Heroes, History, Travel, UK

The Big Defibrillated Heart of Belfast

We’ve been in Belfast for nearly two months now and I’m afraid I’m getting almost fond of it. Don’t get me wrong, its bad press is well deserved. Even in mid-summer it’s rainy, surly, and redolent of chip oil. The badly painted paramilitary murals, the damp Victorian brick, the predominance of the word ‘wee’—it all gets to you after a while. Even the seagulls are abnormal. I’m from Dunedin, where gulls are unusually aggressive and screechy but even they don’t compare with these mussel-cracking hippogriffs, which are enormous and scream as if they are murderously angry at you personally. I don’t particularly like any of that. Nor did I appreciate the way a bystander completely ignored my bellyflop onto concrete earlier this week, even though it happened right next to him! I told him so too, haughtily thanking him for his concern as I winced away. And yet, the strange truth is that this city has a proud history of conscientious kindness totally at odds with its appearance and reputation. And that strain of humanity is still there, even if it’s not necessarily the first thing that you notice.

Possibly the main thing that struck me after moving here from Portland, Oregon, is that I haven’t yet seen anyone sleeping rough. In Portland, every riverbank and bridge and slope of highway is populated by human flotsam. Confined to rare public spaces, they subsist where they can forming a straggling alternative city along bike lanes and rivers, half-invisible until respectable people complain about their unsightly existence. Actually, in Vancouver, Auckland, Rome, Bueños Aires and London you also see people sleeping on the streets, the same official irritation with their despair. Maybe there is a tent city Belfast and I just haven’t seen it, I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but it’s a noticeable difference for a visitor.  

As you can see from the map, Belfast is bluntly divided into the four compass directions. The downtown area, fitting into the white D shape, is densely commercial, with the predictable global franchises, gift shops and a few prominent expensive sculptural reminders of the Good Friday Peace Agreement plonked down where tourists can’t miss them. This one, standing over the River Lagan, is ‘The Beacon of Hope’ by Andy Scott, otherwise known as ‘Nuala with the Hula’.

A little further along the river bank you see ‘The Big Fish’ by John Kindness, a representation of the Salmon of Knowledge bradán feasa, a figure of Irish legend that got smart by eating hazelnuts.

Then in Arthur Square, a popular spot for street preachers, we have ‘The Spirit of Belfast’ by Dan George. It is supposed to represent the twin industries of linen and ship-building on which the city was built, but locals call it ‘Onion Rings’.

The main shopping center, Victoria Square Shopping Center is topped with a dome that allegedly offers a 360-degree view of the city, though it has been closed for several months due to covid-19 precautions.

 Despite these splashy and fairly unconvincing modernities, the great heart of Old Belfast remains in evidence, particularly in the narrow alleys known entries that connect the main streets. In the eighteenth century, when Belfast was known as ‘Linenopolis’, this area was packed with the people who worked in the factories, drank in the pubs and worshipped at various churches (Catholic, Anglican, Church of Ireland, Free Presbyterian…). According to many people, it was in the entries were where modern Belfast really began.

Joy’s Entry holds a particularly honored position as it is named for Henry Joy McCracken, a founding member of the remarkable Society of United Irishmen. Founded in 1798 and inspired by the French and American Revolutions and Scottish Enlightenment, this was a sworn society committed to equal representation of all men (no matter what their religion) in a national government. In doing this, they were rebelling against the British Crown’s policy of repressing and dispossessing Ireland’s Catholic majority. Interestingly, the Society of United Irishmen were almost all wealthy Presbyterians. Himself the son of two industrialist families, McCracken helped organize a nation-wide rebellion, for which he was swiftly arrested. In 1798, refusing to give up the names of other United Irishmen leaders, he was court martialled and hanged in Corn Market at the age of 30.

Henry Joy’s sister Mary Ann (1770-1866) was just as impressive. She fought all her life for political equality for women and for women’s rights in general. She campaigned for children’s welfare and for prison and social reform. Passionate about abolition, she refused to eat sugar and as an elderly woman stood on the docks at Belfast Harbor handing out pamphlets detailing the evils of slavery. As the co-owner of a Muslin factory, she refused to lay off staff during an economic downturn, preferring to eat the costs herself because she knew the workers had nowhere else to go.

Thomas McCabe (1739-1820), another member of the Society of United Urishmen, was also a strong proponent of abolition. He opposed the plans of Waddell Cunningham, the founding President of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce and owner of sugar estates in the West Indies, who wished to form a slave-trading company based in Belfast. In 1786, when Cunningham held a meeting in the Exchange to establish the Belfast Slave-Ship company, McCabe walked there from his shop and made a fiery speech, famously declaring, “May God wither the hand and consign the name to eternal infamy of the man who will sign that document.”  And he had enough influence to sink the venture before it began.

Speaking of local heroes, almost daily I pass by a Victorian-era water fountain erected by public subscription to the memory of Francis Anderson Calder (1787-1855). Although he was a Commander of the Royal Navy and saw some ‘warm conflicts’ , that’s not why the city built a funny-shaped fountain to his memory. His real claim to fame is his involvement in the Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Thanks to his efforts, water troughs were built throughout the city for the refreshment of horses, a measure that was later adopted throughout the United Kingdom.

Francis Anderson Calder, a big softy

Finally, a taxi driver wised me up to Professor Frank Pantridge. I was in the taxi on my way to the dentist saying (lying) that I didn’t know anything about Belfast. Helpfully my driver (who coincidentally had the same dentist) explained that this was the home of Van Morrison, C.S. Lewis, George Best, the Titanic and Defibrillator.

“Is that a band?” I asked.

“No, the defibrillator,” he explained helpfully and left it at that.

After some research, I have divined that Professor Frank Pantridge did not actually invent the defibrillator, but he did come up with the idea of making a portable version that could be used as soon as possible after a cardiac arrest, when it would be most effective. The first version, which was able to run off a car’s batteries, was produced in 1965.

The funny thing is, this is not even the most remarkable thing about Pantridge’s life. As it happens, he was a Prisoner of War in World War II and was forced to work on the Burmese/Thailand railway. He developed a severe thiamin deficiency called beriberi and was extremely weak on his return to Belfast. In spite of this, he managed to complete his medical degree and to study the heart, partly motivated by his own experience of beriberi, which (among other nasty things) weakens the cardiac system. Thanks to him, we have a piece of equipment that has saved thousands of lives.

I guess the point of this post is that a lot of great people have lived here. The next time Belfast’s rain gets up my nose, I will clench my teeth, look to the sky and murmur the names of these five paragons of the Prickly City, “Henry, Mary Ann, Thomas, Francis and Frank, remembered be thy names!”

Heroes, Obituary

In Appreciation of Felipe Gutterriez

Last week, our friend Felipe Guttierez died. Ever since, I have been thinking about his life and what he meant to me. And I realized that, even though I only met him in person twice, he meant an awful lot. There are a few human beings who I look up to as heroes, and he was one of them.

It is not hard to recognize a beautiful soul, even if you rarely meet them. The composer Arvo Pärt knew Benjamin Britten by his music, which was marked by a distinctive purity, something Pärt himself strove to achieve. When Britten died, Pärt was moved to dedicate an elegiac piece to the only composer of that age with whom he felt affinity. “Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten” conveys the sense of a massive bereavement, as if Earth herself were mourning the loss of some rare and necessary soul. When Felipe Gutteriez died last week, I thought of this piece because Felipe had exactly that kind of soul.

These days, the word ‘virtue’ is a slight, but it didn’t used to be that way. Ancient Roman ‘virtus’ literally means ‘manliness’ but it referred specifically to how a perfect man behaved in the public sphere. To possess virtus, a soldier had to demonstrate military prowess, prudence, justice, self-control and courage, all for the public good rather than personal glory. Charlemagne’s Code of Chivalry listed the sort of things a virtuous knight should be: humble, kind, loyal, honest, self-controlled and a defender of the weak. Similarly, the Bushidō code enjoined Samurai to demonstrate seven great virtues: integrity, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honor and loyalty.

According to these ancient codes, Felipe was a virtuous man. And when you consider that he existed in a culture that rewards self-serving bluster, that fetishizes violence and that puts private profit before public good, you begin to understand how rare that is. He led a virtuous life, not so that people would praise him but because he considered it right.

Felipe had the fortitude of a general and the tenderness of a mother. He worked hard but made it look easy. He suffered but never complained; even when he was in terrible pain, he wouldn’t mention it to friends because he abhorred pity. His discipline was unearthly. He rarely swore or raised his voice or said any insensitive thing (though anyone who made him angry would not soon forget it). He praised others generously but assiduously avoided attracting attention to his own achievements. He loved his wife and dogs with a whole-hearted, protective devotion. As a professor he considered his professional duties a sacred trust: students and colleagues had a willing ear, an erudite resource, and a sympathetic guide. And he was a perfect friend.  

This all sounds like an exaggeration because this kind of virtue is difficult to maintain day after day. But it’s not an exaggeration, it’s the truth. Felipe’s sense of duty was such a defining feature that it’s hard to imagine him without it.

In person, he was graceful and dignified. Even in casual conversations, he listened carefully, as if he were a composer listening to music attentive to all the elements of a complex score. He considered what you were saying carefully and gave a response that was infused with empathy, humor and insight. And he was invariably smiling, either with real enjoyment or rueful wonder or regret.

One lovable thing about Felipe was his enjoyment of simple things. He was a professor at one of America’s most prestigious universities and so widely read so that he could speak knowledgably about law, philosophy, rhetorical theory and Science Fiction. He was fascinated by ideas involving possibility and hope—scientific developments with far-reaching implications for the future of humankind. And even though he could talk about all that, what he really liked were capybaras.

Native to South America, capybaras are the world’s large living rodents. They are very sociable and tend to live in large family groups in forested areas near large bodies of water. They have barrel-shaped bodies and webbed feet and intelligent eyes. They’re excellent swimmers and wallowers and sleepers. They are also mysteriously attractive to other species, including us. We are all– cattle tyrant, crocodile, butterfly, monkey—drawn to the serenity that radiates from the capybara core. The main attraction at Izu Shaboten Zoo in Japan, for example, is a large group of capybaras, who occasionally enjoy hotsprings infused with citrus or petals.

In the words of the jurist and sage Rumi, “Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.” In his appreciation of capybaras, of verbal gracenotes and of kindness, Felipe was one who saw. He insisted on the value of caring and kindness and he wordlessly insisted, gently and firmly, with his whole being, on the possibility of a higher life.

What is even more remarkable than the fact he existed is that he should have met a soul of equal breadth and beauty in Eileen Jones. And as distressing as Felipe’s loss is, I only have to imagine a universe where he did not find Eileen to feel wonder and gratitude for this universe, where miracles sometimes do happen.

Heroes, Interviews, Publishing, Women's Writing

Publishing with Unbound, an Interview with Emilia Leese

Finding a home for your book can be difficult, especially if you want readers to have that old-school sensory thrill of riffling through pages and inhaling that new-ink smell. For an author, one of life’s gnarliest challenges is convincing a publisher that your idea will fly. 

Unbound is a new publishing platform that gives authors a chance to prove their projects are economically viable. Using the power of social media and crowdfunding, an author is able to collect readers’ pledges in advance of publication. When and if enough pledges are received, the traditional publishing process kicks in and the author can relax  while Unbound edits, produces and distributes the book.

Emi 1
Author Emilia Leese

It sounds beautifully straightforward and simple, but is it really? I decided to talk to Unbound author Emilia Leese to find out. She and Eva Charalambides are the co-authors of Think Like a Vegan: What Everyone Can Learn from Vegan Ethics (learn more here).  They have successfully funded the book and are now waiting to see it printed. Emilia kindly agreed to answer a few questions that may be helpful for other authors seeking a new and exciting publishing avenue.

How did you decide to choose Unbound as a publisher for Think Like a Vegan? Had you tried others beforehand, or was this the first one you were drawn to?

I had heard of Unbound from Cerys Matthews during her show on BBC Radio Six Music one morning and the concept sounded brilliant, but we didn’t contact them immediately because we thought we should go with small, specialty presses first.

Initially, we contacted various other small presses. We were in discussions with two. One told us they had no time to market our book and insisted on a title they believed would make the book sell itself. We believed the title the press preferred was not enticing and didn’t convey what the book was about. Plus they sent us a contract that just didn’t work, neither for them nor us. In fact, I spent several hours fixing it for them (I’m a corporate finance lawyer, so contracts are kinda my thing). I wonder if they’ll use that form now?! The second press was keen, but didn’t communicate effectively and we were left hanging many times over. Who needs that?

When we contacted Unbound, they were enthusiastic, keen, incredible communicators and were interested in working with us, including in helping us craft a great title. So, we decided that although we were going to have to do a lot of work to have a successful campaign, it would be worth it. The small presses were going to do very little in terms of marketing. So, it was a matter of us putting a lot of work up front, while still retaining creative control. And with Unbound, it also was a much more collaborative environment because they were vested in our having a successful crowdfunding campaign as much as we were. With a level field in terms of interests, then creativity on both sides can soar and benefit the project as a whole. 

What sort of information should authors include in their pitches? For example, what do think persuaded Unbound that Think Like a Vegan was a project they’d like to support? 

The pitch for Unbound was very much like all the other pitches in terms of content. But their focus is on authors identifying their audience. And frankly, that’s a good thing to do no matter what publisher one approaches or even if there’s no publisher. Really thinking about your audience and who would buy your work is something critical for writers and for anyone trying to get their work or product to market. 

Knowing that the crowdfunding was all up to you, what were your strategies and resources? Did Unbound provide any advice or support at this stage? 

Unbound held a crowdfunding workshop where they explained the process, gave examples of what works and doesn’t. They have a marketing manager who was in contact with us often and to whom we could consult for advice throughout the process. The data to which authors have access to monitor their campaign is also pretty detailed and interesting. So you felt in control and simultaneously very much supported.

In terms of strategies, I had had experience with crowdfunding in the context of a small business, but also in the corporate finance sphere. The goals and strategies are more or less the same. The quantum changes, of course, alongside the risks. But the aims are the same. Our strategy was to hit the ground running when the campaign launched publicly. We built up momentum by personally contacting friends and family first, building a base, and then launching to the public. We mined all our contacts and tried to keep in touch with the public through social media in an engaging way, and by being ourselves. Unbound also has its own marketing channels, including a subscriber newsletter and social media. In fact, their newsletter is how a BBC producer found out about the book and invited us to be on BBC World News just before Christmas (you can watch the interview here)

How much time and effort, more or less, did you put into the crowdfunding campaign?

A lot. It was a full time job practically. 

What did you learn from the Unbound crowdfunding experience?

The incredible kindness and generosity of people. That is the biggest and best takeaway from this experience. Eva and I were moved to tears just about daily from the outpouring of support, kind words, generosity and encouragement. And sometimes from the most unexpected places. 

I loved the fact that, starting from quite a small amount, pledgors were guaranteed to receive a copy of the book. And then with higher pledges they were eligible to receive the book in different formats and fantastic prizes related to the theme of your book, for example personal video-conferenced consultations on veganism, or a ticket to a vegan Burns Night supper, or a chef-cooked Italian vegan meal. Did pledgors take you up on these offers? How did it go?

The minimum was £10 for an e-book, so yes, I suppose that’s more or less $10 USD. And every pledgor will have their name printed in the Supporter list at the back of the book. The rewards we offered maximized our presence and skills. There’s a couple of reasons for that. First, who needs one more tote bag? People don’t need or want things, they want experiences. So how could we weave our skills into this endeavor? Second, the costs associated with rewards we provided were low, meaning more of the pledge would go to the funding pot. If a reward would cost £X to make, then the pledge would only provide amount minus £X to the pot. So, we got creative.

Yes, pledgors took us up on these rewards. The Burns Night Supper was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we postponed the next supper club – a very special Ithailian (Italian-Thai) fusion, supper club we were meant to be hosting in early April. And we expect the other rewards will be claimed in due course.   


At what stage in the process did Unbound offer you a contract? 

Only once the crowdfunding campaign hits 100% does Unbound offer a contract. 

Where is the book now? Do you have an estimated time for publishing? 

We are now in the early stages of editing. And have been told the book will come out in May 2021. 

Would you do it again? If so, what might you do differently? 

Yes, I suppose so. But with some distance so I can recover from the effort. I don’t think I would do anything differently, actually. 

For people who didn’t contribute to funding but who would like to read your book, are there ways they can purchase it?

Yes. Anyone can still support and pre-order the book now from the Unbound site. Once the book is published, it will be available everywhere books are sold, including your local bookshop, the Unbound website, Amazon and so on. 


Heroes, Obituary

War’s End: Goodbye Bruno

Then from the dawn it seem’d there came, but faint

As from beyond the limit of the world,

Like the last echo born of a great cry,

Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice

Around a king returning from his wars.

“Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur”  by Alfred Lord Tennyson


— But the war’s over – I objected; and I really thought it was, as did many in those months of truce, in a much broader sense than anyone dares to think today. – There’s always war, — Mordo Nahum memorably replied.

The Truce by Primo Levi


Our friend Bruno Signorelli has gone, and it’s as if a mountain has vanished overnight: bewildering and belief-defying. I feel forlorn for all of us who knew him, but also sorry for those who can never meet him. It’s the same feeling I get when thinking about the extinction of the Seychelles parakeet or the burning of the Library of Alexandria, a conviction that the world has been deprived of something really wonderful.


Bruno was a genius. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything from Roman military history to Gothic architecture to British literature and he shared his gift with  modesty and enthusiasm, in a spirit of such fellowship. His enthusiasm for the world, for films, books, history was wide-ranging and infectious and he was very entertaining when speaking or writing (he published dozens of articles and a book Tre Anni di Ferro on contemporary royal correspondence to do with the Siege of Turin). Only a couple of years ago, in his eighties, he gained a degree in Architecture. For many years he served as the President of the Piedmontese Society of Archeology and Fine Arts, a post he still held until this week. He read voraciously and shared comments on the latest Netflix series, art show or Trump shame with a historian’s perspective.


And history was not abstract. Like his fellow Piedmontese Primo Levi, Bruno witnessed the atrocities of the Second World War; as a young boy he saw his home town occupied by Nazi soldiers and collaborators extremely hostile to partisan-friendly villagers. Before the age of ten he’d seen harrowing scenes that would haunt him his whole life: his mother kneeling in the snow begging for her life at gunpoint, a neighbor savagely beaten and thrown in a truck–he was too scared to go and look at the ‘traitors’ hanged from telephone wires. Like Levi, he was serious about the responsibility of recording, remembering and punishing such crimes so that they would never again be repeated.

Maybe enduring all this at an early age was the secret to his amazing fortitude and obliviousness to objectively terrifying circumstances later in life. Possibly, like Mordo Nahun, he believed that there is always war. In any case, he was an exquisite soldier. After a serious health crisis last year, his family were on tenterhooks for hours as he struggled in the hospital, finally winning out. Shortly after opening his eyes he learned the doctor’s name and started chatting about history. The other patients in the ward were moaning and writhing, no doubt resenting this unearthly display of resilience. That was typical; when he had a knock, he got straight back up again. Physically he may have been a little weaker, but his will was like granite.

The great secrets of this strength, though, were his faith and love for his family. He was extremely proud of his children and grandchildren, quite rightly because they have all inherited more than a little bit of his charm and genius. We are thinking of them today. Addio Bruno, grazie di esistere.

Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon Edward Burne-Jones

Heroes, Publishing, Women's Writing

Christine de Pizan’s Books for Bucks

My niece Emily started school this week, and it’s got me thinking how much I take reading and writing for granted now. At Emily’s age, I found writing very difficult and have a vivid memory of repeatedly failing to spell ‘the’, Mrs. Bartlett’s face purpling prettily with each fresh failure. This isn’t Emily’s first step towards literacy; her parents and sister have encouraged a love of reading since she was a baby. In fact, her play sessions, in which she identifies as a ‘jewel thief’ suggest the influence of G.K. Chesterton. Her choice of birthday cake was reminiscent of Baudelaire’s ‘L’albatros’. 

It is strange to think that, had Emily been born in fourteenth-century Europe, books would not have been part of her life. Literacy was not a universal even among men, but for girls it was extremely rare. Reading and writing was the preserve of clergy, merchants and some aristocrats. Authors were usually male (despite exceptions like Trotula of Salerno [12th century] and Hildegarde von Bingen [1098-1179]). Women were supposed to produce children and manage a household. Those who could read, like Catherine of Siena and Hildegarde, were considered so weird that their literacy was a miraculous sign of their holiness. Considering all this, the life and writing career of Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) is a remarkable anomaly and surprisingly little known outside of Gender-Studies departments.


Hildegarde von B. with book


Christine was born in Venice, daughter of Thomas de Pizan, a physician, court astrologer and Councillor of the Republic of Venice. Alessandro Barbero, in his lecture on her life, stresses that astrology at that time was considered a respectable science, inseparable from astronomy. It was accepted fact that heavenly bodies affected earthly bodies, and that by careful observation of the stars and moon it was possible to divine many things, including the propitious date for starting a war or embarking on a journey. Thomas de Pizan’s expertise was so valued that Charles V of France hired him to become court astrologer. The household moved to Paris when Christine was about five years old.

Thomas de Pizan was an unusual father in that he provided his daughter with a good education and encouraged her to read. She soon developed a love of books that would eventually enable her to earn a living, not to mention great fame. It didn’t hurt that she lived in the cultural and commercial heart of Europe, either. Paris was stimulating to her imagination—she talks of seeing a tightrope walker walk between two towers of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and a diplomatic visit from the Sultan of Egypt—a spectacle of exoticism that attracted a huge crowd.

While her father encouraged her love of books, her mother regarded them eccentric distractions. At the age of fifteen she was married off to Etienne du Castel, a secretary to the king and started the busy life of having babies and organizing a household. This left her little time to devote to reading.




A recurring theme of medieval literature is the Wheel of Fortune, embodied by the goddess Fortuna, often represented by a blindfolded woman spinning a wheel. The idea is that one’s life can be drastically and suddenly altered, usually for the worse, and there is not really anything you can do about it. It wasn’t a new idea–Tyche or ‘Fate’ was a capricious goddess in ancient Greece associated with uncertainty and risk. However, Boethius (480-524) refreshed the idea for Christian audience in his Consolations of Philosophy:

“I know the manifold deceits of that monstrous lady, Fortune; in particular her fawning friendship with those she intends to cheat, until the moment when she unexpectedly abandons them, and leaves them in agony beyond endurance.”

In 1388, Fortune spun the wheel, giving Christina’s husband the plague and leaving her a widow at the age of 25. The young mother was now solely in charge of her family, including her mother. On top of this, she had the task of trying to collect the backlog of wages owed her husband—many years’ worth. Despite her assiduous requests, she didn’t receive them until two decades after his death.

Christine de Pizan had a dream at about the time. She and her family were in a ship that was suddenly caught in a storm. Her husband was thrown from the ship and disappeared in the water. She dreamed she cried herself to sleep and, in a dream-within-a-dream, she was approached and touched by Fortuna. Waking on the ship, her dream-self noticed that her body has changed—her limbs were stronger, her voice was deeper—she had become a man. Now, instead of crying, she picked up a hammer and got to work fixing the ship.




The bereaved widow started writing poems, love ballads, not only to assuage her grief but also to capitalize on her unusual gift. She shared her poetry with the people she knew at court, dedicating many of them to members of the royal family such as Isabeau of Bavaria. Her friends and patrons encouraged her to write more on a greater variety of topics. Finally, in 1404 she gained a commission from one of the most powerful men in France, the Duke of Burgundy, who asked her to write a biography of his brother Charles V of France. In return, he offered a bag of gold francs.

This was the first of many commissions—in the next seven years she wrote fifteen works for members of the aristocracy in return for pay. She had become a professional writer.


Presenting the book to Queen Isabeau


In his lecture, Alessandro Barbero has a nice passage about her book-production methods. These days you don’t need anything more than a computer and an internet connection to publish a book (cue shamless ad for my book Teacher, We Girls!), but things were a bit more complicated in the fourteenth century:


“…what does it mean to write and to publish a book? We are at the beginning of the fifteenth century. She became famous in 1399, when her ballads went into circulation. And for the 1400s, she is a very successful writer. What does it mean to for a successful writer to publish a book? There is no printing press. So everything is done by hand so that publishing a book means you the author present your book to your client, to the king, to the Pope, to the cardinal, to the duke. There is only one copy at first. If someone else wants it, then it can be copied. If the book is a success then a lot of copies will be made. But at first there is one example. It is luxurious. The greater the personage you are presenting it to, the more you have to pay for it, the more luxurious the object will be. Christina does not limit herself to writing her works, but she produces the manuscript, not alone, naturally, she has a workshop. She hires some professional copyists, she hires some miniature artists, among which is one woman [known only as ‘Anastasia’] and she is the producer of the work of art that is each manuscript.”


She even includes a little trademark ‘author pic’ in each book, an illustration of herself. Sometimes she is writing, other times presenting the book to the dignitary who will receive the book, other times she is in her studio reading. Every time she is recognizable in the same dress, with the same hairstyle.


Reading to an appreciative audience


Her books included political treatises, epistles and poetry. She wrote several ‘mirrors for princes’—a genre instructing nobles in correct moral behavior. She infamously wrote literary criticism in Le Dit de la Rose (The Tale of the Rose) (1402), a sharp attack on the misogyny of the incredibly popular work Roman de la Rose (1275). This was followed by two more works that treat the role of women in society: The City of Ladies (c. 1405) and The Treasure of the City of Ladies (1405).


Building her City of Ladies


In 1407, Fortuna spun the wheel again and France was plunged into civil war marked by assassinations, revolts and massacre. The problem was (as usual) a succession dispute—the Armagnacs supported the line of Charles VI and his son; their rivals the Burgundians supported Henry V. Accordingly, Christina turned her quill to martial affairs. She wrote a manual of war Livre des fais d’armes et de chevalerie (1410), which was translated into English in 1489 as The Book of Feats and Chivalry. In her last major work, Livre de la paix (1413) The Book of Peace., she directly addresses the Dauphin Louis of Guyenne encouraging him to continue in his quest for peace for France.


Harley 4605 f.3


Taking advantage of infighting in France, Henry V sailed into the estuary of the Seine in August 1415. The Hundred Years’ War https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/Hundred_Years.html  was on again, and on October 25 1415 had one of England’s big victories of the war at the Battle of Agincourt. In 1418, Christine de Pizan, a fierce French patriot, wrote a consolation for women who had lost family in the battle in her Epistre de la vie Humaine (Letter Concerning the Prison of Human Life).

Since Paris was occupied by the English at this time, it is believed that she spent her last decade in the Dominican monastery of Poissy. She stopped publishing—probably because she was now away from the court and book-production staff and equipment. However, she briefly broke her silence after Joan of Arc’s remarkable victory over the English at Orléans in April 1429 with Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc (1429). It is supposed that she died before Joan’s execution in 1430. 


Jeanne d'Arc
Miniature from between 1450-1500