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Heloise and Abelard


      Heloise & Abelard 

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"A riveting study of faith and sex, set against a conservative uprising so familiar it will make you gasp with recognition." (Priya Jain, Salon.com)

Abelard was a brilliant philosopher. Heloise was his student, 15 years his junior, already famous for her learning, a woman with a uniquely powerful insight into her own feelings. They fell in love in Paris in the year 1115.  
For two years they wrote to each other every day - brilliant and moving evocations of their love, the passion of their lovemaking, of stolen moments in churches, of their secret marriage and the birth of their child.  Violence and tragedy were to follow.  Their letters describe how, in a brutal attack motivated by jealousy, misunderstanding, and dark desires, Abelard was set upon and castrated by thugs employed by Heloise’s family.  In panic, the couple separated to continue their lives in monasteries. But twelve years later the couple restarted their correspondence and Heloise began working to make sense of her life and recapture the love she had lost …

Drawing on new scholarship and a newly-discovered exchange of letters, James Burge sets out to discover the lives of two people whose writings have given posterity an almost miraculous window onto their thoughts and feelings. Even though they speak to us from 900 years ago, the candour and passion of the couple give them a humanity which is instantly recognisable today.

“What  comes through to us in this enthusiastically researched account is not an iconic representation of human love but a breath of individual striving, dissent and sexuality to which we can respond today ... a substantial achievement .” (Times Literary Supplement) 

“He retells this love story in a vigorous style which reads as easily as a novel ...  an enjoyable introduction to one of the most dramatic of all medieval stories” (The Tablet) 

“James Burge's book achieves that ideal of contemporary popular history, making the past seem pertinent whilst revelling in its differences.  .... Burge is excellent at empathy. He keeps you alive to the agony of Abelard ... [and] makes a moving, likeable document of an extraordinary love.” (Scotland on Sunday) 

“Burge’s account is straightforward, lucid, detailed and sympathetic ... brings considerable historical acumen to the task of placing the story in its context” (Literary Review)

“Intelligent, clearly written ... lucid and perceptive” (Independent) “James Burge opens up this tale with sympathy and directness … beautifully explained” (Daily Mail)  “The two lovers are as vivid as one could wish” … “Burge reminds us that for Abelard and Heloise the world was as new, risky and unpredictable as ours” (Sunday Times) “Theirs is a great story” (Spectator)


Heloise and Abelard 
by James Burge 
is published by 
Harper Collins, San Francisco
and Profile Books, London  

James Burge is a TV
programme maker and
writer. He has been
fascinated by the Middle
Ages since coming into
contact with medieval
philosophy as a student.