Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Legend of Good Women” and Christine de Pizan’s “The Book of the City of Ladies” are inherently similar stories. A collection of stories presented to the reader as a prophetic dream, written down and translated into story for all to read, especially the female audience. I will say I can compare the two well, but the contrast between them is immense as well. The difference in these two stories is the intent of the author’s message to the readers. Although Chaucer exposed men’s villainous behavior in “The Legend of Good Women,” this was not how he had written on the subject of women in the past. Chaucer’s previous works, like portions of “The Canterbury Tales,” to be specific, “The Wife of Bath,” he portrays a woman who questions the bible and manipulates men in order to get her way. Although this is not a truly inaccurate assumption of women, it casted an untrustworthy light upon them, as if the women of the fifteenth century needed anything more to drag them down. “The Legend of Good Women” was a sharp change in contrast to Chaucer’s previous works. So why would he all of a sudden change his tune to the sound of Good Women?
The name in itself seems a bit ironic. Are “Good Women” only legend? During Chaucer’s writing of “The Legend of Good Women,” Richard II is ruling England with his Queen Anne of Bohemia. She was a known feminist and integrated the court with an abundance of women. Even Chaucer’s sister-in-law was connected with these ladies who lived at court, which means Chaucer himself was closely connected to the most powerful woman in England. In one of Chaucer’s drafted prologues for “The Legend of Good Women, Prologue F,” he pays Queen Anne a compliment and continues to paint his villainous picture of men. One can only imagine why he would want to suddenly change his tune as an author who was regularly read by women who frequented court often. Chaucer’s stories of Good Women taught lessons to women of all kinds- those who were of the gentry and those who had to labor through their days. His stories featured legends and tales of goddesses, historical figures like Cleopatra, myths, and martyrs. One thing all of the women in his stories shared in common was the struggles and pain they all endured. This was a relatable point for all women during the time that Chaucer wrote his book. These stories told of love lost, betrayals, and violence against women. Men were most often the villains of the stories, and this is yet another idea that common women could understand. These were not only stories for the common woman in Chaucer’s audience- but these ideas were also understood and related to on a personal level for most. Women had no rights or say in how their lives would unfold. They were mostly dependent on the men in their families. So, reading a story about a man who had betrayed a woman in his life was not so far fetched during this time. Women were not taught to think about love over comfort- it was about who would take care of them the best and make their lives easiest. This could result in lost love, like some of the stories told in Chaucer’s tales. Violence against women was common during this time as well, as women did not have the same standing as men. Women were lesser citizens and were seen more as property rather than true people. Chaucer used his writing as a way to spotlight the wrongs against women, which may have gained him more readers. Assuming that Chaucer only used this stance to stand up for women, as a propaganda in order to gain favor from the women in court and more specifically, the queen, says that his story, although very similar to de Pizan’s “The Book of the City of Ladies,” was not from the same intention or genuine context.
Christine de Pizan’s “The Book of the City of Ladies” was written by a woman, which makes me believe personally that it is already more credible when considering intentions rather than Chaucer’s “The Legend of Good Women.” Christine de Pizan knew personally of the struggles women in her time faced every day. She knew exactly what it felt like to be considered property and to be treated badly because she was not a man. Her story came from a longing of wanting to protect women like herself, the women who came before her, and the women who would come after her. She knew that she could not do this realistically, so she did this in her mind and through her writing. In her story she meets three goddess type characters, which is similar to Chaucer’s story that comes to him in a vision type of setting, who come to her and give her instruction to build a city. Within this city, all the good women of the world would come and inhabit it. Christine de Pizan makes note that how a good woman is defined is not to be determined by a man. Men have twisted views of women based on their own personal experiences and are quick to condemn all women for something that only one or a few women had done. This denotes men and their opinion of women in general. They cannot be trusted to pass judgment when they are rather hypocritical according to Pizan. Within this city women from legend, religious stories, myths, and real history are invited to live all together. Mother Mary is chosen to be the leader of this city upon completion and all will follow her holy instruction. Perhaps this is how Pizan longs for the world to be: for the Mother of Christ to lead all people, protect the women, and keep the world’s order intact. Unfortunately, this was not reality, so Pizan could only create this type of world within her own story. Pizan wanted to defend women and keep them safe from men and their harsh judgments. This safe place is within the mind of a woman. If the woman keeps her mind strong, no man will ever be able to come in and take over her city. This story comes from a genuine place from Christine de Pizan. She did not write this story to impress the ladies at court or the queen, she wrote this because it was truly how she felt and what she longed for in a world that would never be fair to her.
Although the two stories are similar, they deliver two very different messages. Chaucer seems to give instruction on how to be a good woman like the ones from his compiled stories and Pizan seems to think that most ladies are good and deserve protection regardless. Both stories illustrate men as the villain in the lives of women, the struggles women face, and the promotion of better treatment for women.