Women in History:
Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430)
She was an Italian French late medieval author. She served as a court writer for several dukes (Louis of Orleans, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, and John the Fearless of Burgundy) and the French royal court during the reign of Charles VI. As a poet, she was well known and highly regarded in her own day; she completed 41 works during her 30-year career, and can be regarded as Europe’s first professional woman writer. She married in 1380, at the age of 15, and was widowed 10 years later. Much of the impetus for her writing came from her need to earn a living for herself and her three children. She spent most of her childhood and all of her adult life in Paris and then the abbey at Poissy, and wrote entirely in her adoptive tongue of Middle French.
Her early courtly poetry is marked by her knowledge of aristocratic custom and fashion of the day, particularly involving women and the practice of chivalry. Her early and later allegorical and didactic treatises reflect both autobiographical information about her life and views and also her own individualized and humanist approach to the scholastic learned tradition of mythology, legend, and history she inherited from clerical scholars and to the genres and courtly or scholastic subjects of contemporary French and Italian poets she admired. Supported and encouraged by important royal French and English patrons, she influenced 15th-century English poetry. Her success stems from a wide range of innovative writing and rhetorical techniques that critically challenged renowned writers such as Jean de Meun, author of the “Romance of the Rose”, which work she criticized as immoral.
In recent decades, de Pizan’s work has been returned to prominence by the efforts of scholars such as Charity Cannon Willard, Earl Jeffrey Richards and Simone de Beauvoir. Certain scholars have argued that she should be seen as an early feminist who efficiently used language to convey that women could play an important role within society. This characterization has been challenged by other critics, who claim that it is either an anachronistic use of the word or a misinterpretation of Pizan’s writing and intentions.