Early Feminist Reflections on the Poems of Christine de Pisan and Margaret Cavendish

Aktarer S.

X. Yıldız Uluslararası Sosyal Bilimler Kongresi, İstanbul, Turkey, 21 - 22 December 2023, pp.54

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: İstanbul
  • Country: Turkey
  • Page Numbers: pp.54
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University Affiliated: Yes


This paper examines proto-feminist treatments in "The Book of the City of Ladies" by Christine de Pisan (15th c.) and "The Description of a New World Called the Blazing World" by Margaret Cavendish (17th c.). It intends to show that long before the Feminist movement emerged as a discipline, few women had already been writing on women’s rights. Christine, for example, was the first to earn her living exclusively by her pen. In her poem, she is the protagonist. She features three heroines, who are Reason, Rectitude and Justice. She underscores that they have been sent by God to restore order and justice and Christine is to build a city of ladies. This building requires a process of refutation of all the misogynistic allegations towards women. Only the worthy and virtuous women are accepted to the city. She struggles to prove that the female sex has been vital in human civilization artistically, politically, and spiritually. By subverting male dominance, Christine aims to display that women are equal to men in every aspect of life.

In a similar vein, Margaret Cavendish becomes the protagonist of her poem. Being the first British woman to publish a scientific work, Cavendish is known for her writings on natural philosophy. In the poem, a cast away and distressed lady arrives in Blazing World where she is presented to the emperor. She is bestowed with an absolute power and thus, creates scientific, religious, and educational institutions. She even decides to write her own Cabbala. The most noteworthy thing is that she is the absolute authority through all these scientific, political, and religious developments. Cavendish refashions her world through the eyes of an aspirant woman. She constructs two towers which symbolize Heaven and Hell and only women are allowed to visit there. Accordingly, in this study, it is shown that while women in real world lack liberty in every aspect of life, there is the dominance of them in the fictional world of both poets prior to the rise of Feminism.