Michael's Reviews > The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse

The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse by Pierre Abélard
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's review
Sep 07, 09

bookshelves: feminism, memoirs
Recommended to Michael by: Brandon Hunziker
Recommended for: History Teachers, Western Civ Students
Read in February, 2007, read count: 2

This is a series of letters between two lovers of the early twelfth century. There are several aspects of these letter which are remarkable. First is that they exist at all - most written material of this period is long-since lost. The second thing is that Heloise was a woman who was well-educated enough to write, and indeed to engage in rather heavy intellectual discourse at this time. The third is that the tale of their star-crossed love ended in the emasculation of Abelard by Heloise's family. The letters are excellent as a teaching tool, because the dramatic and even bizarre tale will hold the interest of students, even as they try to wade through the poetic and unusual language. Abelard's status as a scholar (and, indeed, as Heloise's teacher) may strike a chord with some students, who will recognize in his frequent rebellions against his own instructors an early example of intellectual independence. Female students will be more intrigued by the figure of Heloise, who is, in fact, badly used by her lover, but never surrenders her own independence of thought or emotion.

For students who find events of the past overly abstract and distant, books like these can bring it to life and make it seem more immediate and relevant. For teachers, this makes it a wonderful tool for European History.
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