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Debate of the Romance of the Rose

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In 1401, Christine de Pizan (1365–1430?), one of the most renowned and prolific woman writers of the Middle Ages, wrote a letter to the provost of Lille criticizing the highly popular and widely read Romance of the Rose for its blatant and unwarranted misogynistic depictions of women. The debate that ensued, over not only the merits of the treatise but also of the place of women in society, started Europe on the long path to gender parity. Pizan’s criticism sparked a continent-wide discussion of issues that is still alive today in disputes about art and morality, especially the civic responsibility of a writer or artist for the works he or she produces.

In Debate of the “Romance of the Rose,” David Hult collects, along with the debate documents themselves, letters, sermons, and excerpts from other works of Pizan, including one from City of Ladies—her major defense of women and their rights—that give context to this debate. Here, Pizan’s supporters and detractors are heard alongside her own formidable, protofeminist voice.  The resulting volume affords a rare look at the way people read and thought about literature in the period immediately preceding the era of print.

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Editorial Reviews

[Hult’s] skillful translations and thoughtful contextualizations are well targeted to the student reader . . . [and] his historical and literary perspectives are both broad and critically nuanced. . . . A wonderful addition to the ‘Other Voice in Early Modern Europe’ series.”

— C. M. Reno

Choice - C. M. Reno

“[Hult’s] skillful translations and thoughtful contextualizations are well targeted to the student reader . . . [and] his historical and literary perspectives are both broad and critically nuanced. . . . A wonderful addition to the ‘Other Voice in Early Modern Europe’ series.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226670126
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2010
  • Series: The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David F. Hult is professor of French at the University of California, Berkeley, and the editor or coeditor of six books.

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Read an Excerpt



Copyright © 2010 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-67013-3

Chapter One




[Cupid, the god of love, addresses this letter to all who are in his service. Presiding over his court, he has received a complaint from an unspecified group of women, concerning the large number of insincere and devious men who attempt to get their favors but who do nothing but slander women, whatever the outcome. Cupid condemns such men but praises those who are loyal and sincere in their love. He then launches into the more general topic of how men treat women.]

Still I say that a man who says defamatory, offensive, or disgraceful things about women in an effort to scold them (be it one woman, or two, or categorically) is acting contrary to nature. And even if we assume that there are some foolish ones or ones full of many vices of different sorts, lacking faith, love, or any loyalty, domineering, wicked, or full of cruelty, or with little sense of constancy, fickle and changeable, crafty, furtive, and deceptive, must one, on that account, challenge all of them and assert that they are all worthless? When God on high created and formed the angels, the cherubim, seraphim, and the archangels, were there not some of them whose acts were evil? Must one for that reason call the angels wicked? Instead, if someone knows an evil woman, let him watch out for her, without defaming one-third or one-fourth of them, or reprimanding all of them without exception and besmirching their female behavior; for there have been, are, and will be many of them who, kindly and beautiful, are to be praised and in whom virtuous qualities are to be found, their discernment and merit having been proven by their benevolence.

But as concerns those who scold those women who are of but little worth, I still say that they are at fault if they name them and say who they are, where they live, what their deeds are, and of what sort. For one must not defame the sinner, this God tells us, or reprimand him in public. As the text where I read this asserts, one can certainly blame vices and sins harshly, without naming those who are tainted by them or defaming anyone. There are large numbers of people who speak like this, but such a vice is disgraceful in noble men. I say this to those who are guilty of it and not at all to those who have not sinned in this way, for there are many noble men so worthy that they would rather forfeit their possessions than in any way be accused or reproached for such deeds or be caught in the act of performing them.

But the injurious men I am talking about, who are good neither in deed nor in intention, do not follow the example of the good Hutin de Vermeilles, in whom there was such an ample measure of goodness that no one ever had any reason to reproach him, nor did he ever value a slur meant to defame. He was exceptional in the honor he bestowed upon women, and he was incapable of listening to accusatory or dishonorable things said about them. He was a brave, wise, and beloved knight, and this is why he was and will continue to be glorified. The good, the valiant Oton de Grandson, who ventured out exerting himself so much for military causes, was in his time courtly, noble, brave, handsome, and kind—may God receive his soul in heaven!—for he was a knight with many good qualities. Whoever acted ill toward him I consider to have committed a sin; Fortune, however, did him harm, but she commonly brings suffering to good men. For in all circumstances I consider him to have been loyal, and braver in military deeds than Ajax, son of Telemon. He never took pleasure in defaming anyone, he strove to serve, praise, and love women. Many others were good and valiant and ought to serve as examples for those who fall short; there still are many of them, there truly is need of them, those who follow the good paths of valiant men. Honor trains them, virtue leads them there; they put effort into acquiring renown and praise; they take pride in the noble manners with which they are endowed; their merits are manifested in their brilliant deeds in this kingdom, in others, and beyond the seas. But I will refrain from naming their names here, for fear that someone might say this was meant to fl atter, or that it risk turning into a boast. And this is indeed how men of noble breeding must by right behave. Otherwise that very nobility would be lacking in them.

But the above-mentioned ladies complain of several clerics who accuse them of blameworthy conduct, composing literary works, lyric poems, works in prose and in verse, defaming their behavior with a variety of expressions; then they give these materials to beginning students—to their new, young pupils—to serve as a model and as instruction, so that they will retain such advice into their adulthood. They say in their poetry, "Adam, David, Samson, and Solomon, along with a mass of others, were deceived by women morning and night. What man will manage to protect himself from this?" Another cleric says that they are most deceitful, wily, treacherous, and of little value. Others say that they are exceedingly mendacious, fickle, unstable, and flighty. Others accuse them of several serious vices and blame them ceaselessly, never excusing them for anything. It is in this manner that day and night clerics compose their poems, now in French, now in Latin, and they base themselves upon I don't know what books that tell more lies than a drunken man.

Ovid said a lot of nasty things about them (I consider that he did much harm by this) in a book he wrote, which he called the Remedia amoris (Remedies for Love) and in which he accuses them of repulsive behavior—foul, ugly, and full of disgrace. That they might possess such vices, this I dispute with him, and I make my pledge to defend this in battle against all those who would like to throw down the gauntlet; I am of course referring to honorable women, for I do not take any account of worthless ones. Thus the clerics have studied this little book since their childhood in their earliest learning of grammar, and they teach it to others with the goal that their pupils not endeavor to love a woman. But as far as this is concerned, they are foolish and wasting their time: to prevent such love would be nothing if not futile. For between myself and Lady Nature, as long as the world lasts we will not allow women not to be cherished and loved, in spite of all those who would like to reproach them, nor will we prevent them from seizing, removing, and making off with the hearts of several of those very people who rebuke them the most—this without any deceit and without any blackmail, but just by ourselves and the impression we make on the mind: men will never be so informed by skilled clerics [as to resist it], not even for all their poems, notwithstanding the fact that many books speak of women and blame them, for they have very little effect in this matter.

And if someone says that one must believe the books that were made by men of great renown and of great learning, who did not give their consent to lies—those who proved the wickedness of women—I respond to them that those who wrote this down in their books did not, I think, seek to do anything else in their lives but deceive women; these men could not get enough of them, and every day they wanted new ones, without remaining loyal, even to the most beautiful of them. What was the result for David and King Solomon? God became angry with them and punished their excess. There have been many others, and especially Ovid, who desired so many of them and then thought he could defame them. Indeed, all the clerics who have spoken so much about them were wildly attracted to them much more than other people—not to a single one, but to a thousand! And if people like this had a mistress or a wife who did not do absolutely all they wanted or who might have attempted to deceive them, what is surprising about that? For there is no doubt that when a man thrusts himself into such an abject state, he does not go looking for worthy ladies or good and respected noblewomen. He neither knows them nor has anything to do with them. He does not want any others than those who are of his station: he surrounds himself with strumpets and commoners. Does such a man deserve to possess anything of value, a skirt chaser who adds all women to his list and then, when he is no longer capable of anything and is already an old man, thinks he can successfully cover up his shame by blaming women with his clever arguments? However, were someone to blame only those women who have given themselves over to vice and who have led a dissolute life, and advise them not to continue as they have done, he could truly succeed in his enterprise; and it would be a very reasonable thing, a worthy, just, and praiseworthy teaching, devoid of defamatory statements about all women indiscriminately.

And to say something about trickery, I am incapable of imagining or conceiving how a woman could deceive a man: she neither goes looking for him nor hunts him down; she does not go to his home to beg him or woo him; she does not think of him or even remember him when the man comes to deceive and tempt her. To tempt her how? Truly, he gives the appearance that there is no torment that is not easy for him to endure, nor burden to bear. He doesn't take pleasure in any other activity than in striving to deceive them, having committed his heart, his body, and his wealth to it. This suffering, along with the pain, lasts a long time and is often repeated, even though such lovers' plans often fail, in spite of their effort. And it is of these men that Ovid speaks in his treatise on the art of love; for on account of the pity that he had for these men he compiled a book in which he writes to them and teaches them clearly how they will be able to deceive women with tricks and obtain their love. And he called the book The Art of Love; however, he does not teach behaviors or morals having to do with loving well, but rather the opposite. For a man who wants to act according to this book will never love, however much he is loved, and this is why the book is poorly named. For it is a book on the Art of Great Deception—this is the name I give it—and of False Appearances.


Excerpted from DEBATE OF THE ROMANCE OF THE ROSE Copyright © 2010 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Series Editors’ Introduction

Volume Editor’s Introduction

Volume Editor’s Bibliography

I Christine and the Rose before the Debate

1. From Christine de Pizan, The God of Love’s Letter (May 1, 1399)

2. From Christine de Pizan, Moral Teachings (1399 or 1402?)

3. From Christine de Pizan, The Debate of Two Lovers (1400?)

II The Debate: First Phase

4. Jean de Montreuil to Pierre d’Ailly (Late May 1401)

5. Christine de Pizan to Jean de Montreuil (June–July 1401)

6. Jean de Montreuil to a Lawyer (July–August 1401)

7. Jean de Montreuil to a Prelate (July–August 1401)

8. Jean de Montreuil to Gontier Col (July–August 1401)

9. Jean de Montreuil to a Prelate (July–August 1401)

10. Jean de Montreuil to a Lawyer (July–August 1401)

11. Pierre d’Ailly, The Devout Soul’s Garden of Love (Summer 1401?)

12. From Jean Gerson, Considerate lilia (August 25, 1401)

13. Gontier Col to Christine de Pizan (September 13, 1401)

14. Gontier Col to Christine de Pizan (September 15, 1401)

15. Christine de Pizan to Gontier Col (Late September 1401)

16. Christine de Pizan to Isabeau de Bavière (February 1, 1402)

17. Christine de Pizan to Guillaume de Tignonville (February 1, 1402)

18. Christine de Pizan, Account of the Debate (February 1, 1402) 

III The Debate: Second Phase

19. Jean de Montreuil to a Great Poet (Either February / March or July / August 1402)

20. Jean Gerson, Treatise against the Romance of the Rose (May 18, 1402)

21. Pierre Col to Christine de Pizan (Late Summer 1402)

22. Christine de Pizan to Pierre Col (October 2, 1402)

23. Pierre Col to Christine de Pizan (Fragment, November 1402)

IV Aftermath

24. From Jean Gerson, Sermons of the Poenitemini Series (December 1402)

25. Christine de Pizan, Ballade Addressed to the Queen of France (January 1, 1403)

26. Christine de Pizan, Rondeau Addressed to a Lord (January 1, 1403?)

27. Christine de Pizan, Ballade to an Unknown Addressee (January 1, 1403?)

28. Jean Gerson to Pierre Col (Winter 1402–3)

29. Jean de Montreuil to a High- Ranking Prelate (1403–4) 

V Christine’s Later Mentions of the Romance of the Rose

30. From Christine de Pizan, Book of Fortune’s Transformation (November 1403)

31. From Christine de Pizan, Book of the City of Ladies (1405)

32. From Christine de Pizan, Christine’s Vision (1405)

33. From Christine de Pizan, Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry (1410)

Series Editors’ Bibliography

Index of People and Places

Index of Allegorical Personifications and Mythological and Fictional Characters

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