Christine de Pizan’s Advice to Prostitutes
Medieval Feminist Forum, 27, no. 1 (1999):
In late medieval Paris, prostitutes were everywhere, it seems. Looking at the map published in Bronislaw Geremek’s study of the margins of medieval society we get the impression that prostitutes were in fact not marginal at all, at least as far as their locations are concerned. On the Hede la Cite, along the Rue St. Jacques and the Rue du Temple we find the little oblong boxes indicating brothels and other sites of prostitution. Geremek notes the surprising “stability many of [these marginal groups] showed” (94),and we can imagine that Christine de Pizan’s peregrinations around Paris led to more than one encounter with these “folles filles” as contemporaries called them. While they may have been visible in more places than just the margins of the city, in economic, moral, and religious terms they existed on the edge of the urban society that surrounded them.”
Secular as well as ecclesiastical authorities were certainly aware of them, for prostitutes made many appearances in medieval sermons and town ordinances, but the brutal reality of their lives was mostly elided in the name of efforts at containing them or at working toward their moral improvement and salvation. In this context, Christine de Pizan’s advice to prostitutes in book 3 of her Livre des trois vertus (1405) is remarkable, for while she does not completely avoid the sermonizing of contemporary moralists, she counsels prostitutes to embrace a way of life that was not in the forefront of contemporaries’ thought: that of the working singlewoman.