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The Book of the City of Ladies

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  2,540 ratings  ·  240 reviews
In dialogues with three celestial ladies, Reason, Rectitude, and Justice, Christine de Pizan (1365-ca. 1429) builds an allegorical fortified city for women using examples of the important contributions women have made to Western Civilization and arguments that prove their intellectual and moral equality to men. Earl Jeffrey Richards' acclaimed translation is used nationwid ...more
Paperback, 281 pages
Published June 1st 1998 by Persea (first published 1405)
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El
About six years ago I read Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron. While I found it a worthwhile experience, I remember thinking that the women were not portrayed in a very kind light all the time in his stories. I also remember thinking that was not unusual considering the fact it was written in the 14th century, and those people were really unenlightened when it came to women's rights and stuff.

But then I read this book. Christine de Pizan wrote this book in the 15th century, and calls Boccaccio o
...more
Christa Mcintyre
Jun 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing humanist text written in 1405. Through her discourse to explain the misconception of woman, Pizan elevates her argument beyond the literature of 20th century feminists. Where Friedan, Steinem, Hooks, etc. would outline the maladjustment and oppression of women, Pizan would argue that equality is a potential from birth. She doesn't just academically complain through proof or experience that woman is a second class citizen.The purpose of The Book of the City of Ladies is to buil ...more
Caroline
Apr 22, 2012 rated it liked it
In this book, written in 1405, the author is given examples (by Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude and Lady Justice)to help erect a 'city of ladies'. In part it is a metaphor of the city being built up of the reputations of great women, but it is also meant to be peopled with great and virtuous women too.

In building up their support of this ‘city’, we are shown that things like morality, learning, chastity, prophesy, loyalty, mediation, stoicism, intelligence, and strategy.... are very much part of th
...more
Oblomov
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
One day, at the beginning of 15th century, Christine de Pizan feels bored and starts reading a neglected tome, only to find the author is an incel tit. Pizan is so disheartened by another example of her male contemporaries' misogyny, that she's visited by three spirits who tell her to give Bob Cratchit the day off instruct her to build a city and populate it with the best and brightest women from history. And presumably some pig shit filled catapults for when Machiavelli attempts to invade.

This
...more
Evelyn Woagh
A useful look at the history of women's rights, but through the eyes of a ruling-class woman noble who wants nothing different systemically, just more respect culturally. This is like a proto-first wave feminist, that bourgeoisie of rich women who simply wanted to be respected and feared like their rich, property-owning husbands.

Along with this, she is pretty excessively christian, obsessed with virginity, and zealously opposed to women's independence from men. While one might say this is to be
...more
Chelsea
honestly, way better than I remembered it being when I read it in undergrad. a good reminder that we read differently as we get older! an easy, unexpectedly funny read, partially due to the sharp translation.
the introduction for this edition is very weird... overly apologetic (it's 2017, yall, I think we should all be past the "but she's not a 21st century feminist" angle, this was written 600 years ago) and couched in language that is bizarrely focused on authorial intention rather than the te
...more
Tyne O'Connell
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Quite simply this book changed my life and is a must for any elegant feminist. Written over 610 years ago Christine De Pizan was the first female professional author. The City of Ladies is her most famous book written as a literary riposte to male writers slandering women. Her unique rhetorical strategy to belittle her style and writing against the grain of her meaning became her trademark literary weapon. She exposed crude and vulgar language as another weapon used to slander women while simult ...more
ArwendeLuhtiene
This book has quite a lot of points which are very interesting and pretty progressive (bearing her Medieval period in mind!) from a feminist point of view (pro-woman representation, criticism of patriarchal double standards, gender roles, and the behaviour of misogynistic entitled men against women).
Some parts, however, still include quite a lot of problematic content (internalized misogyny, especially regarding modesty mindsets; promotion of patriarchal gender roles - albeit in order to prote
...more
Tram
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even though I do not entirely agree with Christine de Pizan on a few things, the main one being strict divisions of labor between women and men which is linked to "God giving people different roles" which is linked to my uncertainty about some beliefs from Christianity, I am impressed considering that this was written in medieval times.

Christine de Pizan is one of those people that I wouldn't mind becoming friends with, even if I didn't agree with everything she said. She could be my slightly st
...more
Michael
Feb 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Students, History Instructors, Feminists
Recommended to Michael by: Brandon Hunziker
Not that long ago, one of my female goodreads friends commented (paraphrasing) that "she would not have wanted to live in the 1300's." Christine de Pizan, who did live in the 1300's would have disagreed with her. In a way, Christine was the first Women's Historian, since her text was an effort to "read women back" into the historical record, finding them throughout the classical and medieval periods, and finding them to be as worthy and noble as the men of their time. She sets about her task hav ...more
Aubrey
3.5/5
[A]s for the point you mention that these men attack women for the sake of the common good, I can show you that it has never been a question of this. And here is the reason: the common good of a city or land or any community of people is nothing other than the profit or general good in which all members, women as well as men, participate and take part. But whatever is done with the intention of benefiting some and not others is a matter of private and not public welfare...For they never
...more
Marina
Aug 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating to read a defence of women and a history of the achievements and tragedies of both historic and mythological women written by a female author in the Middle Ages.
Kitty Red-Eye
I can't for the life of me say that this book is "good" or "bad" or anything in between, it's not one of those books. It's interesting in its own way, but reading it, I find it more interesting because it exists, because it was written and not least WHEN it was written, and less interesting to actually sit and read it. I have to admit I was bored beyond imagination.

However, it's interesting enough to see how the medieval mind percieved history, the use of Ovid and Boccaccio, of Homer and mythic
...more
Catherine
Christine de Pizan feminism is basically “if the sex you condemn is not the one to which Nero belongs you clearly cannot be trusted” and I endorse it
Fiona
May 20, 2015 marked it as to-read
Christine de Pizan is having none of your bullshit: http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/165pisan.html
April Munday
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medieval
It's the structure of this book that makes it so difficult to read for a twenty-first-century person. The book is divided into three parts to mark the discussions that de Pizan has with Reason, Rectitude and Justice. Reason digs the foundations of the city, Rectitude builds its walls and Justice brings the Virgin to live within it.

Within these three books are numerous short chapters extolling the virtues of women and refuting the judgements of earlier misogynistic writers. The virtuous women are
...more
Nicole aka FromReading2Dreaming
I went in thinking this was a very feminist text about women, and while that is true, I would not brand it as such. There were several parts in this that made me question whether or not it was, and the message it was trying to send. It was an okay book, but nothing to write home over.
Jessica Maginity
Mar 26, 2019 rated it liked it
SO 👏 MANY 👏 VIRGINS 👏
Laura
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It has taken me a long time to finish this book, not because it wasn't easy to read (the translation is pretty good and easy to follow), but because I had to constantly put myself in the position and mind of a 14-15th century woman. I loved it because when I put myself in that position it was truly empowering, but at the same time there were many things that were hard for my 21st century mind to understand, especially in the last part in which Justice talked about the martyrs and their glorious ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Jul 26, 2012 marked it as i-want-money
Recommended to Nathan "N.R." by: Kris Rabberman
Shelves: pretty-old-stuff
Ariosto's Orlando Furioso: Part 2, Canto 37.

1
"As to perfect some precious gift or bent
Which Nature without toil cannot bestow,
Women have laboured, day and night intent,
and well-earned recognition sometimes know,
Would that they chose to be as diligent
And a like dedicated care would show
In studies more esteemed and highly prized,
Whence mortal virtues are immortalized.

2
And would they might their powers then devote
To women's own commemorative praise,
Rather than look to men to sound this note,
Whose
...more
Carly
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
I read this in the 9th grade (and I know what a walkman is, so you can judge for yourself how long ago that was), so I'm pretty sure that (a) I didn't precisely get the maximum value out of the text, and (b) my memories do not do the book justice. I did a project on the role of women in medieval and renaissance times, and had a very hard time convincing my teacher that primary sources from the female perspective basically didn't exist. This is one of the very, very few examples. In the book, de ...more
Joyce
Sep 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, history
This sweet and gentle book, drawn from Boccaccio's On Famous Women, which is extensively cited, was written to persuade women to value themselves and celebrate their accomplishments throughout history. Partly myth, partly fact, a reminder that women have contributed as much, if not more, than men to many civilizations.

I'd only read excerpts of this book before now and Christine's sincerity moved me deeply. She was not a feminist in the modern sense of the word by any means but could not let the
...more
Flora
Jun 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: hard-to-say, 2009
I'm no 15th-century philologist, but I'm not feeling this as a fundamental "feminist" work -- and an early masterwork of "women's literature" -- when it's essentially paraphrase of Boccaccio, in St-Augustine-Lite allegorical form. For instance, in her sketch of Medea -- which lauds the sorceress as a mythological heroine -- Christine de Pizan conveniently neglects to mention her infanticide, which is, arguably, the most compelling thing about her. Do you want "Fatal Attraction" without the boile ...more
Jessica
This was a pleasurable read as far as medieval texts go, and I could not help but be reminded of a debate about the core curriculum at Columbia when I was an undergraduate there in the late 1990s. There was increasing pressure to revise the Core Curriculum so it would include women and minority authors, but many argued that it was impossible to find female authors of quality before Jane Austen. I now wonder why Christine De Pizan never entered this debate, especially since the curriculum require ...more
Diem
Feb 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
As one of the rare female voices of the Middle Ages, de Pizan would have been interesting even if she weren't very interesting. Her defense of womanly virtue, intelligence, compassion and strength serves as a counterpoint to most everything written to that point in the history of written language. So, even if a lot of the stories aren't entirely plausible they serve a noble purpose by attempting to fill a gap that, arguably, still exists.
Mary Catelli
A medieval recounting of the history of many noble and illustrious women, and arguments against misogynist writers of her day.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is the way it recounts the medieval versions of people (or fictional characters thought real) that are known today.
Tyler Jones
This is rather a strange and interesting book. Christine de Pizan was in many ways a woman ahead of her time, but as that time was the turn of the 15th century it is rather hard for the reader six hundred years later to fully appreciate the context it was written in. Radical feminism in 1405 is not recognizable as such by today's standards, so try to judge the book within the values of the time it was written in.

What I found fascinating was how de Pizan seems unable to differentiate between myth
...more
Lady Mayfair
Jan 15, 2020 rated it did not like it
I am very much displeased. Miss Christine de Pizan has wasted my time.
This book had massive potential to become one of my favourites, there being a respectable number of 165 historical women discussed here, some I am familiar with, some I had just discovered and am keen to research more.

However, after 300 pages worth of (sometimes) droning History lessons, written in a vernacular typical of the 15th century, the vocabulary slow and terribly repetitive, in which de Pizan (laudably) follows the "
...more
James Violand
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: own
Christine de Pizan had quite an obstacle to overcome in her defense of women. Unfortunately for her, she lived in a world which exploited the exceptions to a woman’s goodness. Aren’t we living in a similar time? Or are we more titillated by aberrant behaviors than those common to us all?
De Pizan was a gifted writer and compiled so many examples of virtuous women that her prosecution against slanderers of women wins a directed verdict. Although she often relies on questionable sources – Boccaccio
...more
Rebecca
Fascinating to read, wish we got more of her gender theory in this book, but love seeing how she writes a history of women for women. She is in no way Feminist, rather she is Egalitarian. She longs for women to be treated equally before the law and to be seen as Christ views them. Her views are deeply rooted in her faith. She addresses the literature of her time and the preachers of her time, and draws on examples from antiquity to her own era, both Christian and Pagan to build a case for women ...more
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Christine de Pizan (also seen as de Pisan) (1363–c.1434) was a writer and analyst of the medieval era who strongly challenged misogyny and stereotypes that were prevalent in the male-dominated realm of the arts. De Pizan completed forty-one pieces during her thirty-year career (1399–1429). She earned her accolade as Europe’s first professional woman writer (Redfern 74). Her success stems from a wi ...more

Articles featuring this book

We all have our reading bucket lists. James Mustich's 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die is bound to seriously expand that list...
111 likes · 55 comments
“Not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.” 66 likes
“Causing any damage or harm to one party in order to help another party is not justice, and likewise, attacking all feminine conduct [in order to warn men away from individual women who are deceitful] is contrary to the truth, just as I will show you with a hypothetical case. Let us suppose they did this intending to draw fools away from foolishness. It would be as if I attacked fire -- a very good and necessary element nevertheless -- because some people burnt themselves, or water because someone drowned. The same can be said of all good things which can be used well or used badly. But one must not attack them if fools abuse them.” 47 likes
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