Saturday, December 15, 2012

Five top literary counterblasts against misogyny

Belinda Jack is Tutorial Fellow in French, Christ Church, University of Oxford. She is the author of George Sand: A Woman's Life Writ Large and Beatrice's Spell.

Her latest book is The Woman Reader.

One of Jack's five best literary counterblasts against misogyny, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Book of the City of Ladies
by Christine de Pizan (1405)

Stung by her reading of the caustic cleric and poet Matheolus's "Lamenta," a tirade in Latin against women that was translated into French in 1370, Christine de Pizan was moved to take up the pen. The tone of her "The Book of the City of Ladies" (still available today in a Penguin translation) is indignant, but there is a strain of delightfully disingenuous puzzlement too: "I asked myself what the causes and reasons could be which pushed so many men, clerics and others to speak against women and to revile their conduct. . . . Philosophers and moralists . . . all of them seem to speak with the same voice in order to conclude that women are fundamentally evil and drawn to vice." Pizan proposes an ideal city where women are made noble through cultivated reading, rather than by birth. Along the way various topics are discussed—the unquestionable criminality of rape, women's education and men's inexplicable opposition to it, and women's innate merits, including their political skills. All that is missing is a discussion of the glass ceiling.
Read about another book on the list.

Christine de Pizan is one of Pamela Norris's top ten passionate women writers.

--Marshal Zeringue