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Heloise And Abelard: A Twelfth Century Love Story Hardcover – 25 Oct 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; First Edition edition (25 Oct. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861974175
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861974174
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 15.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 794,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JAMES BURGE is an award-winning television director who also writes popular books about the Middle Ages. His interest in Dante dates from a dramatised version of the Divine Comedy which he directed for BBC Television in the nineties, filmed, as he puts it, on location in Hell and Heaven. His acclaimed biography of Heloise and Abelard was published in 2003. He also writes the Absolom historical detective series as well as articles and reviews for the Literary Review, the Independent on Sunday and History Today. He still makes the odd television programme.

Product Description


Intelligent, clearly written, and, perhaps inevitably, heart-rending ... Burge is rather in love with Heloise himself: she writes, thinks and feels exquisitely (Murragh O'Brien Independent on Sunday)

Burge opens up this tale with great sympathy and directness (Frances Spalding Daily Mail)

Burge is excellent at empathy. He keeps you alive to the agony of Abelard ... [and] makes a moving, likeable document of an extraordinary love. (Alice Ferrebe Scotland on Sunday)

The most striking part of the book is its modernity ... Burge achieves something truly difficult: he reminds us that, for Abelard and Heloise, their world was as new, risky and unpredictable as ours is. (Ann Wroe Sunday Times)

A great story (Douglas Johnson The Spectator)

About the Author

James Burge is a TV producer and journalist who lives in London and France.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By ilmk on 2 Mar. 2006
Format: Paperback
James Burge's uptodate examination of the lives and letters of the twelfth century tragic lovers, Heloise and Abelard, is a superb piece of scholarship. With an examination of both the original attributed letters and the excerpts now identified as from their original love letters collated by Johannes de Vepria and first revealed by Constant Mews in 1999, Burge takes us through the known lives of the two ill-fated lovers whilst continually instructing the reader on twelfth century european monastic life and the firm secular power that the Church weilded through its canonical law.
The story of Abelard and Heloise (he the greatest logiical philosopher of his age, she a brilliant classical scholar some ten years his junior) who fall in love whilst she studies under him in Paris, their subsequent hasty and secretive marriage, the birth of their child Astralabe, Aberlard's subsequent castration by Heloise envious uncle, Fulbert and their enforced separation to the Orders and literary reconciliation, has echoed down the ages.
The Romeo and Juliet of its time, the erudite, first hand accounts of an altogether human love between two great intellectuals opens up the world of twelfth century europe to us in a way that is priceless. As Burge correctly comments fairly early in the text, the concept of the period being part of the medieval ages and pre-renaissance is farcical in the evidence of the Parisian centres of learning that Abelard founded and taught at.
Drawing heavily on the texts, Burge gives us an insight into the personalities of both, showing Abelard as that brilliant, yet socially aggressive, scholar, Heloise as his intellectually equal, yet through what modern terms would denote as `true love', utterly under his charming spell right to the end.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 12 July 2004
Format: Hardcover
James Burge's carefully thought out account covers so much: the politics of church and state, who's in who's out; the prevailing sentiment around love and marriage and appropriate standards of behaviour; the personalities of the key figures as expressed by their actions. Best of all he takes huge pleasure from Heloise's writing and her profound humanity, and analyses and expounds her viewpoint very well. He puts a very moving story into a clearly drawn historical context, if only all history was written with such charm. The only thing missing is the complete text of Heloise's letters which I must now rush out and buy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Astrolabius on 25 Jun. 2011
Format: Paperback
James Burge's study very successfully combines the inevitable and appropriate romantic and sexual relationship involved with a readable and reliable assessment of the medieval intellectual and social background. Excellent use is made of the relevant and remarkable primary source material, although the precise significance of the more recently discovered letters could perhaps have been made more effectively.

Abelard and Heloise's relationship with St. Bernard and Peter the Venerable, the greatest monastic leaders of this period, could also have been more firmly delineated, as the Benedictine background can hardly be overestimated

It does not, and probably should not have the dramatic effect of Helen Waddell's great novel, and inevitably lacks the authority of Etienne Gilson's study, which is somewhat bizarrely omitted from the Bibliography in this edition.

Nonetheless this must be the best penny I have ever spent on a book, and will be a permanent component of that focal part of my library with Waddell, Gilson, the Penguin edition of the Letters and the CD of Abelard' suriviving sacred music.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Peter Ceresole on 25 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I knew nothing about mediaeval Europe- my interest were more in the 19th and 20th centuries, the centuries that formed my world. But I'd visited the Cistercian churches as a child, was conscious that there had been a human side to the distant past, and had heard of Heloise and Abelard. So I gave it a crack. I'm so glad I did. This book is about so much more than a love story- although it's certainly about that too. But the depiction of religion in the 12th century as being the major industry of the time, like coal and steel at the start of the 20th, was a splendid eye opener; in that context, the disputatious Abelard, absolutely brilliant in philosophy and debate but probably one of the most inept managers and schemers of his time, and Heloise, the brilliant pupil and irresistible lover who became, against her will, a nun and successful abbess, are splendidly depicted in terms that made sense to me, as a 'modern' reader, but also places them firmly in their time, reflecting their values. And it's very hard not to feel that you get to know them; both would be interesting to meet. Heloise, impossible not to fancy her. Jim Burge quotes nicely from their letters- Heloise especially has a lilting, poetic way with Latin that comes through directly, with no need for translation to show how spirited and charming she must have been. I don't know about Abelard, but I feel that I could easily have fallen for her.
The people around them, their values, their thirst for power and simultaneously their piety- the one being the way to the other- form a frieze of the time against which the love story is both set in context, and at the same time is used to illuminate a world that was completely new to me. And it made me want to know about it.
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