4. The Book of the City of Ladies.

When the evil Julian heard this voice, he reproached the torturers for not having removed enough of Christine’s tongue, telling them to cut it so close that she would be unable to converse with her lord Jesus. They cut off the whole of her tongue, right down to the root, but she spat out these remains in the tyrant’s face and blinded him in one eye. Speaking just as easily as ever, she exclaimed, ‘Tyrant, what was the point of your removing my tongue so that I couldn’t praise God when my spirit will praise Him for evermore whilst yours is damned for all eternity? It’s only fitting that my tongue should have blinded you, since you didn’t believe my words in the first place.’ (3.10, pp. 222–23)

The Book of the City of Ladies begins with its author, Christine de Pizan, working in her study, and suddenly overwhelmed by the misogyny of so many of the great books surrounding her. She is visited by three women—personifications of Reason, Rectitude, and Justice—who instruct her to build a city, and offer her biographies of all the illustrious women who will live in (and therefore be) the city. Suzanne and Chris explore this classic medieval anthology: the ways in which women have made themselves heard; the physical effort of creating both cities and manuscripts; and the echoes Christine’s book has both with other great books and with our own experiences today.

Show notes.

The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, as translated by Rosalind Brown-Grant.

More info (and images!) about the manuscript of The Book of the City of Ladies that Christine supervised herself.

“In the fifteenth century, men read Christine de Pizan…”

A banner, unfurled at Columbia University during a protest in 1989, included Christine as one of seven great female authors that should be part of the canon.

Next episode: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

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