The University of Toronto Libraries recently acquired a rare manuscript written by 15th century Italian and French author Christine De Pizan. The announcement was made in celebration of International Women’s Day. Written in 1470, The Book of Peace is one of three manuscripts that are known to have survived.
Although she lived a relatively safe life in her youth, Christine’s adulthood was marked by the death of her father and husband. This drove Christine to turn to writing to provide for herself and her three children.
In an interview with U of T News, Suzanne Akbari, director of U of T’s Centre for Medieval Studies, stated, “It’s fitting to celebrate Christine on International Women’s Day. It’s easy for many of us to think we’re in a post-feminist age but, on the other hand, we also see a lot of reasons to believe that we’re wrong to imagine that.”
“There’s still a value in thinking about those kinds of issues, and so they’re playing out in the public sphere in ways that Christine herself would have been really interested in and, I have no doubt, really engaged in.”
Lori Walters, a visiting scholar at the centre, described De Pizan as “an extraordinary feminist icon” through her determination to dictate her own life.
“In her works, she has what you might call allegorical autobiographies in which she talks about her life in metaphorical terms,” said Walters. “In one of them, she memorably describes how she was turned from a woman into a man in a time of hardship. It’s a way of describing in a really vivid way how she had to take on certain kinds of roles and certain kinds of tasks in the world, very different from what most women would have to deal with.”
The Book of Peace, written after the death of King Charles VI, describes the virtues needed to foster peace and good leadership.
Akbari spoke on the potential of hosting symposia centered around The Book of Peace and Christine’s ideas on politics, women, and freedom.