Some Beautiful and True Stories of Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance


  • Dominique de Courcelles


beauty, Canticle of Saint Eulalia, Christine de Pizan, The City of Ladies, Douceline de Digne, women, The Heptameron, history, French literature, Marguerite de Navarre, Middle Ages, Renaissance, truth


In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, women acquired the desire and the ability to write their own inspiring, beautiful, and true stories, and raised the difficult question of the relationship between beauty, truth, and writing, which was at once philosophical, theological, and juridical in nature. This study considers successively the Life of St. Douceline de Digne, written in the late thirteenth century by Philippine de Porcellet—who succeeded her as head of the beguines of Provence—The City of Ladies authored by Christine de Pizan in 1404, and Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron, composed after the 1520s. These texts represent three significant milestones in the history of the French literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and in the development of the relationship between beauty and truth in literature. These three examples of “beautiful and true stories” illustrate how women, by establishing the relationship between beauty and truth, imposed their presence in literature. Discovering the power of “beautiful and true stories”, they used them to obtain not only religious, cultural, and social recognition, but also a better knowledge of themselves and the world around them, and an ability to effectively assert and legitimize their intelligence and freedom.