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The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  3,846 ratings  ·  225 reviews
The story of the relationship between Abélard and Héloïse is one of the world’s most celebrated and tragic love affairs. It is told through the letters of Peter Abélard, a French philosopher and one of the greatest logicians of the twelfth century, and of his gifted pupil Héloïse. Through their impassioned writings unfolds the story of a romance, from its reckless, ecstati ...more
Paperback, Revised Edition, 383 pages
Published 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 1133)
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3.75  · 
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 ·  3,846 ratings  ·  225 reviews


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Siria
Nov 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Ah, Peter Abelard. The only person in history to have become more of a dick because he lost his dick. (Though something tells me he was a pretty narcissistic jackass even before then.) As aware as I am that these letters are a wonderful historical source, rereading them only fills me with the urge to go back in time and punch Abelard in the neck. And then to take Heloise to one side, explain the concept of 'internalised misogyny' to her, fix her a strong drink and then talk her through why emoti ...more
Jan-Maat
A revelation. Amazed that I haven't read these years ago. But perhaps you haven't heard the story of Abelard the brilliant young scholar, his student the clever Heloise, and how their proximity and appreciation of each other led to the conception and birth of their son Astrolabe? This story has a savage turn as a group of monks assuming that Abelard had taken holy orders, were enraged that he had violated the vow of celibacy which he hadn't actually taken and castrated him - this was the time wh ...more
7jane
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in Middle Ages, its religious life and this relationship
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Justin Evans
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Despite my interest in the middle ages, I avoided H&A for a long time. I was under the impression that it was all moaning about love and so on; but no! These letters are actually fascinating. Two incredibly intelligent people, neither of whom I'd want to spend too much time with, write to each other about their amazing lives (famous philosopher gets castrated, hounded by church, hated by monks; famous poet/composer/humanist falls dementedly in love, has a child with her lover, becomes powerf ...more
Dylan
Feb 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Residents of the 21st century might best know Abelard & Heloise from sultry references in The Sopranos. Don't let the power of Edie Falco's acting fool you - there is little pleasure or wisdom in this book, which should mainly be considered for its historical significance. Today, the letters of Abelard and Heloise would better be fodder for an episode of To Catch a Predator.

Peter Abelard was a terrible narcissist and an abusive boyfriend, one whose actions and writings are best understood in
...more
Heidi Nemo
Jan 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: medieval
I hate Abelard, all his self-congratualtory narcissistic bemoaning of his persecution, his admission that he beat and raped Heloise, his vastly younger pupil, until she slept with him willingly, his intellectual arrogance, his cruelty and refusal to take responsibility for his own words or actions.

Also the fact that he himself published Heloise's letters makes the version we have highly suspect. But...still, what those letters reveal is a style of writing in Latin superior to Abelard's own, and
...more
G.
Mar 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
So let me begin by saying I appreciate these letters as a primary source (yay, history!), but on a purely personal level, eww... because Abelard was a narcissistic dick:

*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, and feared no rebuff from any woman I might choose to honour with my love.

**I pro
...more
Viji  (Bookish endeavors)
May 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: romance
What is it about human love that makes it despicable in the sights of religion.?! I started reading this book thinking I'll see love in its pure form in these letters. But all I saw was hypocrisy and selfishness.
Heloise expressed her feelings truly in the first letter. But in the next one,she seems much irked by Abelard's letter and her decision to wholeheartedly give herself to God doesn't seem a honest one. I felt it as a lover's attempt to get some sort of communication from her beloved. She
...more
Roman Clodia
It was desire not affection which bound you to me, the flame of lust rather than love. So when the end came to what you desired, any show of feeling you used to make went with it. This is not merely my own opinion, beloved, it is everyone's.
(Heloise to Abelard, Letter 1)

I'm not sure what criteria we should be using to 'rate' documents like these letters - readability? historical interest? I've gone for a neutral 3-stars because I'm not sure that a general reader looking for the (in)famous tale
...more
ruzmarì
Apr 13, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: grenouille
It's hard for me to say "loved it" about these letters, because it's hard to peel the love story away from knowledge of Abélard's "misfortunes" (told with great pious self-pity in his "Historia calamitatum") and his subsequent spiritual domination, and then abandonment, of Héloïse. Also, I happen to like Héloïse a whole lot better, and so the preference makes for a lopsided reading. Still, the progression of affection between the two writers/lovers - from eros to caritas, to borrow papal termino ...more
James
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
These letters, both dour and deeply sexual, austerely theological and yet deeply spiritual, are like nothing I've ever read and I doubt I'll ever encounter anything quite like them again. These letters are in a sense the "morning after" correspondence, the morning after an intense romantic partnership was separated by the medieval Catholic Church. I never thought I would read anything quite this sensual from a nun! The relationship between the Abelard, who after all was a great philosopher and B ...more
Bethan
This is a great edition. Michael Clanchy's introduction is excellent, with good background of Heloise and Abelard's extraordinary story and their letters, in addition to scrupulous angles on various theories about authorship, exposition of some interesting feminism, notes on translations, and so forth.

As for the letters themselves, they were significantly more religious than I thought they would be, and there remained much to offend my feminism, but it is an interesting slice of a different tim
...more
Traci
Aug 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
I am almost finished with this one, and I have loved it. What a fascinating look into the middle ages and into one of the most interesting couples in history. I am biased toward Heloise and champion her ability to speak her mind to the man she loved, married, and became an abbess to please.
Terry
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I can read these letters over and over and always find something new. To really appreciate them, it's best if you spend some time learning the history of the period as well as the relationship between Heloise and Peter Abelard. The letters can and do stand alone as provocative and emotional epistolary exchanges, but understanding the sexual restrictions of 12th century upper-class women lend more to the understanding and appreciation of the thwarted passions expressed in each letter.

It's also im
...more
Reuben
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Do The Letters of Abelard and Heloise comprise one of Europe’s most tragic love stories? Not really!

But let me clarify: if you fail to see the tragedy in Heloise’s plight—her protestations to Abelard to have their love recognised—you’re certainly heartless. But to call it a love story is to ignore the slow and bitter realisation on Heloise’s part that the hideous and manipulative Peter Abelard never really loved her at all.

Consider Abelard’s remark that “if [Heloise's uncle] had entrusted a ten
...more
Brent McCulley
Abélard was a 12th century logician, philosopher turned theologian who is typically only remembered either for his moral-influence theory of the atonement, or his tragic love affair with Heloïse. This book recounts the latter including his autobiographical "History of my Misfortunes" along with letters of correspondence between the two after they had both joined monasteries.

It's all pretty tragic: erudite philosopher out philosophizing Christian realists with his conceptualism thereby incuring e
...more
Tessa
Aug 22, 2011 rated it did not like it
The only reason I made it through this book was because it was required reading for my middle ages history course. The lecturer gave the impression that it was going to be a juicy medieval version of Romeo and Juliet, so needless to say I was kind of excited. By ten pages in I could already tell it was going to be a massive let down. The book is comprised of a number of original letters written by Peter Abelard, a 12th Century theologian/monk/total jerk, and Heloise, his long-suffering pupil/lov ...more
Smiley (aka umberto)
In fact, I had read years ago somewhere on this unimaginable couple whose eternal love amazed me and thus I longed to read their letters. Fortunately, I found this second-hand paperback one Wednesday morning in the UQ compound next to the Central Library some 7+ years ago.

If you don't know them, it's cool to know that Abelard used to teach Heloise in probably a tutorial class and, romantically dictated by Fate, they fell in love and they're so serious that they managed to meet each other. As for
...more
Lauren
Feb 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Abelard is a dick and you cannot convince me otherwise.
Ninette
I must say that these letters were not quite what I had expected. That was because Abelard and Heloise didn't exactly live up to their reputation. I'm not sure how they ever ended up on the most-romantic-tragic-love-story-list. Don't get me wrong, I found the letters profoundly interesting on many different levels. A treasure for historians. Interesting character studies. But romantic? Not so much.

Abelard strikes me as too much of a narcissist to raise much sympathy for his misfortunes – especia
...more
Sammy
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, medieval
A fascinating insight into Medieval life, "The Letters" are the real-life correspondences between Peter Abelard, an arrogant (and apparently handsome) monk and writer, and the beautiful young lady, Heloise, whom he seduced. Her subsequent pregnancy caused a scandal for them both, leading to her becoming the Abbess of a convent.

In truth, the story of these people is more interesting than the letters. Heloise is the more fascinating, as she clearly still has feelings, yet has begun to question th
...more
Betsy
Jul 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: school, history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Chrissie
I discovered that the audio version at Audible of The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse is only 33 minutes long! So you get only the letters and no additional commentary explaining them.

These letters are described in this way at Audible:

"The deepest currents of passion seldom break the surface of literature. Romantic classics abound; but however skilled a writer may be in verbalising an emotional experience, he cannot publicly evoke the heat of blood, the yearning of soul, bared in perfect intima
...more
Carol
Jun 05, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: medieval
Both Abelard and Heloise are good at expressing themselves (and the translation I am reading seems to be a good one -- it has many interesting explanatory footnotes).

I know I should not be so surprised, but I am finding Abelard to be nothing more than a total self-centered jerk and I find myself getting cross at Heloise for taking it from him. Admittedly I have only read his narration of his "troubles", which tells of their meeting, their romance, their secret marriage, his sudden castration by
...more
Michael
Sep 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: History Teachers, Western Civ Students
Recommended to Michael by: Brandon Hunziker
Shelves: feminism, memoirs
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 ...more
Conor
Mar 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Rating a correspondance between two historical figures is difficult. Character development and unity of theme with the corresondance as a whole can hardly be on the mind of a scholar defending his reputation or satiating a lover. Yet these are exactly the criteria I default to in rating anything that tells a story.

Yet the Letters of Abelard and Heloise earned four stars from me precisely because they made me forget that they are a historical correspondance. Abelard is a scholar before he is a th
...more
RB
I loved this book when I read it the first time back in the 90s, still do today.

What baffles me are all the incompetent and unsympathetic reviews that love to bash Abelard. Apparently the don't get what goes on with the male mind after the male in question has been castrated against his will. That's bound to leave physical and emotional scarring!
Sarah Holz
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a near-five, but Abelard can always use being taken down a peg. Stealth five to Heloise for her honesty and her eloquent depiction of her moral and spiritual doubts.
Phoebe Wiant
Jul 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting for the historical side, but aggravated me from a modern feminist perspective. But, if you want to read a book partially about a man getting his balls chopped off, this is your book!
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34 followers
Peter Abélard was the preeminent philosopher of the twelfth century and perhaps the greatest logician of the middle ages. During his life he was equally famous as a poet and a composer, and might also have ranked as the preeminent theologian of his day had his ideas earned more converts and less condemnation. In all areas Abélard was brilliant, innovative, and controversial. He was a genius. He kn ...more
“If the portraits of our absent friends are pleasant to us, which renew our memory of them and relieve our regret for their absence by a false and empty consolation, how much more pleasant are letters which bring us the written characters of the absent friend.” 111 likes
“[I]t is not by being richer or more powerful that a man becomes better; one is a matter of fortune, the other of virtue. Nor should she deem herself other than venal who weds a rich man rather than a poor, and desires more things in her husband than himself. Assuredly, whomsoever this concupiscence leads into marriage deserves payment rather than affection.” 33 likes
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