little thing. The last, Justice, will “bring the most noble queen” into the city. And who is it? … Of course!