Tuesday, 26 July 2005

Christine de Pisan

Christine de Pisan, was one of the most important figures in medieval literature. Most notably, she was the first woman to make a living from writing and is considered by many to be the first feminist in history as she was the first to denounce women’s inferior position in society.

Christine was born in Venice in 1364. Her father was an astrologer and when she was five years old he took her to live in France, where he became astrologer to King Charles V. Christine spent the rest of her life in France.
Due to her father’s privileged position at court, she was able to be socialise in court circles and was educated. At the age of fifteen she was married off to Estienne de Castel, a man who subsequently became the court secretary. Ten years later, at the age of 25 she was widowed and having no other means to support herself and her three children she turned to writing. It was a long shot but unlike any other woman of her time she became successful.

Christine wrote poetry and prose. She focused on love and the plight of women in society. Amongst her prose works the better known ones are ‘The Book of the City of Ladies’ and ‘The Book of Three Virtues’.

In 1415 she retired to a convent and in 1429 decided to write a biography of Joan of Arc, ‘Le Ditie de Jeanne d’ Arc’. Not long after that she died, but we do not know exactly when or how.

In a poem to her son, Christine offers her advice on life, love and the tribulations ahead:

"I have no great fortune, my son,To make you rich. In place of one Here are some lessons I have learned--the finest things I've ever earned.
Before the world has borne you far, Try to know people as they are. Knowing that will help you take The path that keeps you from mistake.
Pity anyone who is poor And stands in rags outside your door Help them when you hear them cry! Remember that you, too will die.
Love those who have love for you And keep your enemy in view: Of allies none can have too many, Small enemies there are not any. Never lose what the good Lord gave To this, our world too much enslaved: The foolish rush to end their lives. Only the steadfast soul survives."

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