The Letters of Abelard & Heloise

After wading through the letters of Abelard and Heloise, I have a lot more sympathy for Carmela Soprano - in the episode Sentimental Education she is given this book by a lover and doesn't find it a hot read.

This thing is dull. D-U-L-L dull. The story itself is much more interesting than the correspondence.

Abelard is a famous philosopher, seduces and impregnates his student Heloise. That much we knew. What I didn't know is that her uncle only castrates him after they are married (and according to a note in the introduction, probably to prevent him from being ordained, as only 'whole' men could be priests). He forces Heloise to enter a nunnery and totally loses interest in her after he can no longer do the deed (she complains about being neglected).

Abelard is a total pompous ass who thinks he is God's gift to the world. If I had to read one more sentence about how brilliant he was and how persecuted he was by his jealous colleagues, I was going to throw the book against the wall.

Heloise is much more interesting...and manipulative. Her letters really show that they had a grand passion going (sex in the sacristy, naughty naughty!). And she is desparate to hear from him, doling out in equal amounts the guilt trip, the references to sex, and the appeals to vanity.

I have to wonder what the hell she saw in him, why she was so absorbed and devoted - to the extent that she didn't want to marry him, because it would ruin his career (one can't philosophize with rugrats around). Then again, maybe she felt that their love wouldn't survive domestic life any more than his genuis would.

I guess he must have been a really great lay.

This would make a great plot for a novel, but the letters not particularly suited to the modern reader. They mostly deal with religious concerns and the titillating bits are few and far between. If you're interested in how women first started serving as nuns they cast an interesting light on that, but as light reading, it's a no-go.

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