Becca Anderson (author of The Book of Awesome Women) shares de Pisan’s come up as one of Italy’s poets and writers.
In the same way that, according to Virginia Woolf, English women writers are indebted to Aphra Behn, Italian women writers, including Nobel laureate Grazia Deledda, are indebted to Christine de Pisan. Three hundred years before Aphra Behn set pen to paper, de Pisan was earning her way as a writer.
Born in 1364, she was the daughter of a scientist and scholar, Thomas de Pisan, a Venetian court-appointed astrologer to the French king Charles V. Her girlhood saw a rare advantage for Christine: a classical education. She loved France and claimed it as her heart’s home. Her father saw to it that she was educated as well as any man, and Christine learned French, Latin, arithmetic, and geometry. She married Etienne du Castel, who was nine years her senior, at fifteen. In three short years they had three children, and du Castel died around the time of the third baby’s birth. At barely nineteen, Christine de Pisan was left to support her children and several hapless relatives, and did so with her talent for prose and poetry.
She claimed to write constantly, noting “in the short space of six years, between 1397 and 1403…fifteen important books, without mentioning minor essays, which, compiled, make seventy large copy-books.” Among her books are a biography of Charles V, another on Philip of Burgundy, and Le Livre de Paix. In the latter, an instruction on rearing princes and a rebuttal to the bestselling “bible of courtly love,” The Romance of the Rose, de Pisan sought to repair a woman’s reputation that had been ruined by the popular epic poem.
After a writing career that lasted twenty-nine years, Christine retired to a convent. In 1429, just before her death, she wrote a book honoring Joan of Arc. It was, wrote Vicki León in Uppity Women of Medieval Times, “the only French book ever written about the Maid of Orleans in her lifetime.”
While she was alive, Christine de Pisan received unstintingly positive reviews for her work and was compared favorably to Cicero and Cato. Her work stands the test of time. In 1521, Le Livre du duc des vraies aman was published in England as The Book of the Duke of True Lovers, the first book by a woman published in English. Her City of Women was rediscovered in the twentieth century and is taught in literature courses worldwide.
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