Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This study demonstrates how The Lais of Marie de France (12th c.) by Marie de France, The Mirror of Simple Souls (14th c.) by Marguerite Porete, and Christine de Pizan’s The Book of City of Ladies (15th c.) serve as the three progressive steps in the transformation of the rhetorical theory and the feminine literary voice, redefining woman from the idea of inferior entity written by men over centuries into the concept of an intellectual and virtuous female human being. The development of a strong feminine literary voice starts as de France feminizes the masculine language she borrows from masculine oral tradition to write narrative poetry, enriched with a feminine perspective. A century later, Porete assumes solely feminine language—through the voice of a female soul that she makes available to the male soul—in a theological treatise that annuls the role of the Church to attain spiritual purity during this life. Subsequently, Pizan, in the fifteenth century, writes the first directly-stated defense for womankind, applying feminist literary criticism to important paternalistic texts, assuming an exclusively feminine voice, and providing a reinterpretation of history and mythology. The first chapter of this thesis discusses the historical development of the concept of woman written by men, including a brief account of Sappho’s literary merit as the last of a group of women who produced literature before the fifth century B.C.E. The next three chapters are dedicated to each of the three texts, and the final chapter explains the link between the texts, the relevance of knowing and remembering the talent and effort necessary to redefine woman in a literary world still dominated by men, and proposes options for further study in literature, psychology of education, and literary historiography.
University of Texas Brownsville