"Fit for All Tasks": The Political Theory of Christine de Pizan in The Book City of Ladies

Brabant, Margaret Anne , Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia
Brint, Michael, Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia
Germino, Dante, Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia
Ceaser, James, AS-Dept of Politics, University of Virginia
McKinley, Mary, Department of French, University of Virginia

Christine de Pizan is commonly referred to as "the first woman of letters" in our cultural history. Christine scholars have long appreciated her ability to transform the literary genres of her time and most have noticed her concern with political events. Yet few scholars have proceeded with a thorough analysis of Christine's political writings. In what follows, I examine this crucial dimension of Christine's thought in her work, The Book of the City of Ladies.

Christine's City of Ladies is the first systematic study of women and politics in the western tradition. Her political theory is unique for two reasons. First, she acknowledges the presence and importance of women in all life activities, including politics. In so far as she incorporates women into her political reality, Christine offers the first articulation of feminist theory. In addition to giving voice to women, Christine's political theory is original because she does not silence the very discourse which has marginalized and silenced her. She is not interested in creating a feminine utopia: she seeks to create a discourse which permits a plurality of voices, female and male, to speak.

Three ladies, Reason, Rectitude, and Justice, aid Christine in the building of her new city. As their names suggest, these allegorical figures are profoundly political in their significance and purpose. With their help, Christine champions the interests of society's marginalized, silenced, and politically underprivileged. The ladies attack both directly and subtly the masculine discourse which has denigrated women. Simultaneously, the ladies construct a history of women which acknowledges their contributions to humankind and thereby gives voice to women who have been silenced by that same masculine discourse. This giving of voice must be understood and appreciated as a politically empowering act. Thus, Christine and the Ladies create a radically different political order which includes both women and men.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Women, Politics, Feminist theory, Christine de Pisan
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