Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography

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Harper Collins, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 319 pages
13 Reviews

The heart-rending love story of Abelard and Heloise was one of the most talked about relationships in the Middle Ages, and is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Peter Abelard was arguably the greatest poet, philosopher, and religious teacher in all of twelfth-century Europe. In an age when women were rarely educated, Heloise was his most gifted young student. As master of the cathedral school at Notre Dame in Paris, Abelard was expected to be celibate; his career would be destroyed by marrying. In spite of this, Abelard and Heloise's private tutoring sessions inevitably turned to passionate romance, and their moments apart were spent writing love letters.

When Heloise became pregnant, her possessive guardian and uncle, Fulbert, angrily insisted that they marry. The ceremony was held in secret, but the rumor spread through Paris. Enemies confronted Heloise, who publicly denied the marriage in order to protect Abelard's career. Fearing for her safety, Abelard slipped Heloise out of the city and sent her to a convent. Robbed of his niece and his family's honor, Fulbert took revenge by having Abelard brutally castrated. Abelard retreated to a monastery, and the famous lovers now lived separate lives behind cloistered walls -- but their love, and their letters, continued.

For a long time, the only letters known to have survived dated from the later period of their separation. Then, astoundingly, a few years ago a young scholar identified 113 new letters between the pair. Lost for almost nine hundred years, these fresh missives provide an intriguing snapshot of the couple's clandestine passion that is erotic, poignant, and at times even funny.

James Burge is the first biographer to combine these astonishing new discoveries with the latest scholarship, resulting in a more complete biography; one that paints a fuller picture of Heloise as a woman who tested the cultural constraints of her time. Burge also addresses Abelard's theological disputes with other teachers, including Bernard of Clairvaux, which led to Abelard's eventual trial for heresy. But Heloise & Abelard is much more than a biography. It opens a window onto the enormous and exciting changes that took place in medieval Europe, even as it presents us with the richest telling yet of one of history's greatest love stories.


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Review: Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography

User Review  - Terri - Goodreads

The writer did a wonderful job conveying the historical facts, but also did a wonderful job of sucking the romance out of a beautiful, tragic love story. I was glad I read it, but I'm on the search for another historical written with a bit more poetry to go along with the facts. Read full review

Review: Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography

User Review  - Mandy Hager - Goodreads

The most recent and most lucidly imagined biography to date - very readable and very well researched. Read full review


The letters of two lovers i
At last I came to Paris
By doubting we come to inquiry
Master of the schools
Need I say more?
Love and marriage
The story of my misfortunes
St Denis
Return to Paris
The Comforter
ij The Council of Sens
And so Master Peter ended his days

Not strong enough to dig too proud to beg
You are greater than heaven greater than the world

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Page 27 - I have finally denied myself every pleasure in obedience to your will, kept nothing for myself except to prove that now, even more, I am yours. And so, in the name of God to whom you have dedicated yourself I beg you to restore your presence to me in the way
Page 84 - What king or philosopher could match your fame? What district, town, or village did not long to see you? When you appeared in public, who did not hurry to catch a glimpse of you, or crane his neck and strain his eyes to follow your departure?
Page 90 - I considered all the usual attractions for a lover and decided she was the one to bring to my bed, confident that I should have an easy success; for at that time I had youth and exceptional good looks as well as my great reputation to recommend me,
Page 13 - in the eyes of all did God bestow on that sister of mine who was in charge of the other nuns, that bishops loved her as a daughter, abbots as a sister, the laity as a mother; while all alike admired her piety and wisdom, and her unequalled gen.tleness and patience in every situation.
Page 26 - It is a small thing I ask of you and one you could so easily grant I beg you to restore your presence to me in the way you can by writing me some word of comfort.
Page 206 - He made use of evil itself and mercifully set aside our impiety, so that by a wholly justified wound in a single part of my body he might heal two souls. Compare our danger and manner of deliverance, compare the sickness and the medicine. Examine the cause, our deserts, and marvel at the
Page 12 - You know, beloved, as the whole world knows, how much I have lost in you, how at one wretched stroke of fortune that supreme act
Page 21 - Everything we did, and also the times and places, are stamped on my heart along with your image, so that I live through it all again with you.
Page 22 - I should be groaning over the sins I have committed, but I can only sigh for what I have lost. Everything we did and also the times and

About the author (2003)

James Burge is a producer and director of documentaries for the BBC and the Discovery Channel. His fascination with the Middle Ages led him to make Strange Landscape, the BBC series about medieval culture, and to create a dramatization of the writings of the eccentric thirteenth-century English friar, Roger Bacon.

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