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The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 30, 1974

ISBN-13: 978-0140442977 ISBN-10: 0140442979 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews Review

Abelard and Heloise are nearly as famous a pair of tragic lovers as the fictional Romeo and Juliet; their shared passion for knowledge, religious faith, and one another sealed their destiny. Abelard was a well-respected, 12th-century Parisian scholar and teacher, and Heloise was his talented young student. The two relate their story through a set of letters to one another and intimate acquaintances. Their ardor is unmistakable; as Abelard writes to his love, "So intense were the fires of lust which bound me to you that I set those wretched, obscene pleasures, which we blush even to name, above God as above myself..." This forbidden lust resulted in a pregnancy and secret marriage, and when their union could no longer withstand the challenges in its path, each lover sought refuge in the church--Abelard became a monk and Heloise an abbess. Their correspondence continued as both achieved success in their new careers but continued to struggle with their feelings for one another; the set of letters powerfully articulates the wide range of emotions they experienced. So timeless is their love story that--after eight centuries--their passion, their devotion, and their struggle still resonate with readers.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Latin

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; 1st edition (May 30, 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442977
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,084,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This is a must read for history fans and romantics.
When disaster struck upon these two lovers, she took the veil and entered the abbey in obedience to his wishes, only for her love to Abelard.
Z. Yang
This book, if read is one that will help all to really think rather than preach about a faith that they have little knowledge of.
Anne Lebrecht

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By m-starr on June 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
By any standard, the tale of Heloise and Abelard is an extraordinary story => brilliant young philosopher seduces brilliant beautiful student, passionate affair ensues, she gets pregnant, and they secretly marry -- but her relatives feel he has wronged her terribly, and in the middle of the night they break in and castrate him, after which both take refuge in the church. This book begins with a well-written introduction by Betty Radice, which gives an overview of the story. The letters, written years after the affair, are of great eloquence and depth of thought and feeling. Through them, the couple works to transform their 'earthly love'(which had continued to burn in Heloise's heart) into a spiritual bond that turns out to have similarly great passion and transcendence. Although the letters are steeped in religious debates and intrigues of the time, their beauty makes the love behind them seem as alive today as it was so many centuries ago ...
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68 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Z. Yang on October 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
When a subject is as ineffably touching as the love story of Abelard and Heloise, it'll drive you continuously to dig more and deeper into the story. So after the novel "Stealing Heaven" by Marion Meade, the film based on the novel entitled with the same name, as well as the poignant musical "Rage Of The Heart" by Enrico Garzilli, in which Peter Abelard was sung by Michael Ball and Heloise by Janet Mooney, I read the book "The Letter Of Peter Abelard And Heloise". If all of the previous works I have encountered are artworks carrying more or less the creators' imaginations as well as their biases, then this book of letters, not only a true documentation of these two extraordinary human minds, but also a true portrayal of these two extraordinary human souls, provides the resources where you could reach the truth and make the judgment of your own.

Peter Abelard is a far more complicated human being than any artwork could deal. This is a man who was blessed with talent that's so distinctive, born with the charisma that's so appealing, and yet, tormented by the tragedy that's most appalling. The letters included reveal the connections of Abelard and Heloise years after both of them took vow to monastery life. You'd feel that the tragic consequence of their love relationship had created a different Abelard, from whom the words were more focused on his devotion to God and his advice to Heloise on the same subject, also his keenness on his study, and his somewhat apathy towards their previous relationship, for which it could be easily mistaken as selfishness or indifference. But it'd be very unfair to blame Abelard for negligence.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By D. Campbell on January 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have been fascinated by the story of Heloise and Abelard ever since reading the book Stealing Heaven in 1979. Reading theses Letters was heartbreaking to me. This is my take on the whole thing: obviously Peter and Heloise had a deeply passionate sexual relationship. For Heloise, this grew also into an affair of the heart. For both of them it was an affair of the mind. What could be more enticing to a man than a woman of Heloise's intellect and passion? However, it was also the Middle Ages. Heloise was from a prominant family with an uncle high in the Church heirarchy. She loved Peter, as women do, with body, mind and soul. I believe he loved her deeply, but it is different with men. And as long as he was a whole man, I believe he acted honorably. But there is no way around it: her pregnancy was a disaster. What were they to do, what could they do? It is not as if he and she could live together married happily ever after. He faced ruin when she became pregnant: everything he was was put at great risk--his life's work was at stake, his standing in society, his reputation, his position at his University. They marry in secret, she hides away in a convent waiting to be rescued and carried off by her husband to a life of what? She doesn't care--she only wants to be with the man she loves. But what about him? How does he see this future? I feel sorry for the guy. But all this is moot, because her uncle has him castrated. At that point, he changes. No one seems to be acknowledging the effect this would have on him. The most importand underpinning of his feeling for Heloise, i.e., testosterone-induced lust, is suddenly gone. Then add in the humiliation, pain, etc., etc. There you have it. His only option was the Church. Her only option was the Church.Read more ›
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By "mmatlanta" on April 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
What amazed me about this book, is that Heloise, a 12th century woman raised in a convent, expressed her sexuality with such openess. Her emotions come alive. Readers of the 21st century will be able to relate to her feelings.
She never stopped loving Abelard. Even after he entered a monastery and she a convent. They corresponded until his death. She wrote that the memories of their lovemaking haunted her, even during prayer sessions at the convent.
This is a must read for history fans and romantics.
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43 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Acnoth on June 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
I can't agree with those who claim that this is a beautiful and romantic love story. Sure, Abelard paid the romantically painful price of being castrated because of his relationship with Heloise, but my reading of the letters and of Betty Radice's excellent introduction leads me to believe that Abelard was castrated precisely because he had cast Heloise outb of his life. At the time that Heloise's angry uncle had Abelard castrated, she was already in a convent. We can only take it on faith that Abelard ever really meant to rescue her from that life. And once Abelard is castrated, he needs to be strongly prodded by Heloise before he will renew their relationship at any level. This is not my idea of a romantic story, even of torturously star-crossed lovers. In fact, Heloise seems to realize that Abelard was only interested in her for the sex when she accuses him of just that, suggesting that now that for him sex is an impossibility he has no use left for her. Indeed, were it not for the marvelously guilt-inducing plaintives from Heloise it is possible (probable?) that Abelard would have successfully managed to place her in his past. I understand and fully empathize with the trauma that Abelard must have went through, but there is no indication of a willingness on his part, even long after he should have come to terms with his situation, that he was prepared to make Heloise a significant part of his life. Even when Heloise was finally able to force herself back into Abelard's life, he was only willing to admit her there on a theological and phiosophical level.Read more ›
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