Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

P is for Christine de Pizan


Christine de Pizan (1364-ca. 1431) was born in Venice to Tomasso de Pizzano, a graduate of the University in Bologna. In 1369, Charles V of France hired Tomasso as his medical advisor and Tomasso brought his wife and young daughter to Paris. Christine never lost sight of her Italian heritage, and is credited with introducing Dante and Boccaccio to French audiences. Although Christine was denied formal education, her father encouraged her intellectual curiosity.

In 1380, at age fifteen, Christine married Estienne du Castel, who had been appointed a secretary in the royal chancellery in that same year. However, Christine’s happy married life was short-lived. In the fall of 1390, Estienne died suddenly from an epidemic while traveling with the court. At age twenty-five, Christine was unprepared to become the sole support for her young children, as well as her mother, since Tommasso had died three years prior. Christine began writing love poems and confessional poetry, for which she received patronage from various members of the royal family, but she also began to study, beginning with Boethius and Ovid. 

From her studies, Christine became interested in the education of young people of both sexes, which remained a major theme of her writings for the rest of her life. In addition to the early works, the Epistre d’Othéa (The Letter of Othéa) and the Proverbes Moraulx (Moral Proverbs) written for her son Jean, Christine wrote two longer works on women, the Livre de la Cité des Dames ( The Book of the City of Ladies), an answer to Boccaccio’s view of women expressed in De Claris Mulieribus (Of Famous Women) and the Livre des Trois Vertus (The Book of the Three Virtues), a guide to enable women to enjoy a more respected place in society. Christine wrote about whatever piqued her wide-ranging interests:  the art of warfare, the evils of civil war, and a biography of Charles V, commissioned by his brother, Jean, Duke of Burgundy. Several of her works found favor with many of the royal house and were dedicated to Louis d’Orleans, Philippe le Hardi, Duke of Burgundy and Isabeau de Bavière, among others.

Christine’s works were circulated in manuscript, printed, and translated well into the sixteenth century. After a period of obscurity, Christine was rediscovered for her part in the “Querelle de la rose,” a debate in which she criticized Jean de Meun’s continuation of Le Roman de la Rose for its misogyny. After this initial discovery, her works on the importance of education and the ability of women to learn have become part of the history of women writers in the medieval period.

Christine de Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies. Translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards. Persea, 1982.

Christine de Pizan. A Medieval Woman’s Mirror of Honor. Translated by Charity Cannon Willard. Edited by Madeleine P. Cosman. Persea, 1989.

Christine de Pizan. The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry. Translated by Sumner Willard. Edited by Charity Cannon Willard. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Christine de Pizan. The Writings of Christine de Pizan. Edited by Charity Cannon Willard. Persea, 1993.

Willard, Charity Cannon. Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. Persea, 1990.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

O is for Amelia Opie

Amelia Opie (1769-1853) wrote The Dangers of Coquetry when she was only 18 years old. Her novel Father and Daughter (1801) is about misled virtue and family reconciliation. Encouraged by her husband to continue writing, she published Adeline Mowbray (1804), an exploration of women’s education, marriage, and the abolition of slavery. This novel in particular is noted for engaging Opie’s former friend Mary Wollstonecraft, whose relationship with the American Gilbert Imlay outside of marriage caused some scandal, as did her later marriage to the philosopher William Godwin. Godwin had previously argued against marriage as an institution by which women were owned as property, but when Wollstonecraft became pregnant, they married despite his prior beliefs. In the novel, Adeline becomes involved with a philosopher early on, who takes a firm stand against marriage, only to be convinced to marry a West Indian landowner against her better judgment. The novel also addresses abolitionist sentiment, in the story of a mixed-race woman and her family whom Adeline saves from poverty at some expense to herself.
In 1825, Opie joined the Society of Friends, despite the objections of her recently deceased father, due to the influence of Joseph John Gurney and his sisters, who were longtime friends and neighbours in Norwich. The rest of her life was spent mostly in travel and working with charities. In the meantime, however, she published an anti-slavery poem, The Black Man’s Lament in 1826 and a volume of devotional poems, Lays for the Dead in 1834. Opie worked with Anna Gurney to create a Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in Norwich. This anti-slavery society organised a petition of 187,000 names that was presented to Parliament. The first two names on the petition were Amelia Opie and Priscilla Buxton.
Opie went to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 where she was one of the few women included in the commemorative painting. A somewhat sanitised biography of Amelia Opie, entitled A Life, by Miss C.L. Brightwell, was published in 1854. Other works by Opie include Simple Tales (1806), Temper (1812), Tales of Real Life (1813), Valentine’s Eve (1816), Tales of the Heart (1818), and Madeline (1822).

Opie, Amelia. The Father and Daughter: with, Dangers of Coquetry. Edited by SHelley King and John B. Pierce. Broadview Press, 2003.

Opie, Amelia. The Collected Poems of Amelia Alderson Opie. Edited by Shelley King and John B. Pierce. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

N is for Isotta Nogarola

Isotta Nogarola (1418–1466) was born to Bianca Borromeo and Leonardo Nogarola. Both her parents came from noble families with a humanist view of education, so that Isotta and her sisters studied Greek and Latin. Influenced by this classical education, Isotta wrote Latin epistles, poetry, orations, and dialogues. As one of the most famous female humanists of the Italian Renaissance, Isotta exchanged letters with other humanists, such as Lodovico Foscarini, Ermolao Barbaro, and Damiano del Borgo. Isotta inspired generations of female artists and writers. Her most influential work was a disputation between herself and Foscarini, The Dialogue on Adam and Eve, about whether Adam or Eve was the greater sinner. As defender of Eve, Isotta does mention the weakness of the female sex; however, she also argues that Eve had a compelling desire for knowledge, a desire innate in humankind. The Dialogue contributed to a debate on gender and the nature of women that lasted for centuries in Europe.

Nogarola, Isotta. Complete Writings. Edted and translated by Margaret L. King and Diane Robin. University of Chicago Press, 2003,

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

M is for Bathsua Makin

Bathsua Reginald Makin (c. 1600 – c. 1675) was a proto-feminist, middle-class Englishwoman who contributed to the emerging criticism of woman’s position in the domestic and public spheres in 17th-century England. Makin was referred to as “England’s most learned lady,” due to her knowledge of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, Spanish, French and Italian. Makin argued primarily for the right of women and girls to obtain an education in an age that questioned the ability of women to be educated. She is best known for her polemical treatise entitled An Essay To Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen, in Religion, Manners, Arts & Tongues, with an Answer to the Objections against this Way of Education (1673).
I was unable to find a modern edition of Bathsua Makin’s works, however, the following title has included selections of her works.
First Feminists: British Women Writers, 1578–1799. Edited by Moira Ferguson. Indiana University Press, 1985.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

L is for Louise Labé

Louise Labé, (c. 1524, Lyons – 25 April 1566, Parcieux), a French Renaissance poet, was also identified as La Belle Cordière (The Beautiful Ropemaker) because she was the daughter of wealthy ropemaker Pierre Charly and his second wife, Etiennette Roybet. Labé’s Œuvres include two prose works: a feminist preface urging women to write, dedicated to a young noblewoman of Lyons, Clémence de Bourges; and a dramatic allegory in prose entitled Débat de Folie et d’Amour, which belongs to a long debate tradition that had recently seen renewed interest due to Erasmus’ Praise of Folly,  a controversial satire. The Débat, her most admired work in the sixteenth century, was used as the source for one of Jean de la Fontaine’s fables, and was translated into English by Robert Greene in 1584.

Labé, Louise. Complete Poetry and Prose: A Bilingual Edition. Translated by Deborah Lesko Baker and Annie Finch. University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

K is for the Knight of the Tower

Geoffrey IV de la Tour Landry (before 1330-between 1402 and 1406) was a French nobleman from Anjou who fought in the Hundred Years War. The ruins of La Tour Landry can be seen today between Cholet and Vezins.

In 1371–1372 Geoffrey compiled Le Livre pour l’enseignement de ses filles (literally, A Book for the Instruction of his Daughters, but in English often called The Book of the Knight of the Tower). Geoffrey had previously written a similar text for his sons, according to his preface in this text, but it has disappeared. The book became one of the most popular educational treatises of the Late Middle Ages.

Le Livre pour l’enseignement de ses filles served to teach De la Tour Landry’s daughters proper behaviour when visiting the royal court, which, the knight warns, is filled with smooth-talking courtiers who could potentially disgrace them and embarrass the family. Geoffrey was a widower and concerned for his daughters’ welfare. He takes a strong moral stance against the behaviour of his peers and warns his daughters about the dangers of vanity.

Le Livre was translated into German, as Der Ritter vom Turn, and into Dutch as Dē spiegel der duecht. William Caxton translated the work into English and printed it as The Book of the Knight of the Tower in 1483.

Geoffrey de la Tour Landry. The Book of the Knight of the Tower: Manners for Young Medieval Women. Edited and translated by Rebecca Barnhouse. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

J is for Frances Jacson


Frances Margaretta Jacson (born 13 October 1754 at Bebington, Cheshire, died 17 June 1842 at Somersal Herbert, Derbyshire) was an English novelist whose work shows a strong moral purpose. Jacson’s first novel, Plain Sense (1795) was immediately popular and followed by a second, Disobedience (1797). These and her subsequent novels appeared anonymously.

Things by their Right Names (1812) was followed by Rhoda. A Novel (1816), for which she turned to one of the foremost London novel publishers. It is considered the more accomplished of the two. This second pair of novels were wrongly ascribed to the Scottish writer Mary Brunton; in fact, Jacson’s authorship was not suggested until 1823. There were further false attributions to Alethea Lewis in the early twentieth century.

Despite the financial motives behind her writing activity, Jacson never abandoned her moral purpose, so that her novels are didactic, all featuring a heroine in relatively high society. Through them she shows strong creative insight, especially into burgeoning relationships and marriage. In most cases, her heroines discern flaws in the perceptions of themselves and others. There is much irony in the portrayal of several minor characters. Rhoda was preferred to Jane Austen’s Emma by Maria Edgeworth, from whom the Jacson sisters received a social call in 1818. It was also recommended by Sydney Smith. Isabella (1823) was written in a calmer period of Jacson’s life. The French translation, Isabelle Hastings, by Madame Collet in 1823, was wrongly ascribed to William Godwin. Even Jacson’s diaries, kept from 1829 until her death, were thought for a time to be her brother’s.

Jacson, Frances. Plain sense: a novel. Gale ECCO Press, 2010.

Jacson, Frances. Disobedience: a novel. Gale ECCO Press, 2010.

Jacson, Frances. Rhoda: a novel. Gale NCCO Press, 2017.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

I is for Elizabeth Inchbald

Elizabeth Inchbald (née Simpson) (1753–1821) was an English novelist, actress, and dramatist. Her two novels, A Simple Story, and Nature and Art, have been frequently reprinted and are still read today. Her play Lovers’ Vows (1798) was featured as a focus of moral controversy by Jane Austen in her novel Mansfield Park.
Between 1784 and 1805, Elizabeth Inchbald had 19 of her comedies, sentimental dramas, and farces (many of them translations from the French) performed at London theatres. Her first play to be performed was A Mogul Tale, in which she played the leading feminine role of Selina. In 1780, she joined the Covent Garden Company and played a breeches role in Philaster as Bellarion. Eighteen of her plays were published, though she wrote several more; the exact number is in dispute though most recent scholars claim between 21 and 23. She also did considerable editorial and critical work. Inchbald destroyed her four-volume length autobigraphy upon the advice of her confessor, but she did leave some of her diaries. The latter are currently held at the Folger Shakespeare Library. and an edition was recently published.

A political radical and friend of William Godwin and Thomas Holcroft, Inchbald’s political beliefs can more easily be found in her novels than in her plays, due to the constrictive environment of the patent theatres of Georgian London. She died on 1 August 1821 in Kensington and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary Abbots. On her gravestone it states, “Whose writings will be cherished while truth, simplicity, and feelings, command public admiration.” In 1833, a two-volume Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald by James Boaden was published by Richard Bentley.
Inchbald, Elizabeth. A Simple Story. Edited by J.M.S. Tompkins; introduction by Jane Spencer. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Inchbald, Elizabeth. Nature and Art. Edited by Shawn Lisa Maurer. Broadview Press, 2004.
Inchbald, Elizabeth. Selected Comedies. Edited by Roger Manvell. University Press of America, 1987.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

H is for Mary Sidney Herbert


Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (née Sidney; 27 October 1561 – 25 September 1621) was one of the first English women to achieve a major reputation for her poetry and literary patronage. By the age of 39, she was listed with her brother Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare, as one of the notable authors of her time in the verse miscellany by John Bodenham, Belvedere. The influence of her Antonius is widely recognized: it stimulated a revived interest in the soliloquy based on classical models, and was a likely source (among others) for both the 1594 closet drama Cleopatra by Samuel Daniel and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1607). Sidney Herbert was also known for her translation of Petrarch’s “Triumph of Death” (from Triumphs), but it is her lyric translation of the Psalms that has secured her poetic reputation.

Mary Sidney Herbert created a literary salon in her home, Wilton House. The “Wilton Circle” included Spenser, Daniel, Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson and Sir John Davies. She also received more dedications than any other woman of non-royal status and was named as Samuel Daniel’s muse in his poem Delia (an anagram for ideal).

Her brother, Philip Sidney, wrote much of his Arcadia at Wilton House. He also likely began preparing his English lyric version of the Book of Psalms at Wilton as well. He had completed 43 of the 150 Psalms at the time of his death during a military campaign against the Spanish in the Netherlands in 1586. Mary Sidney Herbert finished her brother’s translation of the Psalms, composing Psalms 44-150 in a dazzling array of verse forms, using the 1560 Geneva Bible and commentaries by John Calvin and Theodore Beza. A copy of the completed psalter was prepared for Queen Elizabeth I in 1599, in anticipation of a royal visit, but Elizabeth canceled her planned visit to Wilton. The psalter is usually referred to as The Sidney Psalms or The Sidney-Pembroke Psalter and is considered an important influence on the development of English religious lyric poetry in the late 16th and early 17th century. John Donne wrote a poem celebrating the verse psalter, and claiming that he could “scarce” call the English Church reformed until its psalter had been modeled after the poetic translations of Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney Herbert.

Mary was instrumental in having her brother’s An Apology for Poetry (or, Defence of Poesy) put into print. She also circulated the Sidney-Pembroke Psalter in manuscript at about the same time, which suggests a proximate relationship in their design: both the Defence and the translation of the Psalter argued for the ethical recuperation of poetry as an instrument for moral instruction—and particularly for religious instruction.

By at least 1591, the Pembrokes were providing patronage to the Pembroke’s Men playing company, one of the early companies to perform the works of Shakespeare. Mary’s husband died in 1600 leaving her with less financial support than she might have expected. By some accounts, King James I visited Wilton on his way to his coronation in 1603 and stayed again at Wilton following the coronation to avoid the plague. According to one account, Shakespeare’s company “The King’s Men” performed at Wilton at this time.

In addition to the arts, Mary had a range of interests. She had a chemistry laboratory at Wilton House, where she developed medicines and invisible ink. In 1615 she commenced the building of a grand hunting lodge with fine vistas, Houghton House in Bedfordshire, on an estate granted to her by King James I, which she completed in 1621, shortly before her death. It is said that the house, today a ruin, was the model for House Beautiful in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678).

In addition to her closet drama Antonius, a translation of the French play Marc-Antoine (1578) by Robert Garnier, Mary is known to have translated two other works: A discourse of life and death by Philippe de Mornay, which was published with Antonius in 1592; and Petrarch’s The triumph of death, which circulated in manuscript. Her original poems include the pastoral, “A dialogue betweene two shepheards, Thenot and Piers, in praise of Astrea,” and the two dedicatory addresses, one to Elizabeth I, and one to her brother Philip, contained in the Tixall manuscript copy of her verse Psalter.

Although the psalms were not printed during her lifetime, they had an extensive manuscript publication, with 17 extant manuscripts today. A later engraving of Sidney Herbert shows her holding the psalms. Her influence—through literary patronage, publishing her brother’s works and her own verse forms, dramas, and translations—can be assessed in a number of ways. Contemporary poets who commended Sidney Herbert’s verse psalms include Daniel, Davies, Donne, Drayton, Sir John Harington, Ben Jonson, Aemelia Lanyer, and Thomas Moffet. The importance and influence of the translation of the Psalter is evident in the devotional lyric poems of Barnabe Barnes, Nicholas Breton, Henry Constable, Francis Davison, Giles Fletcher, and Abraham Fraunce—and its influence upon the later religious poetry of Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and John Milton has been critically recognized.

Herbert, Mary Sidney. Collected Works of Lady Mary Sidney Herbert. Edited by Margaret P. Hannay, Noel J. Kinammon, and Michael P. Brennan. Clarendon Press,1998.

Herbert, Mary Sidney. Selected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. Edited by Margaret P. Hannay, Noel J. Kinammon, and Michael P. Brennan.  Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 2005.

Sidney, Philip and Mary Sidney Herbert. The Sidney Psalter : The Psalms of Sir Philip and Mary Sidney. Edited by Hannibal Hamlin, Michael G. Brennan, Margaret P. Hannay, and Noel J. Kinnamon. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

G is for Marie le Jars de Gournay

Marie de Gournay (6 October 1565, Paris – 13 July 1645) was a French writer who wrote a novel, Le Promenoir de M. de Montaigne qui traite de l’amour dans l’œuvre de Plutarque, and several other literary works. In her novel she explored the dangers women face when they become dependent on men. She advocated for women’s education in two treatises, Égalité des Hommes et des Femmes (The Equality of Men and Women), published in 1622, and Grief des Dames (The Ladies’ Grievance), published in 1626. De Gournay argued that men and women were equal because “the virtue of men and virtue of women are the same thing, since God bestowed on them the same creation and the same honor.”  

In The Equality of Men and Women de Gournay has structured her argument much as Christine de Pizan did in her Cité des Dames, by profiling great women of the past to demonstrate the ability of women to learn. She avoided the discussion on superiority of one sex over the other by stressing the equality of men and women. But she attacked the notion that great women simply resembled great men. She argued that it was no surprise that women were perceived as incompetent, ignorant, and focused on their bodies, given that women received little education. De Gournay argued that given the same opportunities, privileges, and education as men, women could equal men’s accomplishments. In The Ladies’ Grievance, de Gournay complained that women did not own property, have access to public office, or the ability to exercise freedom. She argued that educated women had the right to be heard, just as educated men do. Like René Descartes, she separated the mind from the body, and argued that women were as capable as men.

De Gourney read the works of Michel de Montaigne as a young woman, and travelled to meet him. They became close, and Montaigne called Marie his “fille d’alliance,” his adopted daughter. After Montaigne’s death, Gournay edited Montaigne’s Essays in 1595, and it is for this work that she is best known

De Gournay, Marie le Jars. Apology for the Woman Writing and Other Works. University of Chicago Press, 2007.