Héloïse is accorded an important place in French literary history and in the development of feminist representation. While few of her letters survive, those that do have been considered a foundational "monument" of French literature from the late thirteenth century onwards. Her correspondence, more erudite than it is erotic, is the Latin basis for the bildungsroman and a model of the classical epistolary genre, and which influenced writers as diverse as Madame de Lafayette, Laclos, Rousseau and Dominique Aury.
- 1 Background
- 2 Historical events
- 3 Correspondence
- 4 Her legacy
- 5 Influence on Literature
- 6 Disputed issues
- 7 Burial
- 8 Cultural references
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Héloïse (variously spelled Helöise, Héloyse, Hélose, Heloisa, Helouisa, Eloise, and Aloysia, among other variations; the name is derived from Proto-Germanic *Hailawidis, "holy wood") was a brilliant scholar of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and had a reputation for intelligence and insight. Abélard writes that she was nominatissima, "most renowned" for her gift in reading and writing. Not a great deal is known of her immediate family except that in her letters she implies she is of a lower social standing (probably the Garlande family, who had money and several members in strong positions) than was Abélard, who was originally from the nobility, though he had rejected knighthood to be a philosopher.
What is known is that she was the ward of an uncle, a canon in Paris named Fulbert. By some point in her life, she was renowned throughout Western Europe for her scholarship. By the time she became the student of Pierre Abélard (Peter Abelard), who was one of the most popular teachers and philosophers in Paris, she was already a reputed scholar. Educated by Abelard in medicine and other traditional subjects taught in higher education at the time, Héloïse gained quite a reputation as a physician in her role as abbess of Paraclete.
In his Historia Calamitatum, an autobiographical piece written around 1132, Abélard tells the story of his seduction of Héloïse, whom he met when in 1115 he himself, like Fulbert, became a canon in Paris.
It is unclear how old Héloïse was at this time. She is described as an adolescentula (young girl), and so it is often assumed that she was about seventeen at the time and therefore born in 1100–1. More recently, however, Constant Mews has suggested that the age of seventeen is a seventeenth-century fabrication with no supporting contemporary evidence, and that she was probably in her early twenties when she met Abelard. The main support for this is that in a later letter, Peter the Venerable writes to Héloïse that he remembers her when he was a young man and she was a woman. Given that Peter the Venerable was born in 1092, it suggests that Héloïse would have been in her early twenties. Mews proposes that this makes more sense of Abelard's later comment that he sought to seduce Héloïse because she was the most famous woman in France for her studies, because it is unlikely that she would have acquired this reputation or her command of Greek and Hebrew by the age of seventeen.
Abelard tells how he convinced Fulbert to let him move into his house, telling Fulbert that he could not afford to live in his current house while studying, and offering to tutor Héloïse in return. Abelard tells of their subsequent illicit relationship, which they continued until Héloïse became pregnant. Abelard moved Héloïse away from Fulbert and sent her to his own sister in Brittany, where Héloïse gave birth to a boy, whom she called Astrolabe (which is also the name of a navigational device that is used to determine a position on Earth by charting the position of the stars). It is almost unknown what happened to Astrolabe in later life. He is never mentioned by Héloïse in her letters to Abelard, and Abelard's only reference to him outside the Historia Calamitatum is in the verses of advice addressed to him, and thought to have been written about 1135. His death-day is recorded in the necrology of the Paraclete as 29 or 30 October, but no year is given. He is mentioned only once in a later letter, when Peter the Venerable writes to Héloïse: "I will gladly do my best to obtain a prebend in one of the great churches for your Astrolabe, who is also ours for your sake".
Abelard agreed to marry Héloïse to appease Fulbert, although on the condition that the marriage should be kept secret so as not to damage Abélard's career. The reason for wanting the marriage to remain secret is not entirely clear. The most likely explanation is that Abelard must have been in Orders (something on which scholarly opinion is divided), and given that the church was just beginning to forbid marriage to priests and the higher orders of clergy, public marriage would have been a bar to Abelard's advancement in the church. Héloïse was initially reticent to agree to the secret marriage, but was eventually persuaded by Abelard. Héloïse returned from Brittany, and the couple were secretly married in Paris.
Fulbert, however, began to spread news of the marriage, in order to punish Abelard for the damage done to his reputation. Héloïse attempted to deny this, but this ongoing situation eventually caused Abélard to place Héloïse for her own safety in the convent of Argenteuil, where Héloïse had been brought up. Fulbert and his friends, however, believed that Abelard had simply found a way of getting rid of Héloïse, by making her a nun. So, to punish Abelard, a group of Fulbert's friends broke into Abelard's room one night and castrated him.
After castration, filled with shame at his situation, Abélard became a monk in the Abbey of St Denis in Paris. At the convent in Argenteuil, Héloïse took the habit at Abelard's insistence and much against her own wishes. She eventually became prioress there, but she and the other nuns were turned out in 1129 when the convent was taken over by the Abbey of St Denis. At this point Abélard arranged for them to enter the Oratory of the Paraclete, a deserted building near Nogent-sur-Seine in Champagne which had been established by Abelard himself in 1122 (though he had subsequently moved to become Abbot of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys in Lower Brittany). Héloïse became abbess of the new community of nuns there.
About this time, correspondence began between the two former lovers. What exists today consists of seven letters (numbered Epistolae 2–8 in Latin volumes, since the Historia Calamitatum precedes them as Epistola 1). Four of the letters (Epistolae 2–5) are known as the 'Personal Letters', and contain personal correspondence. The remaining three (Epistolae 6–8) are known as the 'Letters of Direction'.
Héloïse responded, both on the behalf of the Paraclete and herself. In letters which followed, Héloïse expressed dismay at problems that Abélard faced, but scolded him for years of silence following the attack upon him, since Abélard was still wed to Héloïse.
Thus began a correspondence both passionate and erudite. Héloïse encouraged Abélard in his philosophical work, and he dedicated his profession of faith to her. Abélard insisted that he had never truly loved her, but only lusted after her, and that their relationship was a sin against God. He then recommended her to turn her attention toward the only one who ever truly loved her, Jesus Christ, and to consecrate herself fully from then on to her religious vocation.
At this point the tenor of the letters changes. In the 'Letters of Direction', Héloïse writes the fifth letter, declaring that she will no longer speak of the hurt that Abelard has caused her. The sixth is a long letter by Abelard in response to Héloïse's first question in the fifth letter about the origin of nuns. In the long final, seventh letter, Abelard provides a rule for the nuns at the Oratory of the Paraclete, again as requested by Héloïse at the outset of the fifth letter.
The Problemata Heloissae (Héloïse's Problems) is a letter from Héloïse to Abélard containing 42 questions about difficult passages in Scripture, interspersed with Abelard's answers to the questions, probably written at the time when she was abbess at the Paraclete.
Beyond the love story they tell, Héloïse's letters contribute one of the earliest, most radical feminist philosophies of not only the 12th century, but even of today.
Héloïse plainly writes of her disdain for marriage and even feminine life, stating in her first letter, "I preferred love to wedlock, freedom to a bond." She is also later quoted with her famous lines, "What man, bent on sacred or philosophical thoughts, could endure the crying of children…? And what woman will be able to bear the constant filth and squalor of babies?" She goes so far as to define marriage as the ultimate form of prostitution, a brash statement for a female in 12th century France. She states, "Assuredly, whomsoever this concupiscence leads into marriage deserves payment rather than affection; for it is evident that she goes after his wealth and not the man, and is willing to prostitute herself, if she can, to a richer."
Although her exceptional and different "pure love" for Peter Abelard provides the contextual backdrop for her brash statements, she is essentially calling marriage contractual prostitution. It is clear that Héloïse meant for this philosophy to be heard because Peter Abelard himself reproduces her arguments in The Story of His Calamities.
Influence on Literature
Héloïse is accorded an important place in French literary history and in the development of feminist representation. While few of her letters survive, those that do have been considered a foundational "monument" of French literature from the late thirteenth century onwards. Her correspondance, more erudite than it is erotic, is the Latin basis for the Bildungsroman and a model of the classical epistolary genre, and which influenced writers as diverse as Madame de Lafayette, Laclos, Rousseau and Dominique Aury.
Early Development of the Myth
- Jean de Meun, the first translator of Héloïse's work, is also the first person, in around 1290, to quote, in the Roman de la Rose (verses 8729 to 8802), the myth of Héloïse and Abelard, which must have meant that her work was sufficiently popular in order for the readership to understand the allusion.
- In around 1337, Petrarch acquired a copy of the Correspondance, which already included the Historia calamitatum (translated by Jean de Meun). Petrarch added many notes to the manuscrit before starting to compose in the following year a Chansonnier dedicated to Laure de Sade.
- The Breton lament song (Gwerz) titled Loiza ac Abalard sings of the ancient druidess picking 'golden grass' with the features of a sorceress-alchemist known as Héloïse. This spread a popular tradition, perhaps originating in Rhuys, Brittany, and going as far as Naples. This text and its later tradition associated magic with rationalism, which remained an important component of Abelardian theology as it was perceived until the twentieth century.
- In 1583, the Abbey of Paraclet, heavily damaged during the Wars of Religion, was deserted by its monastic residents who disagreed with the Huguenot sympathies of their mother superior. The Abbess Marie de la Rochefoucauld, named by Louis XIII to the position in 1599 in spite of opposition from Pope Clement VIII, set to work on restoring the prestige of the establishment and organised the cult of Héloïse and Abelard.
Early Modern Period
- Following a first Latin edition, that of Duchesne dated to 1616, the Comte de Bussy Rabutin, as part of his epistolary correspondence with his cousin the marquise de Sévigné, sent her a very partial and unfaithful translation on 12 April 1687, a text which would be included in the posthumous collected works of the writer.
- Alexander Pope, inspired by the English translation that the poet John Hughes made using the translation by Bussy Rabutin, brought the myth back into fashion when he published in 1717 the famous tragic poem Eloisa to Abelard, which was intended as a pastiche, but does not relate to the authentic letters. The original text was neglected and only the characters and the plot were used.
- Twenty years later, Pierre-François Godard produced a French verse version of Bussy Rabutin's text.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau drew on the reinvented figure in order to write Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse, which his editor published in 1761 under the title Lettres des deux amans.
- In 1763, Charles-Pierre Colardeau loosely translated the version of the story imagined by Pope, which depicted Héloïse as a recluse writing to Abelard, and spread the sentimental version of the legend over the continent.
- An edition designed by André-Charles Cailleau and produced by the heiress of André Duchesne further spread amongst reading audiences a collection of these re-imaginings of the figure of Hélöise.
- At the very beginning of the romantic period, in 1807, a neo-Gothic monument was constructed for Héloïse and Abelard and was transferred to the Cimetière de l'Est in Paris in 1817.
- In 1836, A. Creuzé de Lesser, the former Préfet of Montpellier, provided a translation of 'LI poèmes de la vie et des malheurs d'Eloïse et Aballard' which was published alongside his translation of the 'Romances du Cid'
- In 1836, the scholar Victor Cousin focused on Héloïse as part of his studies on Abelard.
- In 1839, François Guizot, the former minister for public education, published the posthumous essay of his first wife, Pauline de Meulan, as a preface to the hugely-popular first edition of the Lettres d'Abailard et d'Héloïse, which were transposed rather than translated into French and in two volumes illustrated by Jean Gigoux.
- In the same year, the colibri Héloïse (Atthis heloisa) is dedicated to her by the ornithologists René Primevère Lesson and Adolphe Delattre.
- In 1845, Jean-Pierre Vibert created a species of rose named after Héloïse.
- Following the romantic tradition, Lamartine published in 1859 a version of Héloïse et Abélard.
- Charles de Rémusat, a biographer of Abelard, wrote in 1877 a play based on the story of the medieval figures.
Attribution of works
The authorship of the writings connected with Héloïse has been a subject of scholarly disagreement for much of their history.
The most well-established documents, and correspondingly those whose authenticity has been disputed the longest, are the series of letters that begin with Abelard's Historia Calamitatum (counted as letter 1) and encompass four "personal letters" (numbered 2–5) and "letters of direction" (numbers 6–8). Most scholars today accept these works as having been written by Héloïse and Abelard themselves, but some continue to disagree. John Benton is the most prominent modern sceptic of these documents. Etienne Gilson and Peter Dronke, on the other hand, have been particularly important proponents the mainstream view that the letters are genuine, both by offering explanations of the problems with the texts themselves and by arguing that the skeptical viewpoint is fueled in large part by its advocates' pre-conceived notions. More recently, it has been argued that an anonymous series of letters, the Epistolae Duorum Amantium, were in fact written by Héloïse and Abelard during their initial romance (and, thus, before the later and more broadly known series of letters). This argument has been advanced most forcefully by Constant J. Mews, based on earlier work by Ewad Könsgen. These letters represent a significant expansion to the corpus of surviving writing by Héloïse, and thus open several new directions for further scholarship. However, because the attribution "is of necessity based on circumstantial rather than on absolute evidence," it is not accepted by all scholars.
There are similar scholarly disputes about other works attributed to Héloïse.
Relationship with Abelard
The great majority of scholars (as well as casual readers) have interpreted the story of Héloïse's relationship with Abelard as a tragic romance. However, in 1989, Mary Ellen Waithe argued that Héloïse was strongly opposed to a sexual relationship with Abelard; according to Waithe, she "withheld her consent [to sex] and physically and verbally resisted [Abelard's] advances to the best of her ability." Thus, in Waithe's view, Abelard's conduct amounted to abuse and rape. Waithe's argument is based primarily on a sentence from the fifth letter, in which Abelard, in the context of arguing to Héloïse that their youthful sexual conduct was sinful and should be repented, not fondly recalled, writes: "When you objected to [sex] yourself and resisted with all your might, and tried to dissuade me from it, I frequently forced your consent (for after all you were the weaker) by threats and blows."
While no other scholar has directly responded to Waithe's claim, other academics come to very different conclusions about the nature of Héloïse's relationship with Abelard. Their view is informed in large part by Héloïse's own writings (as opposed to Abelard's letters to her), in which she expresses a much more positive attitude toward their past relationship than does Abelard and does not "accept that his love for her could die, even by the horrible act of Abelard's castration." A more mainstream interpretation of those parts of Abelard's writing like the sentence Waithe finds so troubling is the one given by David Wulstan: "Much of what Abelard says in the Historia Calamitatum does not ring true: his arrogation of blame for the cold seduction of his pupil is hardly fortified by the letters of Heloise; this and various supposed violations seem contrived to build a farrago of supposed guilt which he must expiate by his retreat into monasticism and by distancing himself from his former lover." In fact, even Waithe herself indicated in a 2009 interview with Karen Warren that she has "softened the position [she] took earlier" in light of Mews' subsequent attribution of the Epistolae Duorum Amantium to Abelard and Héloïse (which Waithe accepts), though she continues to find the passage troubling. According to William Levitan, fellow of the American academy in Rome, "Readers may be struck by the unattractive figure [the otherwise self praising Abelard] cuts in his own pages....Here the motive [in blaming himself for a cold seduction] is part protective...for Abelard to take all the moral burden on himself and shield, to the extent he can, the now widely respected abbess of the Paraclete—and also in part justificatory—to magnify the crime to the proportions of its punishment." Thus Heloise's motive in responding to his letter was to set the record straight, that she had been if anything the instigator of their courtship.
Héloïse's place of burial is uncertain. Abelard's bones were moved to the Oratory of the Paraclete after his death, and after Héloïse's death in 1163/64 her bones were placed alongside his. The bones of the pair were moved more than once afterwards, but they were preserved even through the vicissitudes of the French Revolution, and now are presumed to lie in the well-known tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery in eastern Paris. The transfer of their remains there in 1817 is considered to have considerably contributed to the popularity of that cemetery, at the time still far outside the built-up area of Paris. By tradition, lovers or lovelorn singles leave letters at the crypt, in tribute to the couple or in hope of finding true love.
This remains, however, disputed. The Oratory of the Paraclete claims Abélard and Héloïse are buried there and that what exists in Père Lachaise is merely a monument or cenotaph. Others believe that while Abelard is buried in the tomb at Père Lachaise, Heloïse's remains are elsewhere.
- Mark Twain's book, The Innocents Abroad, tells a satirical version of the story of Abélard and Héloïse.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau's novel, Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, refers to the history of Héloïse and Abélard.
- Helen Waddell's book, Peter Abelard, depicts the romance between the two.
- Abaelards Liebe, a German novel by Luise Rinser, depicts the love story of Héloïse and Abelard from the perspective of their son, Astrolabe.
- Marion Meade's novel Stealing Heaven depicts the romance and was adapted into a film.
- Lauren Groff's short story "L. DeBard and Aliette" from her collection Delicate Edible Birds recreates the story of Héloïse and Abélard, set in 1918 New York.
- Sharan Newman's Catherine LeVendeur series of medieval mysteries feature Héloïse, Abélard, and Astrolabe as occasional characters, mentors and friends of the main character, formerly a novice at the Paraclete.
- George Moore's 1921 novel, Heloise and Abelard, treats their entire relationship from first meeting through final parting.
- Sherry Jones's 2014 novel, "The Sharp Hook of Love," is a fictional account of Abélard and Héloïse.
- Mandy Hager's 2017 novel, "Heloise", tells Heloise's story from childhood to death, with frequent reference to their writings.
- "Heloise and Abelard", a song written by SCA bard Efenwealt Wystle (aka Scott Vaughan)
- Abelard and Heloise is a 1970 soundtrack album by the British Third Ear Band.
- The lyrics of "Abelard and Heloise", featured on Seventh Angel's album The Dust of Years, are based on the couple's famous correspondence.
- The song "Heloise" by Frank Black, from the album Devil's Workshop, refers to this story.
- François Villon's "Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis" ("Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past") mentions Héloïse and Abélard in the second stanza.
- Their story inspired the poem, "The Convent Threshold", by the Victorian English poet Christina Rossetti.
- Their story inspired the poem, "Eloisa to Abelard", by the English poet Alexander Pope.
- In Robert Lowell's poetry collection History (1973), the poem "Eloise and Abelard" portrays the lovers after their separation.
Onstage and onscreen
- Abelard & Heloise was a 1971 Broadway production at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, starring Diana Rigg and Keith Michell. It was directed by Robin Phillips and was first presented at The Ahmanson Theatre, The Music Center, Los Angeles, California.
- In the film Being John Malkovich, the character Craig Schwartz, a failed puppeteer, stages a sidewalk puppet show depicting correspondence between Héloïse and Abélard.
- Howard Brenton's play, In Extremis: The Story of Abelard and Heloise, premiered at Shakespeare's Globe in as of 2006[update].
- The film, Stealing Heaven (1988), chronicles their story and stars Derek de Lint, Kim Thomson, and Denholm Elliott.
- In the 58th episode of The Sopranos (Sentimental Education), Carmela Soprano finds a copy of The Letters of Abelard & Héloïse while using Mr. Wegler's bathroom. The book alludes both to the impossibility of Carmela and Mr. Wegler's romantic affair, and arguably, and ironically, to the doomed platonic love between Carmela and her daughter, Meadow: for many years it was a mother-daughter tradition to have tea under the portrait of Eloise at the Plaza Hotel.
- Clanchy, Michael (1997). Abelard: A Medieval Life. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell. pp. 173–74.
- Historia Calamitatum, in Betty Radice, trans, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, (Penguin, 1974), p. 66
- Smith, Bonnie G. (2008). The Oxford encyclopedia of women in world history, Volume 1. Heloise: Oxford University Press. p. 445. ISBN 0-19-514890-8.
- Matheson, Lister M (2011). Icons of the Middle Ages: Rulers, Writers, Rebels, and Saints. Abelard's Early life and Education. p. 2. ISBN 9781573567800.
- Shaffer, Andrew (2011). Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love. Harper Perennial. p. 8. ISBN 0-06-196981-8.
- Shaffer 2011, pp. 8–9
- Smith 2008, p. 445
- Smith Shearer, Barbara; Shearer, Benjamin F. (1996). Notable women in the life sciences : a biographical dictionary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29302-3.
- Constant J Mews, Abelard and Heloise, (Oxford, 2005), p59
- Historia Calamitatum, in Betty Radice, trans, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, (Penguin, 1974), p67
- Historia Calamitatum, in Betty Radice, trans, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, (Penguin, 1974), p69
- Betty Radice (trans.), The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 287
- Historia Calamitatum, in Betty Radice, trans, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, (Penguin, 1974), pp 70–4.
- Historia Calamitatum, in Betty Radice,trans, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, (Penguin, 1974), p75
- Abelard, Peter (2007). The letters and other writings. Hackett Pub Co. ISBN 0-87220-875-3.
- Rosser, Sue Vilhauer (2008). Women, science, and myth: gender beliefs from antiquity to the present. ABC-CLIO. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-59884-095-7.
- Fordham University. "Medieval Sourcebook Heloise: Letter to Abelard." Accessed 8 October 2014.
- clarification needed] [
- David Wulstan, "'Novi modulaminis melos: the music of Heloise and Abelard," Plainsong and Medieval Music 11 (2002): 1–2. doi:10.1017/S0961137102002012
For what the Epistolae project at Columbia University calls "a sensible discussion of the problem," see Barbara Newman, "Authority, authenticity, and the repression of Heloise," Medieval and Renaissance Studies 22 (1992), 121–57. 
- Ewald Könsgen: Epistolae duorum amantium: Briefe Abaelards und Heloises? (Mittellateinische Studien und Texte, viii.) Pp. xxxiii + 137. Leiden: Brill, 1974. Cloth, fl. 64
- "Heloise, abbess of the Paraclete," in Epistolae: Medieval Women's Latin Letters, ed. Joan M. Ferrante (Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning), published online
- Mary Ellen Waithe, "Heloise: Biography," in A History of Women Philosophers, vol. 2, ed. Mary Ellen Waithe (Boston: Nijhoff, 1989), 67 doi:10.1007/978-94-009-2551-9_3
- trans. Etienne Gilson, qtd in Waithe (1989), 67
- Wulstan, "Novi modulaminis melos" 2
- Wulstan, "Novi modulaminis melos" 2
- Warren, Karen (2009). An Unconventional History of Western Philosophy: Conversations Between Men and Women Philosophers. Views on Love: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 129. ISBN 0-7425-5924-6.
- Levitan, William (2007). Abelard & Heloise. Hacket.
- Clannish, M. T. (1999). Abelard: A Medieval Life. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 328. ISBN 0-631-21444-5.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). . Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 40–41.
- Burge, James (2003). Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-081613-1.
- Gilson, Étienne (1960). Heloise and Abelard. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-06038-4.
- Mews, Constant J. (1999). The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard: Perceptions of Dialogue in Twelfth-Century France. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312216041.
- Radice, Betty (1974). The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044297-9.
- Abelard and Heloise. The Letters and Other Writings. Translated, with an introduction and notes, by William Levitan. Selected songs and poems translated by Stanley Lombardo and Barbara Thorburn. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co., 2007.
- The Letter Collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise, Critical edition by David Luscombe, translated by the Late Betty Radice and revised by David Luscombe, Oxford University Press, 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heloise (abbess).|
- The Letters of Abelard and Heloise
- About.com article
- Short history of Abelard and Heloise with references.
- Newer musical of the story of Abélard and Héloïse
- Abelard and Heloise from In Our Time (BBC Radio 4)
- Works by Héloïse at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Héloïse at Internet Archive
- Works by Héloïse at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Héloïse at Find a Grave