Debut Novel by Kathleen Jones, Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Hits Bookstores on September 5
A deeply affecting dual narrative separated by several centuries,“Cities of Women” the debut novel by Kathleen B. Jones, women’s studies emerita professor, examines the lives of women who dare to challenge the social norms of their days, risking their reputations and livelihoods for the sake of their passions.
In the twenty-first century, we meet Verity Frazier, a disillusioned history professor who sets out to prove that the artist responsible for the illuminated artwork in Christine de Pizan’s medieval manuscripts was a remarkable woman named Anastasia. As Anastasia’s story unfolds against the exquisitely-rendered medieval backdrop of moral disaster, political intrigue, and extraordinary creativity, Verity finds her career on the brink of collapse by her efforts to uncover evidence of the lost artist’s existence.
Jones said that writing this novel was her “way to embody a pedagogical principle — life-long learning.”
Her inspiration came from “Book of the City of Ladies” by 15th-century writer Christine de Pizan, whose works Jones had previously taught in her women’s studies courses. In particular, she was captured by one line de Pizan wrote about a skilled female artist named Anastasia: “no one in all of Paris can surpass her.”
“No one has ever discovered anything about Anastasia, not even whether she was a real person, or only an imaginary figure Christine invented to counter the idea that all the best painters were men,” Jones said. “I wondered what it would be like for a modern woman, a professor, to become intrigued by the idea of ‘setting the record straight’ about who actually painted the images in Christine’s manuscripts. What would motivate that woman? Would she be willing to risk her career by acting on nothing more than a hunch? The work of feminist historians has been, in part, an excavation project, revealing how women have been ‘hidden from history.’ I decided to explore that project of excavation in a dual timeline historical novel.”
Jones grounded the novel in reality, not only utilizing details about de Pizan’s life, but also visiting locations present in the book (including the British Library and the Morgan Library) and consulting with historians on the time period. Still, “because we know so little about Christine’s personal life, I had a lot of freedom to invent the details. I stuck close to the ‘facts’ of events occurring during Christine’s time, while layering those events with deeper meaning. The medieval character of Anastasia, her life before and after she connects with Christine, is entirely a feat of imagination.”
Jones hopes that readers come out of the book with “an appreciation for the complicated, multi-dimensional art of creating a book in a time before the printing press, and long before our contemporary digital age, when the tactile sensation of making or reading a book seems on the verge of being lost.”
Jones said, “It’s true that writing is its own reward: the imagination is an avenue to other worlds and putting strings of words together is truly pleasurable, enlivening. But the idea of writing to discover something only for oneself always sounded solipsistic to me. Stories are worldly things. Whether they’re shared orally or in printed or digital form, they’re meant to circulate, they’re meant to join some ongoing conversation about whatever the story is trying to say or might mean. What surprised me the most was how determined I had to become to get this novel into the world. And also how much I wanted it to be out there, more than anything else I’d written as a scholar.”
Join Kathleen in a conversation with Kathi Diamant that takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 5 -7 p.m. at Pan's Garden, 506 21st Street, San Diego, CA 92102. RSVP to [email protected].