Academic journal article Cithara

Christine De Pizan's Vision for the Exemplary Parenting of Mother Marina*

Academic journal article Cithara

Christine De Pizan's Vision for the Exemplary Parenting of Mother Marina*

Article excerpt

"For as low as human nature fell through this creature woman, was human nature lifted higher by this same creature."1

The work of the writer Christine de Pizan continues to generate scholarly attention across disciplinary boundaries for its insights into the social, historical and political thought worlds of late fourteenth- and early fifteenthcentury France. In particular, Christine's assertive positions in the ongoing debates about the role of women in her day remain a relevant site for interpretation. For many scholars, Christine and her work represent a pivotal moment in the development of women's history.2 Christine had a prolific pen; her literary impact alone spans a wide array of genres through which she explores both standard and non-traditional renderings of common rhetorical devices and content.3 In the opening sections of The Book of the City of Ladies, written in 1405, Christine deftly describes the appearance of three virtues (Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude and Lady Justice) who instruct her to build an allegorical city founded upon the examples of women predecessors. The structural foundations for this new City of Ladies will serve as a tribute to those women who developed and exercised their human capacities, a memorial to those women who followed God's will on earth, and a celebration of those women who were saints and martyrs for God. Fortified by a rewritten tradition of women's roles and contributions, the City of Ladies will embody a community that draws on the strength of women's experience as a form of historical truth (Kellogg 129-46).

Among those to be included in the City of Ladies is the transvestite nun, St. Marina (Constas). The legend of St. Marina, like other legends of transvestite nuns, circulated widely in the late middle ages. Despite particular differences, these legends share the theme of gender disguise; they recount the assumption of male gender by women.5 In the legend of St. Marina, gender disguise allows a father and his daughter to live together in a male monastery; the suspense of the legend builds through the events that occur following the death of the father and the final discovery of the revealed sex of his daughter, known to the monks as "Brother Marinos."

Christine features St. Marina among those virgin martyrs who remained faithful in the midst of persecution and ridicule. In at least one noticeable way, Christine's appeal to St. Marina appears distinct from most of the other women included in The Book of the City of Ladies.6 The work applauds women scientists, politicians, military leaders, and poets; it addresses women who serve selflessly and with assurance; it upholds staunch defenders of the Christian faith as well as women who lead their families and communities by their example. In all cases, the female identities of Christine's exempla are outwardly visible and so are known as certain to the reader. As a mark of difference from all of these accounts, the legend of St. Marina disguises its figure's female identity in earnest; visible only as a male monk to all around her but her father with whom she dwells in the monastic cell, St. Marina's identity remains veiled to those around her until the concluding events of the legend.

Christine's appeal to St. Marina, a figure whose female identity was decidedly and determinedly suppressed, in The Book of the City of Ladies, a work which recognizes that same identity as an exemplar of Christian piety and humility, is an intentional rhetorical strategy. St. Marina makes her appearance in the third and final part of the work/ Christine tells us that she includes the legend of St. Marina in order to give attention to the category of the virgin martyr "whose legends are quite beautiful and at the same time support the contention that women are constant" (de Pizan, 241; BCL III.12.1). In this way, Christine frames the intended emphasis in her employment of the saint: her use of the legend is not related to an exploration or examination of gender or of gender identity primarily but, rather, of this category of pious Christian women, particularly; that is to say, it is what St. …

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