Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography

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Harper Collins, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 319 pages
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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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Heloise & Abelard: a new biography

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Drawing upon the newly discovered correspondence between Heloise and Abelard, TV producer and journalist Burge here explores one of the greatest love stories of all time. Abelard was a brilliant ... Read full review

Review: Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography

User Review  - Allison - Goodreads

I find Heloise and Abelard completely fascinating, but the book read a little like a college essay. It could be because I've been on a biography kick combined with the limited details there are about ... Read full review

Contents

The letters of two lovers
1
Darling
9
At last I came to Paris
30
By doubting we come to inquiry
51
Master of the schools
70
Need I say more?
85
Love and marriage
110
The story of my misfortunes
132
You are greater than heaven greater than the world
191
Return to Paris
210
The Comforter
226
The Council of Sens
242
And so Master Peter ended his days
258
Fame
275
Bibliography
285
Appendix
293

St Denis
156
Not strong enough to dig too proud to beg
172
Index
313
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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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