New York, NY – In The Book of the City of Ladies or Le Livre de la Cité des Dames, author Christine de Pizan describes being in her father's library and trying to explain to her mother what the library means to her. All the male voices begin chanting from the walls, “You are inferior. You are less than a man” when three allegorical women visit to tell her, "No. There have always been important and talented women. We are going to build a city to protect you: la cité des dames."
The Book of the City of Ladies is believed to have completed before 1405, which means Christine de Pizan was discussing women’s empowerment over 600 years ago!
“It's so moving to see her struggling with being thought inferior when she wasn't,” says Dr. Anne Lake Prescott.
Dr. Prescott is the Helen Goodhart Altschul Professor of English emeritus and Senior Scholar at Barnard College, Columbia University. Now 82, Dr. Prescott leaves behind a legacy of scholarship with a commitment to preserving the achievements of the past.
“A few years ago, I developed a keen interest in women writers,” recalls Dr. Prescott. “There's a very moving essay by Virginia Woolf describing how she was not allowed to go into the library except the bottom floor and how she looked at all those writers on the walls of the library, all those voices, all of them male. Why were there no women's voices? Maybe Shakespeare had a sister we never heard of named Judith Shakespeare.”
According to Dr. Prescott, the notion of the canon is fairly modern, but when it was first conceived, there were a lot more women writers than we knew about. In the 1960s, academics began finding all these women writers from the Middle Ages that had been forgotten.