The Book of the City of Ladies

by Christine de Pizan

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan (pee-ZAWN), the narrator. Christine establishes herself as the author by placing herself in her study reading. She initiates the allegorical narrative by describing how three personified figures appear to help her construct the City of Ladies. The questions that Christine poses to her allegorical guides structure the work and connect the stories of women’s lives. Christine ensures that her presence as author receives emphasis by her repetition of the phrase “I, Christine” as she takes up a new question or topic. Although Christine’s authorial stance is a strong element, she reveals little about her personality or character in a direct manner. Indirectly, however, the reader learns about Christine’s studious habits, her relationship with her mother, her connections to French courtly circles, and her interests in women’s issues. Most important, Christine’s insertion of her name continuously reinforces her gender and thus her distinctiveness as a female author.

Lady Reason

Lady Reason, Christine’s first allegorical guide. As Christine contemplates how women have been maligned by the misogynistic attitudes of male authors, a vision of three ladies appears to her. These allegorical personifications are all female because in Latin the gender of the abstract words that they embody is feminine. The only indications about their physical appearance are that they wear crowns and that their faces shine with a brightness that illuminates the room. Reason speaks first to Christine. Reason indicates that she holds a mirror instead of a scepter as an aid to achieving self-knowledge. As with the other two guides, the primary knowledge about Reason’s character and purpose is derived from her comments and speeches to Christine. Reason represents the reasonable. She presents logical arguments against the misogynistic viewpoints advanced by men. The foundations that she helps Christine lay for the City of Ladies are built with the contributions of women in specific realms of knowledge such as the arts and sciences.

Lady Rectitude

Lady Rectitude, the second allegorical guide. When Reason finishes introducing herself to Christine, Lady Rectitude explains her presence. Her attribute is a ruler that separates right from wrong. She explains that she encourages people to follow the path of correct behavior and truth and to defend the rights of the oppressed and the innocent. The ruler, with its capacity for measurement, also reinforces the image of building the city. She is Christine’s guide for the second book of the City of the Ladies. Rectitude is a more unusual allegorical figure. She is an advocate for female virtues that are unique to women and thus outside the areas of men’s activity. She emphasizes women’s prophetic powers, their faithfulness and devotion to their husbands and families, and their nurturing abilities.

Lady Justice

Lady Justice, the third allegorical guide. Justice holds a golden vessel as her attribute; it signifies how she measures out the just rewards or punishments to individuals according to their behavior. Justice guides Christine in the third book, in which she fills the high towers of the city with the Virgin and female saints. Their sacrifices for God have earned them the ultimate reward that Justice can dispense: They have been accorded sainthood in heaven. Of the three allegorical figures, Justice is the most remote and ethereal.

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