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  • Christine de Pizan: une femme en politique
  • Mark Aussems
Christine de Pizan: une femme en politique. By Françoise Autrand. Paris: Fayard, 2009. 505 pp., pl., ill. Pb €28.00.

Françoise Autrand's work seemingly attempts to fill a lacuna in the études christiniennes: that of a revised biography of the Venetian-born Christine de Pizan, improved with many new insights gained from recent scholarship. The book is divided into three loosely chronological parts. The first focuses on Christine de Pizan's early life and her first steps into French literary circles, where she is seen drawing inspiration from her own experience of life for many of her early works. The second depicts Christine relating the great events of her time as a historiographer. The final section describes her views on contemporary political issues, partially fuelled and influenced by her womanhood. Drawing on her expertise in medieval political history, Autrand convincingly puts Christine de Pizan's life and works in the context of the ever-changing political and social landscape in fifteenth-century France. With a keen eye for detail, she explains Christine's apparent switch in patrons from Louis, Duke of Orléans to his uncle, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (p. 253) and her condemnation of actions taken by the latter's son, John the Fearless (p. 303). Autrand is to be commended for her lucid interpretations of Christine's works, stressing that certain themes in the author's oeuvre are coexistent rather than successive (pp. 289-90, 325). Less impressive are the many inconsistencies in the titles of Christine de Pizan's texts, including Le Livre de la Prod'homie (prod'hommie, Prud'homie) de l'homme and Le Livre des fais (faits) d'armes et de chevalerie (chevallerie). Even the old-fashioned and imprecise spelling 'Christine de Pisan' is used twice (pp. 401, 403). Equally disappointing are the numerous repetitions throughout the book. The reader is informed on at least three occasions — and in almost identical wording — of the fact that Christine fervently tried to get her son Jean a place at the Orléans court (pp. 110-11, 139-40, 246), of the grand debate that concludes Christine's Livre du chemin de long estude (pp. 323-24, 341-42, 337), and of her mentions of the [End Page 474] French coronation ceremony (pp. 223, 352-54, 432). Similarly, Christine's wish to be remembered after her death, expressed in the Advision Cristine, is quoted twice — interestingly, in slightly different translations (pp. 83, 281). For a biography that boasts 'une scrupuleuse précision historique' (back cover), it fails to substantiate potentially correct claims with appropriate evidence. Whether or not Christine de Pizan had access to the royal library (p. 80) and whether or not she had died by the time Jeanne d'Arc was defeated (p. 450) are questions open for debate. Autrand answers both affirmatively and without citing her sources. Similarly unverifiable are her assertions concerning Christine's father's properties (p. 25) and his connections with the Venetian government (pp. 16, 23-24). Claims that King Charles presented Christine's father with eight Hebrew books (p. 23) and that the famous Duke's Manuscript consists of four volumes (p. 258) are demonstrably incorrect. As a biography of Christine de Pizan, this study falls short; as an account of fifteenth-century Parisian society interlaced with the story of Christine's life, however, it can hardly be faulted.

Mark Aussems
University of Edinburgh


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pp. 474-475
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