Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies (La Cité des Dames) is one of the texts written during the ‘Querelle du Roman de la Rose’ (the debate over The Romance of the Rose).
Why did Christine de Pizan write The City of Ladies?
Christine had taken issue with what she saw as the misogynistic treatment of women in Jeun de Meun’s continuation of the famous French poem La Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose). So she decided, in around 1405, to defend her sex by writing a text which would portray women more positively.
What is The Book of the City of Ladies about?
The Book of the City of Ladies is framed as a ‘dream-vision’. In it, the narrator describes how she was sitting in her study reading The Lamentations of Matheolus, a 13th-century tirade against women and marriage. She is saddened by this depiction of women and falls into a trance. In this trance, three personified virtues – Reason, Rectitude and Justice – arrive and tell her that she has been chosen by God to set the record straight about women. They direct her to build a metaphorical city which will house a group of worthy heroines and protect women against attack. Christine constructs the city’s walls and towers as the three virtues teach her about the achievements of scholars, warriors and other great women throughout history, such that the Book itself becomes the fabled city. The text belongs to a genre of literature known as a ‘biographical catalogue’, which celebrates the lives of famous figures from history and mythology.
In Part I, Reason presents women (mainly pagan) who were famous for their courage, artistry or inventiveness. In Part II, Rectitude presents Hebrew and Christian ladies who were renowned for their prophetic gifts, chastity or love for their families or countrymen. Lastly, in Part III, Justice recounts the lives of female saints who were crowned with glory for their steadfastness. The text is indebted to De Claris Mulieribus (Concerning Famous Women) by the Tuscan author Giovanni Boccaccio, which was written in c. 1375.