Christine de Pizan is both the author of and a character in her literary creation. She straddles two realms, serving as a bridge between the book’s historical and contemporary references and the imaginative world of the three allegorical figures and their symbolic city. In addition, her presence accommodates and unites the various references that constitute the wealth of examples that Reason, Rectitude, and Justice cite as evidence of women’s virtue. In stating her case, Christine integrates into her treatise women from history as well as fictional characters from legend and mythology. Although Christine argues that these seemingly fictionalized presences were based on actual, real women, it is her dual status as both authorial presence and literary character that allows the real and the fantastic to seamlessly fuse and to form a unified and convincing argument. Without her presence, critics may have found her scholarship flawed and her citation of fictional lives questionable, thus compromising the impact of her words.
Christine assumes another unique pose and fulfills yet another specific function in her work. Throughout, she adopts and utilizes what is known as the modesty topos, a rhetorical device in which she willfully appears to be more ignorant, naïve, or uninformed than she actually is in order to make her various points more powerful. Rather than stating that women are virtuous and talented, she instead asks the three Virtues if there is any truth to the statements that male authors make, maligning and dismissing women’s accomplishments. By casting her work in the form of a dialogue (a philosophical debate utilizing a question-and-answer format), Christine avoids the charge of shrilly preaching to her readers. This approach is more effective: readers can trace her logic and see how she arrives at her conclusions rather than simply being told the direct result of her contemplations. Ultimately, this self-effacing stance stands out against the self-promotion she indulges on several different occasions. In answering Christine’s questions, the three allegorical figures often acknowledge and cite some of Christine’s other books in what amounts to a brief endorsement of the esteemed author’s body of scholarship.