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The Book of the City of Ladies

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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 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 nationwide in the most eminent colleges and universities in America, from Columbia to Stanford.


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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 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 nationwide in the most eminent colleges and universities in America, from Columbia to Stanford.

30 review for The Book of the City of Ladies

  1. 4 out of 5

    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 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 out a few times, which made me cheer a bit. She questioned what he wrote, as well as other writers (Ovid, for example), which made me realize that not everyone was completely unenlightened back in the Middle Ages after all. This allegory was written in the early 1400s but wasn't translated into English until 1521. Pizan herself is a character in her story which involves her talking to the three daughters of God (Reason, Rectitude, and Justice). They have come to help Pizan build a safe haven for women since they have gotten the short end of the stick throughout history. Remember this was written in the 15th century. I feel de Pizan's City has grown exponentially since it was first published. She would hardly recognize it now if she showed up. And she would be pissed. I'm sure her first words would be along the lines of "Did no one read my book, and did you assholes learn nothing?" Nope. No one reads your book, Christine. And no one has learned anything. It's a fucking disgrace out here in the future. The three daughters of God listen to Pizan's questions, all of which are about how women have been treated throughout history, the way they are portrayed in literature, the way they are subjected to rape and torture, and accused of being malicious and manipulative. Pizan points out examples from Boccaccio and Ovid and the daughters of God bring out other examples that disprove what those guys had written, and then those historical figures they have illustrated to Pizan are then "housed" in the safety of this City they have created. It's actually a really brilliant idea. They're not just sitting around waiting for the Plague to blow over, telling each other stories. No, here's a story that uses some fucking imagination. An imaginary city created to provide safety to women who have no other safe place to turn. It sounds like an utopia, doesn't it? This was a powerful read especially when considering when it was written and how unpopular these ideas must have been. It's a feminist work at a time when women were not given a voice, especially not a feminist one. They were objects and property, but here is one woman who said that was not good enough, and misogyny has no place in this world. Of course we're still fighting that one, but here's another text to show that it's been a long battle and we're not alone.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Christa Mcintyre

    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 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 build an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual refuge/foundation for all women to draw from as they pursue their natural aptitude. It is interesting to read a text and see how the cult of the Virgin Mary helped elevate women's place in society. Equally fascinating is to see the intellectual breadth of the day and endearing to read the errors of their knowledge in history and linguistics. Much like de Beauvoir's Second Sex, Pizan's masterpiece is still one of the best feminist critiques ever written. It is still at the same time elevating to men. This being said, we have more to do and to write.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    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 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 the territory of women as well as men. We are shown that women are not naturally lesser beings when it comes to possession of these virtues. Many of the women cited are hugely strong characters....for instance we are shown how the Sabine women mediated between their families and their abductors, and how Judith killed Holofernes, a terrible enemy ruler of her people, or how Portia violently ended her life when her husband was murdered. Other women are cited for their intelligence and learning – such as Nicostrata, legendry inventor of Latin alphabet, or Hortensia, educated by her father Quintus Hortensius, surpassing him in her “command of oratory”, and Novella, taught by her father to be a lecturer in law. Others are held up because of their great moral virtue – Susanna, wife of Joachim, of Biblical myth, Lucretia, wife of Tarquinius Collatinus, who killed herself after being raped by Tarquin The Proud, and Xanthippe, wife of Socrates, who fought his death, and remained loyal to him ever afterwards. Throughout the book I was struck by Pizan’s even handed-approach towards the sexes. This is no angry diatribe, but simply a defence of women and their abilities. Given some of the extreme superstition that was levied against women in the Middle Ages (I have just watched Robert Bartlett’s series on television “Inside the Medieval Mind”), I felt that Pizan’s position was generous. I was also interested that in the end of the book, the Virgin Mary was invited to head up the city, and the next two women mentioned for the city are the martyrs St. Catherine and St. Afra. Maybe what is more surprising is that all the book isn’t Bible based, but rather it takes its examples from a variety of sources – most of which came via the stories told in Giovanni Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris (a treatise on ancient famous women), and Boccaccio’s Decameron. Given my ignorance of things classical, mythical and Biblical- throughout the book I was grateful to Wikipedia for giving me a bit of background on most of the women mentioned. It also has an excellent introduction to the book itself. Finally, this book is outside my normal reading range, both in terms of its age and in terms of its content. Considering this, a three star rating is good.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Oblomov

    One day, at the beginning of the 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. T One day, at the beginning of the 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 is a rather sweet book, mostly good natured and takes absolutely no bullshit from even the most well respected poets or writers and their words on women. Between brick laying and churning cement, Pizan asks her ethereal companions about those irritating allegations that were (and worringly still are) railed against women: 'women ruin men through marriage', 'women are vain', 'women are stupid', etc, redpill etc. In turn, the spirits smack down every stereotype and provide examples of famous women who disprove these accusations by their actions and deeds. They also point out misconceptions like: Of course women will seem less intelligent to men if most are denied access to education. The 'annoying, nagging wife' has usually been married to the 'lazy sod of a husband who needs constant reminding before anything gets done'. Men and women are people, individuals, and therefore both are just as likely to be either Saints or tosspots. Pizan's rallying cry for female agency has some flaws, most of which come from the fact she's a 15th Century Catholic. For instance, Pizan stating that a woman married to an abusive arsehole must still be content with her life, because religious supremacy overrules anyone's safety or happiness, is miserable to read beside what is an otherwise uplifting text. Also troublesome, several of Pizan's examples of good women are Biblical or mythical, i.e their authenticity is in doubt, which isn't great for her arguments. Using women who didn't exist is a problem for today however, especially considering most other writers of Pizan's time, and before, based their opinions on what is now commonly agreed to be complete bollocks (looking at you, Geoffrey of Monmouth), and the book isn't hurt too much by it as you won't be reading this as a praxis feminist text. We've moved on a bit, thankfully, and why you'll want to read this is the prose, the likeableness of Pizan, as a mini-glossary of important women of history and myth, and as a window into gender politics during the transition of the Middle Season to the Renaissance.

  5. 4 out of 5

    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 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 expected, it nonetheless disappoints when she repeatedly makes statements of a woman's worth depending on where they stand as servants for men, which are beside statements supporting a women's separatism. The very essence of this book is in women's separatism, despite the caveat of still being hierarchal. I'm not one to believe that a person from the past should be given more leeway for ignorance due to it being typical of the past - I simply don't believe this linear historical supremacism. Instead, I find that her position as a noble allows for the most obvious cognitive dissonance through the privilege of rule-by-hierarch and hoarding-of-wealth. There was one mention of an excessively wealthy woman from rome's history who housed 10,000 ill and homeless people, which is great until we find out it was for the sole purpose of returning to fight for rome, an empire which began expansion through sexual violence. And yet she is described as virtuous for her charity. It is moments like this division in criticism that I expect from the rich and powerful, not simply from historical people. But back to the good. This book is important, and very inspiring at times, while empowering in some ways at other times. I made many notes, skips, and edits for my own thoughts and to build some consistency in the passages. Overall it was worth the read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    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 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 text itself. maybe this is just the repressed formalist in me. but the edition was put together in 1999, which is not too long ago, and while the translation is great, the intro feels like it clawed its way out of the 1970s.

  7. 4 out of 5

    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 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 protect women from a cruel patriarchal society; and a lot of religious content). Giving it 4.5/5 in spite of this problematic content because I think her pro-woman anti-misogyny feminist ideas - sometimes remarkably close to modern feminism, especially her direct criticism of men's misogyny and double standards - are remarkable and amazing for the society of the 14th-15th Century, and Christine also deserves recognition as the first professional female writer in Europe, and also as the first who tackled the defense of women and feminist themes in her writing in a direct way - an important turning point in the history of feminism. The first part is especially interesting in its female representation and its description of proactive, 'non-traditional' roles (it tackles ruling queens, warriors, erudites and inventors); and even if Christine didn't actually promote that the women of her time veer away from the established repressive gender roles society imposed upon them, it's still refreshing representation at the time. It's peppered with some biological determinism and religious problematic sections, but overall it's quite good in its pro-woman content. The second part also includes pro-woman representation and criticism of patriarchal double standards and men's behaviour against women that is on point (and awesomely snarky at times!), but it also includes more problematic issues such as the patriarchal concepts of 'modesty' and 'chastity', and other internalized misogyny issues (such as the fact that only 'respectable' women who uphold the patriarchal notions of 'modesty' and 'virtue' will be welcome in the City). We have to bear in mind, though, that one aspect of Christine's anti-misogynist and pro-woman strategies was to advise women to conform to these patriarchal mindsets in order not to be scorned and attacked by the repressive society they were living in. To her view, Christine was actually trying to help women and countering the misogynist stereotypes that painted women as 'sinful by nature', 'impure because of their female body' and 'lascivious adulterers'. The third part was my least favourite and focuses mainly on religion - it's particularly distasteful in its description of saints and martyrdom and had to skip the details when I was nearly half-through. It also includes some problematic issues having to do with the fact that, for all her remarkable criticism, Christine, like I mentioned above, doesn't really challenge the patriarchal societal system - Thus, she also falls into internalized misogyny/religious brainwashing by promoting female compliance and gender roles - I especially suffered through the very last part where wives are advised to tolerate and be devoted to their husbands no matter how wayward or cruel they may be :/ In the second part, however, Christine actually also criticizes wayward and abusive husbands and unequal marriages (and, like I mentioned above, Christine's own reasons for this 'promotion of the traditional status quo' discourse were to protect women from societal retaliation rather than because of a purely misogynistic anti-women mindset. Still problematic, but we also have to bear that in mind). Christine's books seem at times almost contradictory in the way they alternate pro-woman activism and a harsh criticism of men's entitlement, misogyny and their treatment of women (issues which are tackled in a remarkable 'modern feminism' way, like I mentioned) with her own brainwashed religious upbringing and internalized misogyny, promoting biological determinism, gender roles, and the patriarchal status quo (such as the modesty mindset and women being of use to the world basically if they benefit men in some way - being good wives/daughters/etc). Sometimes these two views are to be found side by side in the very same page, which also makes me think that, although she was already pretty enlightened for her day, Christine was maybe also less brainwashed by Patriarchy that she chooses to let on, potentially choosing to alternate her more progressive pro-woman ideas with the more regressive patriarchal ideas of her contemporary society and sphere, as a tactic in order to defend herself from criticism in a society which still punished people harshly for 'heresy' and the like (for example, when tackling the issue of whether women should be allowed to rule and be involved in lawmaking, she goes from using biological determinism and established gender roles to justify the status quo to then stating that women are able to do anything and giving a handful of examples of ruling queens who made laws and governed admirably). She also uses the 'selective quotation' tactic against the misogynistic authors she criticizes in a really good way, quoting their sources - Greco-Roman mythology and culture and the Bible - in a way that only highlights pro-woman content and refutes their own misogynistic propaganda. A pretty intelligent move that made her pro-woman arguments difficult to refute unless misogynistic men wanted their religious piety and respect to Classical authority figures to be put into question xD. I also really liked the useful introduction by Rosalind Brown-Grant, with whom I agree on nearly all points about Christine's feminist stance and interpretation of her writings (also read her book Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defence of Women: Reading Beyond Gender). I also recommend Charity Cannon Willard's Biography for a fuller understanding of Christine's life. More about her apparent promotion of gender roles and the unequal status quo after reading the sequel: In the Treasure of the City of Ladies/Book of the Three Virtues , which at first may seem to be just a courtesy book full of the promotion of the backward ideas of the time, it becomes clearer that Christine was advising women to comply to society's conventional roles, mindsets and expectations as a way to offer strategies to protect women from harm in a ruthless patriarchal society and help them survive the attacks of unforgiving misogynist slanderers :/ She doesn't actually denounce those social inequalities and gender roles, focusing rather on the 'moral and spiritual' equality of women and men in regards to the pursuit of virtue rather than social equality and rights, but her aim was pretty feminist and subversive at the time all the same, and I think that Christine is pretty praiseworthy for that, internalized misogyny/classism/heteronormativity/problematic religious views aside. *Added note also related to this* Societal internalized gender roles aside, I think the main difference between Christine's brand of feminism and the more modern feminism is that she doesn't even think of the possibility of changing and trying to abolish an unequal system (patriarchy), she tends to "just" acknowledge misogyny in some of its forms and denounce misogynist authors who spout patriarchal double standards (no small deed and already incredibly revolutionary for the time!), defending women by refuting misogynistic stereotypes, but not actually considering the possibility to fight for equality and liberation in society per se - So the thing she ends up doing, especially in the sequel, is advising women how to cope with society as it is, with all its gender roles and misogyny, and how to tolerate the status quo, which usually means endorsing gender roles in order to try to protect women from harm :/ For all her revolutionary thinking and intelligent tactics against misogynistic men, she is still *also* suffering from internalized sexist issues due to her socialization and patriarchal religious upbringing and sphere, of course (especially regarding the modesty mindset issue. That and religion in general are the two things that really fetter her, I think :S) - something that should have been nearly impossible not to be in that context, really. But in spite of all that, her more progressive and remarkably pro-woman ideas shine through in a way that definitely do make Christine a 'feminist' (most definitely a pro-woman activist who criticized and denounced quite a lot of aspects of her patriarchal society,), and paved the way for modern feminism. Blog post here: http://aeternalswirlingfight.blogspot...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tyne O'Connell

    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 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 simultaneously denigrating the sexual act itself. Pizan deserves was the first woman in history to reinterpret the word Lady, to mean not a woman of noble birth, but a woman of noble spirit, wit, courage and charm. Her greatest literary work is the City of Ladies in which she describes a female utopia, an allegorical society built by ladies for ladies.The book begins with Christine responding to Matheolus’s book, Lamentations a misogynist text in which Matheolus insists women make men’s lives miserable. She says quite simply that, “This thought inspired such a great sense of disgust and sadness in me that I began to despise myself and the whole of my sex as an aberration in nature.” The three Virtues then appear to Christine; Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude & Lady Justice and one by one they dispel the myths and slanders against women by men and aid the allegorical Christine to create a utopian city built for and by valiant ladies. I read it first while a teenager at a time when women were burning their bras for equal rights and the word Lady had become a word of hate and it literally changed my life. I felt I owed it to the ladies of history and my own matriarchal lineage to preserve and honour the word Lady. My female ancestors, beleaguered Irish Catholic women who faced oppression not just by virtue of their gender but for their race and religion, managed to maintain their noble spirit despite oppression violence and starvation. These ladies – for they were ladies and proudly classified themselves as such despite their poverty – educated, protected, fed and fought for their families armed solely with the dandizette weapons of dignity, razor sharp wit, humour, charm and impeccable manners. I owe it to their bravery and sacrifices to reclaim the word lady as a description of all women of courage, wit, good manners and charm. I am not exagerating when I say this book and Christine De Pizan inspired my Dandizette Revolution: an elegant feminist call to charms: http://www.dandizettes.com/dandizette...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tram

    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 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 stuffy/old-fashioned aunt; I would love talking to her. Her arguments are balanced, neither going through solely Reason or Rectitude or Justice but through all three. Not only is she reasonable, but she also has moral wisdom. "Human superiority is not determined by sexual difference but by the degree to which one has perfected one's nature and morals." There are many instances such as these in which she draws away from condemning either men or women. "Let God do the judging. Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone," she reminds. Rather than promote harmful stereotypes--she says that there are men and women of every kind--she promotes a universal do-good attitude. That way, she defends women as whole, without doing men the injustice of condemning them as a whole. Like I said, someone peaceful you'd feel safe talking to. Through Reason, she gives examples of women who are virtuous, intelligent, loving, faithful, and kind that refute misogynist views of the day. She also judges from her own experience of other women, and uses the clever example, "herself". If I see many women who are smart, kind, virtuous, and intelligent, it can't be that all women are bad. Similarly, if I am a good woman, it can't be that all women are bad. I also find the book aesthetically pleasing through her use of the allegorical Ladies of Reason, Rectitude, and Justice helping her build the foundations and palaces and buildings of the City of Ladies through the "mortar of her pen". By the end of the book, I thought, man, I want to join this city of precious stones with these noble, beautiful ladies and have a Virgin Mary empress who is kind and virtuous and celestial.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    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 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 having gotten fired up by a misogynist screed which posits women as the source of all evil and fault in the world. The text depresses her, but she then has a vision of being visited by Reason, Rectitude, and Justice, who tell her to build a metaphorical "City" for women, with all the heroic women of the past as its foundations. She finds them in classical myth, as well as the religious stories of saints and martyrs, and to some degree among the nobility of France and other nations. The value of this book, apart from its celebration of the women of antiquity, is that it gives students insight into an educated woman from a period in which many believe such creatures simply did not exist. Christine made her living as a writer after the death of her husband, and did well enough to support a small library of her own at a time when books were expensive and rare. Her historical sources and methods might not seem reliable to our modern “scientific” approach to history, but they would have been entirely standard among historians of her time. She lived independently, and clearly had a mind of her own. This version of the text is prefaced by an excellent introduction by Rosalind Brown-Grant that contextualizes the text and the life of Christine for the lay reader. It places her within a spectrum of the history of women and helps us to understand why such influential Women’s Historians as Joan Kelly turned to Christine for inspiration. The book will strike some students as repetitive and the style will not appeal to many, but just reading the introduction and a part of the book will expand their sense of the possibilities for women in the Middle Ages.

  11. 4 out of 5

    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 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 address women nor warn them against men's traps even though it is certain that men frequently deceive women with their fast tricks and duplicity. I found this work less useful than other women in the past would have if access too it had not been largely denied to them a million times over, which sums up the nature of the beast when it comes to historical spans of institutionalized hatred that go into the building of the master's house. More than six centuries have passed since this perceptive work first came to light, six centuries that should have been filled with translation upon translation upon commentary upon criticism upon field of work upon movement upon meaning upon revolution, and instead we have a "modern" English translation at the tail end of the 20th century, between it and the first English translation in 1521 a vague and menacing blank. Simply compare this open maw of a history to the work-referenced Boccaccio or Dante or other contemporaneous male writers and you have an accretion that has grown nigh incontestable through sheer weight of influence and progeny and calcification into what is treated in this day and age as normal and viable and legit. Those myriad decades of wealth of growth were stolen from The Book of the City of Ladies by a little willful ignorance here, a little socially encouraged bad faith there, etc, etc, etc, and suddenly five centuries have passed and the patriarchy reigns with the certainty that none of its deconstruction will surface from the 14th and 15th centuries. Alas, for all the time lost to those who fought to make it seem as such. A]fter a father and mother have made gods out of their sons and the sons are grown and have become rich and affluent—either because of their father's own efforts or because he had them learn some skill or trade or even by some good fortune—and the father has become poor and ruined through misfortune, they despise him and are annoyed and ashamed when they see him. But if the father is rich, they only wish for his death so that they can inherit his wealth. Are the men who accuse women of so much changeableness and inconstancy themselves so unwavering that change for them lies outside the realm of custom or common occurrence? Of course, if they themselves are not that firm, then it is truly despicable for them to accuse others of their own vice or to demand a virtue which they do not themselves know how to practice. Pizan's work reflects the best and worst of its times, combining keen observation and deflation of hypocrisy and socially normalized marginalization along artificial constraints of gender via the weight of slander and absolutism with antiblackness, antisemitism, and blinkered centricity in the realms of sexuality, religion, history, and gender roles. The fact that the commentary is coming to prominence now rather than during the 16th or 17th or 18th centuries, however, is a symptom of the complex Pizan was fighting with every stroke of her pen, and the multigeneration gap happens because those who would've slowly but surely developed the text along more complicatedly inclusive lines were forbidden to read, or forbidden to learn, or forbidden to learn French, or forbidden to travel, or forbidden to travel alone, or forbidden to work, or forbidden to learn French, or forbidden to learn the classically complicated version of French Pizan lovingly renders, or forbidden to meet and greet and write their these paper on such ancient travail, etc, etc,etc, or were caused by any number of small obstacles to become exhausted by the effort of surmounting a system all by themselves and fall into complacency. The miraculous tragedy and tragic miracle is that, despite the last, thankfully brief, section that sounds like it came straight out of my Lives of Holy Women lecture, Pizan's words still point out the work that still needs doing, as six hundred years later the same slag is being spilled from the same lips and fists and rapes that rely on the combined powers of an erased history and a terrorist present to ensure the next Pizan will be lost for even longer to the eyes and arms of her like-minded audience. Complacency prevented Pizan's text from a natural continuation of development in the cultural limelight in which she belonged, and complacency damns and will damn others so long as the farce of obfuscation functioning today continues to present itself as normal. Women are usually kept in such financial straits that they guard the little that they can have, knowing they can recover this only with the greatest pain. So some people consider women greedy because some women have foolish husbands, great wastrels of property and gluttons, and the poor women....are unable to refrain from speaking to their husbands and from urging them to spend less. [I]t is very true that many foolish men have claimed [that it is bad for women to be educated] because it displeased them that women knew more than they did. Reading Pizan reminds me of all the work I have left to do. For every confident declarer of the nonentity of works, or even existences, of a certain demographic in a certain period, there is excavation to undertake and analysis to be done and acknowledgement to be generated, for nothing that has survived between one time and now did so out of sheer luck, more so if it has been suppressed via the efforts of the Powers That Be. Pizan's not the oldest of the works I've tackled and/or have yet to tackle, and she's also rather overly familiar, what with the whiteness and the wealth and the superficially heterosexual romantics. She does, however, offer a powerful cornerstone to build off of, which can be demonstrated simply by the Wiki page devoted to collating hyperlinks to all the historical and religious figures of women mentioned throughout the pages of this work. Parts of the tract have become stale and atrophies, but what remains applicable is so to the point of pain, for one always prefers that the sadists of yesteryear had been annihilated through sheer mass acknowledgement of fellow humanity. Christianity, or individual good intent, obviously isn't enough. What will be so remains to be seen, so long as there are readers willing to put the effort into seeing. Certainly that man is servile who seeks to rule others but does not know how to rule himself. Woe to him who is overly concerned with having his stomach full of delicacies and takes no care for the famished; woe to him who wishes to be warm but fails to warm or clothe those dying of cold; woe to him who wants to rest and makes others work; woe to him who claims everything is his which he has received from God; woe to him who desires that everyone do him good and who does evil to all.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marina

    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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    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 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 mythical-religious sources as "historical fact", how some of the accusations against women are eerily alike modern misogynic cliches ("women want to be raped", "women are unintelligent" and so on and on), and there's a clear folkloristic-historical value to this. I didn't dislike it. I'm impressed by the author in every way I can think of. It's an important document from its time. And for people with special interest in European folklore, medieval history and mentality, and/or women's history, it has to be a must-read. But it is trying on the patience!

  14. 4 out of 5

    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

  15. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    Christine de Pizan is having none of your bullshit: http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/165pisan.html

  16. 5 out of 5

    April Munday

    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 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 biblical heroines, mythical heroines of the Greeks and Romans, women of antiquity, and Christian saints. Even a few of de Pizan's contemporaries are presented as examples of women to be revered and respected. It is in this catalogue of virtue that the book was probably at its most effective among de Pizan's intended audience. The more examples of something there were, the more inclined people were to take what they said cumulatively as the truth. For the modern reader the stories of women who killed themselves on the death of their beloved, or who avenged their dead husbands, or who sent their cowardly sons back to battle are somewhat repetitive, and the repeated stories of virgins martyred for their Christian faith are just harrowing. The purpose of the book is to show that women are not as they have been presented by men for centuries, but are noble, clever, faithful, virtuous and generous. De Pizan was not just writing for women. Men needed to read and understand her message as well. How many did so is a different issue. On the whole, I enjoyed the book far more than I expected and it's a useful insight into the medieval mind.

  17. 5 out of 5

    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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Feral Academic

    SO 👏 MANY 👏 VIRGINS 👏

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    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 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 martyrdoms, or Christine's last message to women where I felt a little let down. But I understand that this is not a book written for a 21st century society but for a 14-15th one, and I know that it was truly progressive and impressive at the time, and I admire Christine so much for her work. Also, some quotes from the book were truly timeless, such as "It [...] angers and upsets me when men claim that women want to be raped and that, even though a woman may verbally rebuff a man, she won't in fact mind if he does force himself upon her. I can scarcely believe that it could give women any pleasure to be treated in such a vile way". Six centuries and we still need to protest this shit.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    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 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 envious spite their judgement overlays, For Woman's merits many a man will not Proclaim, though gladly ill of her he says. By women, women's fame could reach the skies, Higher perhaps than men's renown could rise. 3 And often men are not content to sing In praise of each the other's world renown, But all their efforts they apply to bring To light why purists should on women frown. Unwilling they should rise in anything, They do the best they can to keep them down (I speak here of the past), as if the fame Of women would dissolve or dim their name. 4 And yet no powers of the hand or tongue, Transformed to voice or words upon the page (Though ill-repute be magnified among All men, and virtue by an envious gauge Be minished), could contrive to leave unsung All women's merits, for despite the rage Of male detractors, some are know about, Although the greater part are blotted out. 5 Harpàlyce, Tomyris and the maid Who fought by Turnus, Hector's Amazon, She whom the men of Tyre and Sidon made Their leader and to Libya sailed on, Zenobia and she who, unafraid, Assyria, Persia, India warred upon, These women warriors are but a few Whose fame the chronicles of war renew." Christine de Pizan, it would appear, has answered Ariosto's call, avant la lettre. Did he not know of her?

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carly

    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 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 Pizan discusses contemporary stereotypes of her gender and argues against certain negative portrayals. At a time in which women were considered to be ruled by passion, while men were ruled by reason, de Pizan argues strongly that women should also be ruled by reason. She does, however, maintain a dichotomy between the sexes, attributing gentleness, compassion, etc, to women and (if I remember correctly) decisiveness and action to men. She argues that the differences in nature between the genders itself implies an inherent difference in the roles that the gender is designed to take. To me, her argument here is interesting in itself, as she does not appear to address how she herself is in a position typically held by men. She also has a long section in which she expounds upon the female's role as wife and her duty towards her husband. An interesting but not precisely entertaining read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    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 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 misogyny of Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose (the most popular book in Europe for 200 years) be accepted without comment. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the ensuing 600 years. The Roman was referred to as the ultimate guide to romance in ALA magazine only a few months ago and one of my MHC English profs told me that I didn't actually understand it, the Roman is a satire. Satire my foot. But I digress, read the Book of the City of Ladies, you'll love it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Flora

    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 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 boiled bunny? A numbingly repetitive (and fumblingly selective) defense of the virtues of the tender sex. Yes, historically important. But yawn. The reproductions of the illuminated manuscript, however, are fantastic. And if they're in translation, I really would be interested in her other books: among them a study of military strategy, apparently, and a manual of instruction for knights.

  24. 4 out of 5

    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 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 required students to read Herodotus’s and Thucydides’s histories, as well as Boccaccio’s Decameron. The Book of the City of Ladies seems like an apt curricular antidote to male-centric histories. Use it ladies! (And dudes!)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Diem

    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. 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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bernadette

    This piece is really really important and I'm sort of disappointed that this isn't taught more widely in schools. Christine de Pizan has been calling out the patriarchy on its bullshit since the 14th century in the most gloriously savage way possible. Parts 2 and 3 get a bit repetitive (I guess there are just too many examples of pre-medieval women contradicting the misogynistic preaching of male scholars) but Part 1 needs. to. be. mandatory reading for all humans. That is all. This piece is really really important and I'm sort of disappointed that this isn't taught more widely in schools. Christine de Pizan has been calling out the patriarchy on its bullshit since the 14th century in the most gloriously savage way possible. Parts 2 and 3 get a bit repetitive (I guess there are just too many examples of pre-medieval women contradicting the misogynistic preaching of male scholars) but Part 1 needs. to. be. mandatory reading for all humans. That is all.

  27. 4 out of 5

    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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Aubrie

    I chose this book for a temporary book club I was hosting, the subject being "Women: Past, Present, and Future". This book was obviously written in the past and while it is an important piece of history, it is also important to keep the date in mind at all times while reading this book. This book does show the very beginning of feminist ideals, but the phrasing of words, and the contexts are very different from today's standards. One thing my group discussed was that each woman mentioned was des I chose this book for a temporary book club I was hosting, the subject being "Women: Past, Present, and Future". This book was obviously written in the past and while it is an important piece of history, it is also important to keep the date in mind at all times while reading this book. This book does show the very beginning of feminist ideals, but the phrasing of words, and the contexts are very different from today's standards. One thing my group discussed was that each woman mentioned was described as being beautiful. However, I must point out that beauty in this context might have meant other things than outward beauty. Christine de Pizan writes most of the women as virtuous and heroic. It might be sort of like how we say today that the beauty is on the inside. Virginity is also mentioned a lot, even about women that are married and some with children. Virginity does not mean the same thing that we think it does now. It could just mean fidelity or loyalty to the husband. Most of us in the group agreed that at many points throughout the book, the stories of women became monotonous. I admit that it was hard for me to keep track of some names because many of the stories were similar. Most of the stories were of Greek or Biblical characters. I don't really think we can expect much else from the time period this was written. Though tedious, I think there was symbolism that intrigued me. Especially of when women's breasts were taken off, as a way to show people taking their femininity away, and bleeding milk, as a way to show how women are the nurturers. Overall, I think readers shouldn't take this as it is, for this was written over 600 years ago and the context has changed somewhat. I think it is important to make that distinction, however, there are also things written in this book that we are still fighting for today. Feminism isn't over, and while it's an interesting look at how far we've come, we've still got a long way to go.

  29. 5 out of 5

    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 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 and history. She is a devout Christian, but sees no inconsistency in citing women from Greek mythology, such as Juno, as examples of exemplary female conduct. It is as though she believes the Greek gods existed, but were not real true gods like the Christian god. I suspect this not a personal quirk either - I think maybe that's just how medieval people understood things; there were Greek and Roman gods, but they were "replaced" when Jesus came along. Amazon queens and warriors also make up a large chunk of the "history" she retells, and that Christine de Pizan - one of the most learned individuals in France in her time - can not tell myth from history, then that is incredibly revealing about the time she lived in. And to a write book like this defending women in a time of such intellectual darkness makes it all the more fascinating. Also, I do like how she gets her shots in against the haters.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lady Mayfair

    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 " 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 "pot calling the kettle black" comparison in order to highlight the unequal standards applied to men and women in society, only to hit me with this rubbish at the end: "Now I invite them to come forward, the princesses, ladies and all the other women to bid a reverent welcome to the lady who is their Queen and who controls and governs all powers ever created thanks to the only Son, whom she carried and conceived from the Holy Spirit and who is the Son of God the Father". Thanks to... the only son? Really, Christine? Not thanks to her own virtue, which you've been haranguing us with since page 1 that is the most valuable quality in a lady?

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