From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Héloïse d’Argenteuil (1101? – 16 May 1164) was a French nun, writer, scholar, and abbess, best known for her love affair with Peter Abélard, which has become the best known example of early romantic love, documented in Letters of Heloise and Abelard.
Héloïse (variously spelled Helöise, Héloyse, Hélose, Heloisa, Helouisa, Eloise, and Aloysia, among other variations) 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, probably already as a teenager, she was renowned throughout Western Europe for her scholarship, and she became the student of Pierre Abélard (Peter Abelard), who was one of the most popular teachers and philosophers in Paris.
In his writings, Abélard tells the story of his seduction of Héloïse and their subsequent illicit relationship, which they continued until Héloïse bore him a son, whom Héloïse named Astrolabius (Astrolabe). Abélard secretly married Héloïse, but both of them tried to conceal this fact in order not to damage Abélard's career. Fulbert's ensuing violence against Heloïse caused Abélard to place her in the convent of Argenteuil.
The accepted view is that Fulbert believed Abélard abandoned Héloïse, and, in his anger, wreaked vengeance upon Abélard by having him attacked while asleep and castrated. An alternative view is that Fulbert divulged the secret of the marriage and her family sought vengeance, ordering the castration of Abélard. After castration, Abélard became a monk.
At the convent in Argenteuil, Héloïse took the habit and eventually became prioress. She and the other nuns were turned out when the convent was taken over by the abbey at which Abélard had first taken his monastic vows. At this point Abélard arranged for them to enter the Oratory of the Paraclete, an abbey he had established, where Héloïse became abbess.
About this time, correspondence began between the two former lovers. After Abélard left the Paraclete, fleeing persecution, he wrote his Historia Calamitatum, explaining his tribulations both in his youth as a philosopher only and subsequently as a monk.
Héloïse responded, both on the behalf of the Paraclete and herself. In letters which followed, Héloïse expressed dismay at problems 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.
Ultimately, after telling Héloïse of instances where he had abused her and forced sex, Abélard insisted he had never truly loved her, but only lusted after her, and 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.
Some scholars consider Abélard was attempting to spare her feelings (or his feelings, altered from disrupted hormones) and others point to the damage of his hormones and psyche, but from this point on, their correspondence focused on professional subjects rather than their romantic history.
Astrolabe, the son of Abelard and Héloïse, is mentioned only once in their surviving correspondence, when Peter the Venerable writes to Heloise: "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".
The Problemata Heloissae (Héloïse's Problems) is a collection of 42 theological questions directed from Héloïse to Abélard at the time when she was abbess at the Paraclete, and his answers to them.
Héloïse's place of burial is uncertain. According to the Père-Lachaise Cemetery, the remains of both lovers were transferred from the Oratory in the early 19th century and were reburied in the famous crypt on their grounds.
The Oratory of the Paraclete claims Héloïse and Abélard are buried there and that what exists in Père-Lachaise is merely a monument. There are still others who believe that while Abélard is buried in the crypt at Père-Lachaise, Héloïse's remains are elsewhere.
- In the novel I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Cassandra Mortmain owns a bull terrier named Helöise and a cat named Abelard.
- 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 Heloise and Pierre Abélard.
- Helen Waddell's book, Peter Abelard, depicts the romance between the two.
- The two central characters in the novel, The Romantic by Barbara Gowdy (Louise and Abélard), take their names from Héloïse and Abélard.
- Abaelards Liebe, a German language novel by Luise Rinser, depicts the love story of Heloise and Abelard from the perspective of their son, Astrolabe.
- In the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, whilst the Count is viewing the funeral of Valentine in The Cemetery of Pere-La-Chaise he notices young Morrel gliding amongst the yew-trees and "this shadow (Morrel's) passed rapidly behind the tomb of Abelard and Heliose."
- In two short stories, "The Lady Who Sailed The Soul" and "The Burning of the Brain", science-fiction author Cordwainer Smith, refers to the lovers in passing.
- Marion Meade's novel Stealing Heaven depicts the romance and adapted into a film.
- 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.
- Flanders and Swann's song "Friendly Duet" on the 1963 album At the Drop of Another Hat, refers to Abelard and Heloise.
- The song "Heloise" by Frank Black, from the album Devil's Workshop, refers to this story.
- The Cole Porter song "Just One of Those Things", alludes to this story.
- The song "Nora", by Richard Shindell, features a verse about Heloise and Abelard.
- The two protagonists in Spanish singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina's song, "Pájaros de Portugal", are named Abelardo and Eloísa (Abelard and Heloise in Spanish).
- The song "The World Without", by A Fine Frenzy, refers to Heloise and "Pete" (Peter Abelard).
- Choral song "Labour of Love" by Stephen Hatfield refers to "the ship that could sail Abelard to Eloise."
- 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, CA.
- 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 Template:As of.
- In the Due South episode "Amen", the heroine and hero are Eloise and David Abelard.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind makes several references to the story of Abelard and Heloise in both script and plot.
- Multiple episodes of the HBO original series, The Sopranos, refer to Abelard and Heloise. In 5.06 "Sentimental Education", Carmela Soprano leafs through Robert Wegler's copy of The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, and in 6.11 "Cold Stones", she reads about Abelard and Heloise in her Paris guidebook.
- In the movie The Lovely Bones Susie Salmon references the story of Abelard and Heloise, calling it the most tragic love story of all time.
- The film, Stealing Heaven (1988), chronicles their story and stars Derek de Lint, Kim Thomson, and Denholm Elliott.
- Director and writer Norman Szabo created an animated feature called William Shakespeare's Abelard + Heloise, which he claims is based upon an uncompleted Shakespearean manuscript, Abelard and Elois, a Tragedie.