This is such a marvelous and intriguing book. The notes at the end are full of fascinating information. I found it especially interesting, and even the translator commented on it, that in the final section of the book Christine suddenly discusses virgins a lot. He proposes that she saw virginity as an ideal, but I’m not sure that I agree with this assessment based on what she says throughout the rest of the book. I think that I’m more inclined to believe that Christine saw chastity as an ideal. She had so many passages defending marriage and so frequently praised chaste married women throughout the book that I just can’t help feeling that she was more focused on the idea of chastity (which makes a lot of sense for her to have stressed and which also includes virginity before marriage) than she was on life-long virginity. So, basically, I think she thought that virginity was important, but that it was really only part of the equation.
Ok, I do not understand why someone would ever want to be martyred. Seriously, why is that an admirable trait? It seems like insanity to me. I can appreciate how martyrs can be viewed as heroic and some of them were extremely admirable people, but it seems like specifically wanting to be a martyr sort of defeats the purpose in a way. Wouldn’t it be better to live for God than to die for him? Otherwise, what’s the point of living at all? I mean, some of these martyrs want it so badly that it almost seems more like assisted suicide!
Similarly, I have a problem with the idea that God wants certain people to come to him as martyrs. That suggests an unusually cruel God to me (which, admittedly, fits in pretty well with some of what the God of the Bible supposedly did). I just don’t think I could accept a god like that. Why would he specifically want his most loyal worshipers to die in horrible ways because they worshiped him? Doesn’t that seem like punishing your best followers unnecessarily?
For some reason Christine devoted some space to women who are famous either just by chance or for some reason unrelated to any qualities of their own. I’m not sure why she did this since she has otherwise focused on women famous because of some virtue. She also had Justice install the virgin Mary as queen of the city and then invited in her female patrons and her male patrons’ wives and daughters.
Christine has lots of examples of women who loved “not wisely, but too well”. She doesn’t seem to believe that obsessive, undying, passionate love like this is actually a good thing, but she knows that women are as subject to it as men are. Somehow this section reminded me of the “who loves longest?” argument from the end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
The long story Rectitude told about Gaultieri, the marquis of Saluces, and his wife Griselda did not affect me the way I believe Christine intended it to. I came away from that story thinking about what a horrible person the marquis was and how spineless his wife and his subjects were to have put up with his crap without ever protesting or reprimanding him, or better still, leaving him because of it. I’m sorry, but that goes so far beyond reasonable as to be in crazy, abusive territory and it’s not ok at all!
Christine tells about how women should be educated, indeed how they have the right to be so. She discusses how the primary argument against educating women, that it will degrade their morals, doesn’t actually make any sense. It’s also clear in this section that this was a point of contention between her parents and that she wishes that it hadn’t been so that she could have been even more educated than she was. She was an interesting woman and I have to wonder what she would have done if she’d gotten the education she wanted!
Rectitude gives examples not only of women who loved their husbands until their (the husbands’) deaths, but also of wives who saved their husbands lives. I found the section about how husbands should heed their wives’ advice particularly interesting, though. Christine placed marriage in high esteem and considered husbands and wives to be true partners (or at least they were intended to be so). It’s a great perspective that is, sadly, still not as common today as one could wish.
Christine’s examples of loyal and loving wives seem surprising. So far she has focused on women who fought as warriors beside their husbands on the battlefield and women who killed themselves for love of their husbands. She even mentioned one woman who consumed her husband’s ashes after he died! I would have thought she’d have some examples of women who nursed their husbands through illness, injury or old age or women who helped their husbands in business or something like that. Maybe those examples come later.
Christine is full of great arguments against nonsensical prejudices. I can totally appreciate her frustration with the rampant sexism around her. I find it really sad that so many of the sexist attitudes she’s arguing against are still very much a part of our culture. I am so glad that she talked about the ridiculousness of people being upset about having daughters instead of sons. That one drives me crazy and I’m glad she addresses it.
The outer walls seem to have taken an awfully long section of the book to build, but that could be a misleading observation. Maybe Christine spends about the same amount of time on each section and the presentation just makes the first section seem the longest. Anyhow, it was full of fascinating stories and interpretations of stories, myths and worldviews. This really would be a fascinating text to include in a larger role in gender debates today, particularly religious ones.
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