It is explicitly stated within the text that The Book
of the City of Ladies was written as a defence of women
against the unfair (and ungentlemanly) comments of some of Christine's literary
predecessors and contemporaries who, in their rush to settle scores with women who had spurned them or women whom they saw as too 'generous with their favours', attacked the whole of womankind as silly, unfaithful, untrustworthy and the origin of sin (as passed down from Eve
). This opinion forms the basis for Christine de Pisan to respond in kind to these detractors and, in so doing, construct the ‘City’ from illustrious women of the past and her present.
De Pisan explodes misogynistic prejudices both systematically and with a great degree of style, as one would expect from a professional woman of letters writing at that time. Her brand of what 21st century observers would regard as feminism is not so interested in the advancement of women solely, but in the fair treatment and recognition of women's roles and strengths. She focuses on admonishing those who would disregard the benefits and virtues which women bring, as well as providing countless role models and examples of courage, valour, modesty, constancy and holiness in women throughout the ages.
The novel's structure makes it delightfully easy to read and Christine's position as 'Devil's Advocate' to her visitors (Reason, Rectitude and Justice) shows a dry and keen wit, especially when she is disregarding the authors of antiquity and their prejudices. The individual tales of women are compelling not only for their narrative, but also for the way in which Pisan delivers a barrage of examples. It was evidently not enough simply for her to refute an anti-female stance: the sheer barrage of stories serves to overwhelm completely any opposition to her view. Although at times there is the slight sense of overkill, as yet another saintly woman is martyred because of her purity or faith, Christine is so thorough in her refutation that it would be an incredibly obdurate opponent who would not grant her any ground in the argument.
The book’s accessibility is one of the key reasons why it is both enjoyable and educative. Without Christine’s polished and enjoyable writing style, the examples she gives would lose much of their lustre and nobility; without the sincerity of her task, the novel would be a triumph of style over substance; and without her grounding in the classics, her message would be weakened by the lack of adequate support. Fortunately for womankind and readers alike, she crafts together all these strands to produce a book that is nothing less than inspirational.