Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Jane Chance | Go to book overview

4
Rejecting Essentialism and Gendered Writing: The Case of Christine de Pizan

Earl Jeffrey Richards

The Rose in telling the story of Heloise argues that no woman born after her resembles her because literary learning--lestreüre--had permitted her to conquer the nature she had from female mores:

Mes je croi mie, par m'ame
c'onques puis fust nule tel fame:
si croi je que sa lestreüre
la mist a ce que la nature
que des meurs femenins avoit
vaincre et donter mieux en savoit
. ( Le Roman de la Rose, vv. 8795-8800)

[But, by my soul, I do not believe that there has ever been such a woman since then; for I think that her literary culture made her know how to conquer and subdue better the nature that she had from female mores.]1

The Rose squarely posits Heloise as the woman whose knowledge of male erudition alienated her from her female nature. When Jean de Meun argued in the Roman de la Rose that Heloise had employed literary culture in overcoming her female nature, he gave voice to a long-standing essentialist contention that women were essentially unfit for letters. Christine de Pizan's criticisms of the Rose ultimately turn on this essentialist question. Her use of the Ovide moralisé against the Rose provides specific insights into how her reservations on essentialism dovetail with her criticisms of the great French romance.

Christine's turning to the Ovide moralisé was a highly charged decision, not a shortcut taken by a writer whose Latin was inadequate to read Ovid in the original. It stemmed directly from her determination to show that a

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