Christine de Pizan’s oeuvre was not limited to poetry but included an impressive number of prose works as well. Composed primarily between 1400 and 1418, these works cover a broad thematic range and bear witness to a powerful and erudite ability; they include letters, short narratives, memoirs, manuals, autobiography, treatises, allegorical psalms, and meditations. Many represent an expansion and development of ideas expressed initially in her poetry; her early poetic commitment to scholarship, political ethics, religious devotion, and women’s rights was amplified in the prose works of her maturity.
Christine de Pizan is rightly recognized as France’s first woman of letters, professional writer, and feminist. Although scholars of the past acknowledged and respected her ability, modern scholarship has elevated Christine (as she is known by scholars) to a deserved place in world literature. If this recognition has been somewhat tardy, the delay has been the result of the general inaccessibility of her work, spread among dispersed manuscripts. A number of modernized versions from the original Middle French, translations, editions, and critical studies have dramatically heightened interest in her work. Especially remarkable are her learned vocabulary, her knowledgeable use of mythological allusions, and her feminism.
Christine excelled thematically and structurally in both traditional and innovative forms. As an accomplished lyrical poet, she received acclaim from her contemporaries for her conventional courtly poetry. In this category, for example, she demonstrated mastery of the ballad, rondeau, lay, pastoral, and lover’s lament. These poems were designed to please the aristocracy at court through an idealized concept of love. Her skill in writing traditional poetry earned the admiration and support of many important members of the nobility, such as the Dukes of Orléans, Burgundy, and Berry as well as King Charles V. Although she was composing in the conventional style, Christine often interjected her own personality by describing events in her life, by referring to a noble benefactor, or by expressing her opinions on the important issues of her day. In this regard, the works possess a documentary value.
Although Christine’s poetry exhibits a high degree of technical mastery, she was never content with virtuosity for its own sake. Central themes of the necessity for justice and responsibility in government, concern for all women, and religious devotion imbue her writings. As a whole, Christine’s works bear witness both to a vast knowledge of history and to a profound moral commitment to the age in which she lived.
Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate, ed. The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. Translated by Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Kevin Brownlee. New York: Norton, 1997. Includes selections from a wide range of Christine’s writing as well as seven critical essays on her work and a selective bibliography.
Brabant, Margaret, ed. Politics, Gender, and Genre: The Political Thought of Christine de Pizan. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1992. Contains fourteen critical essays examining Christine’s political writings and assessing her contribution to Western political thought.
Brown-Grant, Rosalind. Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defense of Women: Reading Beyond Gender. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Examines the cultural contexts that define Christine’s choice of literary and rhetorical strategies to counter misogyny.
Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party: A Symbol of Our Heritage. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1979. This work describes the creation of a monumental work of art celebrating the contributions of thirty-nine significant female figures in Western civilization. The Dinner Party includes Christine for overcoming social barriers placed before women in the Middle Ages and becoming the first female professional writer in France.
Delaney, Sheila. Writing Woman: Women Writers and Women in Literature Medieval to Modern. New York: Schocken Books, 1983. This study contains an insightful comparison...
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