As speculative fiction authors, writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror have the opportunity to create entirely new worlds for their readers. We can create new species, invent systems of magic, and imagine humanity traversing the galaxy. Yet very often these adventures exclude women. It is too often said that readers will reject women in speculative fiction stories, especially those set in low tech settings or fantasies that resemble medieval Earth, because there is a notion that women did not take on public or adventurous lives in Earth’s history.
In this series, we’d like to introduce you to women who did just that. From writers to soldiers to pirates, we will tell you the stories of amazing women who led lives of public importance. We hope that the lives of these women encourage you to reach beyond the expected and to give voices to extraordinary women in your own stories.
Meet Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430)
Christine de Pizan was born in 1364 in Venice. When she was a small child, Christine moved with her family to Paris. Her father, Thomas de Pizan, had taken a position at the Court of Charles V of France as the king’s astrologer, alchemist, and physician.
Thomas de Pizan believed in educating his daughter and had Christine tutored not just in music, dance, and theology, but also in rhetoric, logic, and philosophy.
When Christine was fifteen, she married Estienne de Castel, who became a court secretary. They were a happy couple, but their time together was short. By the time Christine was twenty-five, both her father and her husband had died, leaving Christine floundering and responsible for providing for herself, her two children, her mother, and a niece.
Christine turned to her education and became one of the earliest female freelance writers in Europe. She turned her pen to writing love ballads detailing the romantic exploits of the men of the French Court. For a fee, Christine could make a man, and his prowess, immortal. The novelty of hiring a woman for this kind of work helped Christine get her freelance business off the ground, but her ballads were so good, she soon had a backlog of noblemen (and a few noblewomen) clamoring for her skills. Between 1393 and 1412, Christine wrote more than 300 commissioned ballads and many more shorter poems.
Christine’s freelance success allowed her to provide for her family and live comfortably at the French Court, but more importantly, it gave her a foot in the door for writing more intellectual pieces. During Christine’s life, Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose was the most popular book of the day. It has been credited with spurring medieval chivalric ideas. It is also full of references to the low moral character and seductive natures of women.
Christine turned her pen to literary criticism of the misogyny and obscenity used to portray woman in the Romance of the Rose and other literary works of her day. She is considered by many an early feminist for her passionate belief in the education of women and her staunch defense of women wherever she found abusive literary treatments of them.
The City of Ladies
Christine’s two most famous works were: The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies. In these works, Christine wrote about a fictional city, populated with great and well-known women from all over the world. In the City of Ladies, women were appreciated for their contributions to the world and were defended from the men who would tear down those contributions by writing women as base, crass, sexually-aggressive creatures.
Christine wrote her women as educated, dedicated, and morally upright. She spent much of her non-commissioned literary endeavors advocating for education for women and said that she believed that it was through education that every woman could be worthy of a place in the City of Ladies.
Christine’s Later Life
Christine retired to a convent in 1415 but continued to write about the lives of women. In 1429, shortly before her death, Christine wrote a poem dedicated to the early victories of another amazing medieval woman, Joan of Arc. Christine’s work, Le Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc, is the only poem about Joan written in French during Joan’s lifetime and helped young Joan’s popularity soar among the French people.
Christine de Pizan was extraordinary because she is the first recorded female freelance commercial writer in Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Christine is proof that with an education women were able to carve a place for themselves even in fields traditionally dominated by men.
What are some of the challenges in representing more women in speculative fiction? How can those challenges be overcome?
A. E. Lowan is the pseudonym of three authors who collectively create the dark urban fantasy series, The Books of Binding. Their first novel, Faerie Rising, is available at Amazon. For free original short fiction and all things Seahaven, check out the A. E. Lowan website.