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 7–12 | Summary

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Summary

In this section grouping, the houses for the ladies of the city have been completed, and Lady Rectitude helps Christine find worthy women to live in them, by providing examples of virtuous daughters and wives. Discussion then arises from Christine's question as to why it is that parents rejoice at the birth of a son but weep at the birth of a daughter. To this Lady Rectitude makes a spirited logical answer that both sons and daughters cause their parents worry and expense, and, furthermore, the list of sons who care for elderly parents is "rather thin" when set against the sustained love and compassion with which daughters care for their own parents.

Lady Rectitude also explains that the fact that sons inherit the wealth of their fathers while daughters do not is the reason why sons often do not "care if the poor old things starved to death as long as they can inherit the lot." Lady Rectitude lists several examples in which daughters saved an aging parent's life, such as Drypetina, Queen of Laodicea, who was considered very ugly but who nevertheless endured every hardship of war with her father. Hypsipyle saved her father, King Thoas of Lemnos, from being murdered in a rebellion by hiding him and facing the swords herself rather than betray him. The Roman virgin Claudine raced in her chariot to save her father from attackers until help arrived and was honored for her bravery. A daughter saved the life of her mother in prison by giving her milk from her breast. Given these examples of virtuous and brave daughters, Lady Rectitude tells Christine that the houses of the city have been completed, and it is time to fill them with noble ladies.

Analysis

Previous sections of Part 2 established a basis of responsibility in education in the raising of moral children, both boys and girls. This group of sections takes the gender issue of children in relation to the safeguarding of good judgment that may, or may not, result from a good education. The dismay of parents at the birth of a daughter refers in part to the requirement that a young woman must be chaste before marriage, to secure the bloodline of the father of her children. Fears of "how much it's going to cost them to marry off their daughters since they will have to pay for it out of their own pockets" refers to the custom of paying a bride's dowry to the groom's family, ostensibly to provide for her as she leaves her parent's household for that of her in-laws.

Because women get pregnant and men do not, everyone knows the child's mother but not necessarily the child's father, so the purity of a bride must be beyond doubt to ensure that all her children are her husband's only. It was believed then, that educating girls risked compromise of this requirement. Subsequent champions of a good education for girls have attacked this argument as foolish, citing examples of young women who were so naive and ignorant of the facts of life that they were easy prey to the lewdness of men inside their household as well as to those from the outside clever and determined enough to gain private access to them. But the previous point agreed upon by Christine and Lady Reason in Part 1 is that a good education alone is not enough to secure a strong moral fiber in a child, whether a boy or a girl. Lady Rectitude cites the value of parental example as the strongest moral lesson. She says, "All the parents have to do is bring them up properly when they're little, with the mother setting them an example through her own respectable behavior and good advice."

Lady Rectitude also turns to the observation that not only do boys trouble their parents "by getting into nasty fights ... all ... to the shame of their parents and at their expense," but they also neglect elderly parents, even to the point of wishing them dead, the faster to gain inheritance. It is the gift daughters have, by contrast, that places them in a good position to take care of aging parents with humility and compassion without expectation of any return. The structure of this discussion is another example by which a perceived lack in women is a means of bringing forward a corresponding gift that benefits the family.

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