Christine de Pisan

The French author Christine de Pisan C. (c. 1364-ca. 1430) wrote lyric poetry and also prose and verse works on a great variety of philosophical, social, and historical subjects.

Thomas de Pisan, father of Christine de Pisan, was an astrologer and medical doctor in the service of the republic of Venice when he accepted a similar appointment at the court of Charles V of France. Born in Venice, Christine was taken to Paris in 1368, where she was brought up in courtly surroundings and enjoyed a comfortable and studious childhood and adolescence. At 15 she married étienne de Castel. In 1380 Charles V died, thereby dissolving the royal appointment of her father, who died 5 years later. Christine's husband, secretary of Charles VI, died in 1390, leaving her a widow at 25, with three children, considerable debts, and impatient creditors. Two years later Charles VI became insane, leaving the nation open prey.

Impoverished by multiple blows of adversity, Christine determined to earn her living by writing, composing her first ballades in 1393. Her works were successful, and richly illuminated copies of some of them were presented to noted patrons of letters. Thirty major titles followed until she retired to the convent at Poissy, where her only daughter had been a religious for 22 years. She wrote no more except one religious work and a eulogy on Joan of Arc after the victory at Orléans.

In verse, Christine's first work appears to be her Hundred Ballades, followed by 26 virelays, 2 lays, 69 rondeaux, 70 framed poems, 66 more ballades, and 2 complaints. In her Epistle to the God of Love (1399) she begins her battle for feminism, reproaching Ovid and Jean de Meun for their misogyny; a second attack appears in her Tale of the Rose (1402). Of her 15 other long poems the best is the Changes of Fortune (1403), in the 23,636 lines of which she traces changing "fortune" from the time of the Jews down to her own time.

In prose, after her allegorical Epistle from Othea (1400), Christine vigorously continues her feminism in the City of Ladies and the Book of the Three Virtues (both 1405). Other works in prose include the Deeds and Good Morals of Wise King Charles V (1404), a book on arms and knighthood (1410), and the Book of Peace (1414), which holds up Charles V as a model for the Dauphin. Her Hours of Contemplation on the Passion, containing lessons on patience and humility, was written during her last retreat.

Further Reading on Christine de Pisan

There is little material on Christine de Pisan. A study of her is in Alice Kemp Welch, Of Six Medieval Women (1913). See also Lula McDowell Richardson, The Forerunners of Feminism in French Literature of the Renaissance from Christine of Pisa to Marie de Gournay (1929).

Additional Biography Sources

McLeod, Enid, The Order of the Rose: the life and ideas of Christine de Pizan, Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1976 and London: Chatto & Windus, 1976.

Pernoud, Regine, Christine de Pisan, Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1982.

Willard, Charity Cannon, Christine de Pizan: her life and works, New York, N.Y.: Persea Books, 1984.