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Michelle A. Donovan14Women In French Studies Rewriting Hagiography: The Livre de la Cité des Dames Many criticisms of the work of Christine de Pizan as "feminist" literature display an ambivalent attitude toward the third book of the Livre de la Cité des Dames, hereafter called the Cité. This book consists of a martyrology of female saints. From a modem point of view, the mutilation and objectilication of female bodies displayed here is objectionable and decidedly unfeminist (Mirror of Honor 35). Even worse, according to these critics, is the ending of the book, which recommends that women "... sy ne vueillez misuser ce nouvel heritage... ains, par !'example de vostre Royne, le Vierge souveraine, qui après si grant honneur que on luv adnonçoit comme d'estre mere du filz de Dieu, elle tant plus s'umilita en ce appellant chamberiere de Dieu." ' "... not misuse this new inheritance... but rather follow the example of the Virgin, who, after the extraordinary honor of being chosen Mother of the Son of God was announced to her, humbled herself all the more by calling herself the handmaiden of Ciod." 1 1er further advice in the last chapter recommends that women be subject to their husbands, tolerate bad marriages, dress and speak modestly, and so on. The attacks on Christine's work because of these particular recommendations,-* however , take the work out of its historical and literary context. Her advice on women's comportment is designed to stop men's slander of women's behavior at the root. She states this explicitly: "Faittes les tous menteurs par monstrer vostre vertu et prouvés mençongeurs ceulx qui vous blasment par bien faire..." ("make liars of them all by showing forth your virtue, and prove their attacks false by acting well..."). This advice has roots in fifteenth-century legislation on divorce and sumptuary laws (which limited the styles and colors of clothing that could be worn by individuals of varying statuses), designed to control women's behavior ; il is also related to the commonplace suspicion of independent women as witches. Christine's behavioral advice was undoubtedly for the physical safety of women as well as for their moral well-being. One must also be cautious about judging Christine in tenus of modem feminism, since the tenu is anachronistic when applied to any period before the nineteenth century ; the expectation that Christine's ideology reflect a modem, political feminist consciousness is simply fallacious.4 A further criticism revived periodically is Christine's political conservatism , her narrow views, backward social attitudes and prudery. The point is arguable, in lad there has been an ongoing "Quenelle de Christine" since the fifteenth century. What is more important than her politics, however, is what she contributes to women in constmcting her city. The reasons for the inclusion of a martyrology are less immediatelv obvious than those for the advice given in the conclusion. Some understanding of hagiography both as a form of religious expression and as a literary genre is Michelle A. Donovan15Women In French Studies required in order to determine why Christine utilized the genre of the martyrology , which to many twentieth-century readers is clearly sexist, for her project. The body of this essay takes as its focus Christine's possible reasons for including a hagiography in the Cité, as well as explanations for the selection and anangement of the saints' lives told here. Christine's choices throughout the book suggest a deep commitment to improving women's position in society, despite the reception of her position by some modem feminist scholars. To understand the function of Christine's martyrology, it is necessary to understand how the genre of hagiography functions in Christian society. Delehaye defines the genre as follows: ". . . the document must be of a religious character and aim at edification. The term must then be confined to writings inspired by religious devotion to the saints and intended to increase that devotion" (3). He emphasizes that hagiographical writing has a basis in history, but that historical fact has been "embroidered or distorted by popular imagination," that is, it has become legend (8). In a sense, the entire Cité, not just the third book, serves as a hagiography not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-5486
Print ISSN
1077-825x
Pages
pp. 14-26
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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