The Book of the City of Ladies | Study Guide

Christine de Pizan

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The Book of the City of Ladies | Part 2, Sections 30–36 | Summary

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Summary

In this section grouping, both biblical and pagan women of all states and conditions are cited as examples of women who were able to employ both God-given inspiration and learning to benefit their people. The discussion between Christine and Lady Rectitude here turns to the spiritual benefits women render to their people. Lady Rectitude presents the examples of Judith and Esther as recounted in the Old Testament and adds the story of how an early queen of France, Clotilde, brought Christianity to the French monarchy. Christine brings up the charge that an educated woman is a danger to herself and others. She also brings up the idea men have that an education and the acquisition of knowledge is a detriment to women "for fear that their morals will be corrupted." But, as Lady Rectitude quickly points out, this is the opinion of men who likely fear that educated women would be able to point out the illogic of their argument: "This should prove to you that not all men's arguments are based on reason ... it's not true to say that women will be corrupted by knowing what's right and proper." She gives the biblical examples of Judith, who was able to plan and carry out a course of action to free her people from tyrannical rule, and of Esther, whose elegant speech enabled her to expose the cruelty of the king's minister to the Jews. Faced with a long-standing war between their fathers and their husbands that started with their abduction, the Sabine women of ancient Rome united to place themselves with their children between the combatants, and reason with them. Faced with the likelihood that their children would be killed if they continued the fight, both sides put down their arms and acknowledge their kinship by marriage. Lady Rectitude rounds out her argument for the education of women by reminding Christine of her own education supervised by her enlightened father, stating, "Indeed, as you know, it gave him great pleasure to see you take so readily to studying the arts."

Analysis

The issue of education for women is reiterated in this grouping of sections. However, a new perspective is added. First, a good education in the arts supports such a strong sense of rectitude (as in righting a wrong to benefit a people) that biblical heroines such as Judith and Esther could plan and execute a course of action to free their people from oppression. In these cases, ability and resolution is met with opportunity to act as given to these women by God. "Inspired by God, in whom she had placed her trust, Judith hatched a daring plan," Lady Rectitude tells Christine. In this context faith is itself an informed impetus based on a good education. Because faith is also a moral strength, it must be supported by a complementary education. The example of the French Queen Clotilde reinforces this idea, as Clotilde converted the Frankish monarchy to Christianity and enabled the king, her husband, to turn certain defeat into victory with God's help. The very fact that women have been overlooked and underestimated has allowed them to succor and aid the saints and apostles.

As she does with other examples, de Pizan softens the story of the Sabine women to highlight their good common sense in dealing with their fathers and brothers fighting their husbands. The legend of the Roman "knights" carrying off their brides by force is "legendary" in artwork and stories as an explanation of how the citizenry of Rome was established. The legend is also gently handled in the Broadway musical and 1954 movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

The exchange between Christine and Lady Rectitude regarding Christine's parents, who disagreed on the range of her education, is perhaps the most directly autobiographical reference to de Pizan's personal experience. It also situates the time and place of the author's vision of The Book of the City of Ladies as after the death of de Pizan's husband, at a time she needed to support herself and her household through her writing. She could have done this only because of the education her enlightened father (over the objections of her mother) gave her, which was also supported by her good husband. This draws a "direct line" from the historical instances of women who step in to preserve their husbands' holdings to Christine herself, who, making good use of her education as a base, builds on it to create a work (city) sustained by faith in God.

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