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Christine de Pizan is both the author of and a character in her literary
creation. She straddles two realms, serving as a bridge between the book’s
historical and contemporary references and the imaginative world of the three
allegorical figures and their symbolic city. In addition, her presence
accommodates and unites the various references that constitute the wealth of
examples that Reason, Rectitude, and Justice cite as evidence of women’s virtue.
In stating her case, Christine integrates into her treatise women from history
as well as fictional characters from legend and mythology. Although Christine
argues that these seemingly fictionalized presences were based on actual, real
women, it is her dual status as both authorial presence and literary character
that allows the real and the fantastic to seamlessly fuse and to form a unified
and convincing argument. Without her presence, critics may have found her
scholarship flawed and her citation of fictional lives questionable, thus
compromising the impact of her words.
Christine assumes another unique pose and fulfills yet another specific
function in her work. Throughout, she adopts and utilizes what is known as the
modesty topos, a rhetorical device in which she willfully appears to be more
ignorant, naïve, or uninformed than she actually is in order to make her various
points more powerful. Rather than stating that women are virtuous and talented,
she instead asks the three Virtues if there is any truth to the statements that
male authors make, maligning and dismissing women’s accomplishments. By casting
her work in the form of a dialogue (a philosophical debate utilizing a
question-and-answer format), Christine avoids the charge of shrilly preaching to
her readers. This approach is more effective: readers can trace her logic and
see how she arrives at her conclusions rather than simply being told the direct
result of her contemplations. Ultimately, this self-effacing stance stands out
against the self-promotion she indulges on several different occasions. In
answering Christine’s questions, the three allegorical figures often acknowledge
and cite some of Christine’s other books in what amounts to a brief endorsement
of the esteemed author’s body of scholarship.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Book of the City of Ladies!