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Heloise And Abelard: A Twelfth Century Love Story Paperback – 1 Jul 2004
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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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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.
I say I knew nothing about the mediaeval world before I started; I now know just a tiny bit about it having read this book, but it has opened up a whole aspect of European history of which I hadn't been aware. Just taking the Metro in Paris and changing at 'Chatelet' is a richer experience for having read the book. A current TV series on the search for authenticity in the Bible stories is suddenly much more understandable; instead of a despairing facepalm and a feeling of the utter ridiculousness of the whole business, I now feel that I've been introduced to a way of thought where these things matter and are interesting. In that sense, reading this book has been an enriching experience.
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.
The primary source material consists of eight letters, opening with a letter from Aberlard to an unknown correspondent in response to several meetings he has had, putting down what is almost an autobiography. The letter (or a copy) makes its way to Heloise who writes a reply, thus reopening communication between the two. Whilst the opening 200 pages refer heavily to the first letter of each, as Burge's biography catches up with Aberlard's abscondment from St Denis and sojourn near St Troyes at Paraclete then the remaining six letters come into force. Ableard's papal-acknowledged bestowal on Paraclete to Heloise to found her abbey means that the two came into contact and through the letters we are able to see Heloise 'force' Abelard to acknowledge that he is her first true love and her taking the veil was enforced by him upon her.
Burge now continues to move through the later stages of Abelard's life, continuing to note his cyclic fortunes, waxing and waning with Stephen de Garlande until the latter finally fell from grace as Bernard de Clairvaux rose to European political pre-eminence and the former finally returned to Paris. In a change of style Burge spends several pages discussing the themes within the hymns of Abelard, a literary examination amongst the historical investigation before reverting to discussions of Abelard's fighting with Clairvaux and the famous Council of Sens where the latter's brilliant rhetoric won the minds of the 'jurors' rendering Abelard speechless. Abelard ended his days condemned for heretical discouse, eventually dying whilst under the hospitality of Abbot Peter and with his death so the story peters out quite quickly, a few pages remaining to briefly cover what little we know of the remaining third of Heloise's life, and some of the known actions of their son before even more quickly covering their escalation within the French national identity and final resting place in Paris together.
Burge's work excels in bringing the story, the period and the nature of the philosophy to the reader in a manner that is both readable, informative and deeply stimulating. It is the kind of secondary text that would inspire a reader to go out and purchase the original texts of these brilliant twelfth cenutry lovers and read even further around the entires scope of twelfth century european religion, politics and philosophy. At the same time it does not lose its emotive discussion, humanising both of these people and making their tragic love story rise fresh to a new century of people. This book is highly recommended.
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