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The Struggles of Europe's First Feminist

On International Women's Day, we're honoring our pioneers to whom we owe a great debt, and Christine de Pizan is one of our earliest and most eloquent pioneers.


She defended the moral character of women during the viciously sexist Romance of the Rose debates. She penned more than 20 volumes of work at a time when no lay woman wrote at all. She wrote the only poem championing Joan of Arc during her lifetime. Her writing is still taught in universities as one of the great voices of the Middle Ages.


Ambition as a Drug


Genuine people, however, are multi-dimensional and the faceted sides of the human psyche give us an opportunity to examine the truth behind each side of the story of Christine de Pizan, in this case the addictive and conflicted nature of ambition.

For example, all pioneers waffle between the inculcated lessons of the status quo (giving rise to self-loathing) and their determined, brilliant will to move forward. Pioneers know their position as an out-cast, as Christine does when she acknowledges that she is a raptor (ferocious and potentially deadly) amid a court of decorative and powerless blue-bird women. She sometimes feels reptilian in her alienation.

Her mother had her own form of ambition. It's historical fact that Christine de Pizan's mother worked to prevent her education, and I was curious about how to sympathetically portray a woman who would do that. Sometimes women are our worst enemies. Her mother's ambition involved the family as a whole, and she believed, I suggest, that hiding is the best policy (as anyone who has lived in any kind of closet will understand). This was also the standard belief of the time. Christine's mother (whose first name seems lost to history and so is invented in my book) was actually the daughter of a great mathematician, which was how she met Tommaso de Pizan, her husband and Christine's father. I suggest at a particular turn in the plot that her mother tried that her hand at her math skill, with disastrous consequences. I'm suggesting here that the sporadic and conflicted application of one's talents or skills, because of an internal conflict with ambition, is fraught with difficulties.

Christine's husband's ambition is gentle, steady and entirely within the establishment; the court, however, is even more twisted in its ambition than usual, as the king goes mad and intrigue mounts.


Ambition's Flip-Side: Disillusionment

Gilles Malet the chief librarian of the royal court and a main character in the story, on the other hand, has built himself an excellent career through hard work and intelligence. As a character, he looks at aspects of compromise/surrender that are required for that success, and at the disillusionment that is (inherent, perhaps?) in the fulfillment of ambitions. I take a moment to comment on relationships here as well.

I've also taken an opportunity to dramatize the conflict that comes when one is given the object of one's ambition – the period of self-sabotage, then the final battle with a powerful fear when one has a goal within one's grasp.


I hope you'll take a moment to explore this in my novel, A Slender Tether.

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