sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3

Christine de Pizan: Le Livre de la Cité des Dames

The English translation of Christine de Pizan's Livre de la cité des dames (1405) published by Earl Jeffrey Richards in 1982 (New York: Persea Books) marked a watershed moment in medieval and feminist studies. Christine de Pizan became a household word for anglophone medievalists. Studies, translations, and finally editions of her many works proliferated. Until 1997, when Patrizia Caraffi and Earl Jeffrey Richards published a new edition (based on manuscript British Library Harley 4431) with a facing Italian translation, the Middle French Cité had been available only in the unpublished and unwieldy two-volume photocopy of the Vanderbilt University dissertation by Maureen Curnow (1975). In France, a modern French translation by Thérèse Moreau and Eric Hicks appeared in 1986, but it was not linked to a critical edition and featured very few notes and little context.

The first edition of the original Middle French text available in print was the above-mentioned La cità delle dame, a bilingual Middle French/Italian edition by Earl Jeffrey Richards and Patrizia Caraffi (Milan: Luni, 1997). In the next few decades, the Cité was translated into a large number of European languages, most recently into Polish by Anna Loba (Poznan, 2022). But only now, more than forty years after de Pizan made her appearance on the world stage through the English version of the proto-feminist Cité des dames, Anne Paupert and Claire Le Ninan, two of the foremost French de Pizan scholars, offer us a new Cité which will undoubtedly become the standard edition, because it combines the Middle French text with a modern French translation and features an excellent book-length introduction as well as hundreds of notes and a useful Middle French glossary.

The Introduction covers Christine's life, the historical, political and cultural context, and her literary production divided into thematic clusters, such as the defense of women and political concerns. Especially interesting is the section "Une auteure au travail" (40-48) that traces the different networks de Pizan belonged to, her education and use of sources, and especially her manuscript atelier that produced fifty-four manuscripts of her works until 1418 when de Pizan had to leave Paris in face of the Burgundian onslaught. The authors make good use of the indispensable Album Christine, the 800-page tome assembled by the great de Pizan scholars Gilbert Ouy, Christine Reno, and Inès Villela-Petit (Brepols, 2012) that, after an extensive study by Villela-Petit of the scribes and artists active in De Pizan's workshop, devotes erudite pages to every one of the fifty-four manuscripts.

De Pizan's works exists in monotext manuscripts and compilations, of which the most splendid is probably the two-volume Queen's Manuscript (British Library MS Harley 4431) dated to January 1414, the manuscript chosen for the previous edition of the Cité, the bilingual Richards/Caraffi Città. Paupert and Le Ninan chose Bibliothèque Nationale de France fr. 1178 because it is the most recent autograph manuscript of version two [1] and therefore incorporates the latest changes and corrections, according to the editors, and because it has not yet been edited (139-42). Variants are provided from other autograph manuscripts, notably British Library Harley 4431 (=MS R), Bibliothèque nationale de France fr. 607 (=MS D), and Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 9393 (= MS B). [2]

Especially interesting is the analysis of some of the changes or corrections de Pizan made in her manuscripts (145-46). For example, the editors show how de Pizan used three different terms: first fantosme in MSS B and D, then fantaisie in MS R [3], and finally fantasme in MS P edited here to speak of the apparition of Lady Reason. De Pizan used these three almost equivalent terms to get to the essence of what she feared in this apparition. The Harley manuscript's fantaisie is translated as the English "phantom" by Richards (1982, 6) and in Italian as "visione tentatrice" by Caraffi (Richards/Caraffi, 1997, 47), a translation that is an interpretation with a moral/theological underpinning. Paupert/Le Ninan translate the fantasme of BnF fr. 1178 as "apparition fantastique" (207), thus showing through their translation that de Pizan did not seem to fear a demonic presence in Lady Reason. This one example shows that Paupert/Le Ninan are attuned to the fact that de Pizan's variants and variations can show a search not just for the "mot juste" but for clarifications of deeper concepts, such as the nature of visions and apparitions. This nature was in fact a critical point in discussions around the discernment of spirits in which Jean Gerson, the chancellor of the University of Paris and de Pizan's ally in the Debate on the Romance of the Rose a few years earlier, played a leading role. In this instance de Pizan's textual modifications seem to be a response to some of the theological debates of the time.

The 20-page bibliography at the end of the introduction lists previous editions and translations, other primary texts (including the many sources used by de Pizan), and does justice to the huge amount of critical studies that have appeared in the last few decades, including those by scholars in the USA where the big wave of de Pizan studies began earlier than in France.

The modern French translation is extremely readable and will undoubtedly attract new admirers of de Pizan in both secondary school and university curricula.

In addition to the book-length introduction the notes written by Claire Le Ninan provide an excellent commentary and bibliographical orientation, identifying mythological and historical personages, giving exhaustive information on de Pizan's many sources, correcting errors in previous editions, and in many cases, providing mini-treatises on such questions as the creation of Eve (249, n.1), the problem of whether de Pizan is essentialiste or not (267, n. 1), or a history of clerical misogyny (479, n.1). The notes are truly a treasure trove of crucial information and judicious evaluations of issues such as de Pizan's use of sources.

The volume features many useful appendices, including a glossary and an index of names. Unfortunately, the index does not include references to the long and rich introduction. But it would be churlish to complain about this omission in light of an 873-page volume that does the genius of de Pizan justice in so many different ways. The lovely color illuminations that open each book of the Cité invite us into the city to enjoy this old book in its new guise.


[1] There is some disagreement on the number of different versions (two or three?) laid out in Earl Jeffrey Richards: Editing the Livre de la Cité des Dames: New Insights, Problems and Challenges, in Au champ des escriptures. IIIe Colloque International sur Christine de Pizan, Lausanne, 18-22 juillet 1998. Etudes réunies et publiées par Eric Hicks avec la collaboration de Diego Gonzalez et Philippe Simon, Paris 2000, 790-816. This early and important contribution to editing the Cité does not figure in the bibliography of the book under review although the volume is listed under "Ouvrages collectifs" in the bibliography.

[2] I would have liked to see a comment on, as well as the variants of, the very first word of the text: seslon (where other manuscripts offer selonc or selon). This peculiar orthography is not attested anywhere else in Middle French and is etymologically implausible.

[3] The editors mistakenly spell the word from Harley MS 4431 fantaisie. The manuscript actually reads fantasie (fol. 291r). In this review I reproduce the incorrect spelling from page 145.

Rezension über:

Christine de Pizan: Le Livre de la Cité des Dames. Édition bilingue introduite et traduite par Anne Paupert. Édition et notes par Claire Le Nina et Anne Paupert (= Champion Classiques. Série «Moyen Âge» ; 59), Paris: Editions Honoré Champion 2023, 873 S., ISBN 978-2-38096-068-6, EUR 23,00

Rezension von:
Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski
University of Pittsburgh, PA
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski: Rezension von: Christine de Pizan: Le Livre de la Cité des Dames. Édition bilingue introduite et traduite par Anne Paupert. Édition et notes par Claire Le Nina et Anne Paupert, Paris: Editions Honoré Champion 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3 [15.03.2024], URL:

Bitte geben Sie beim Zitieren dieser Rezension die exakte URL und das Datum Ihres letzten Besuchs dieser Online-Adresse an.