Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

James M. Blythe

Committee Member

Stephen D. Benin

Committee Member

Walter R. Brown

Committee Member

Margaret M. Caffrey


The twelfth-century love story of Abelard and Heloise, which has been both an inspiration for poets and novelists and a challenge and boon to historians, has often suffered from misinterpretation. Abelard was master of the Paris schools and wrote many works which have survived, but Heloise is represented almost entirely through letter exchanges with him. This work focuses on Heloise, now established as a scholar in her own right and the author of her letters, but importantly, it turns some crucial aspects of the traditional picture of Heloise upside down. She has been painted as a woman of unusually robust sexual appetites, who was never converted from a focus on Abelard to a focus on Christ, who was utterly silenced at Abelard's command, and whose roles as lover and abbess are fundamentally irreconcilable. Although the greater carnality of women was a given for her contemporaries, her efforts to explain how much she valued Abelard's friendship are a challenge to twenty-first century preconceptions as well. As for her lack of conversion, I propose that consolation is a more important question; her loyalty to her vow to Abelard fully explains why she had to wait for him to incite her to God. The crux of my argument is that Heloise was, in fact, consoled by Abelard's second letter. This view calls into question the usual interpretation of her promise to him to put a bridle on her pen. Rather than crushed, she is light-hearted as she engages Abelard in the philosophical dialogue she loved, now turned to the founding of the Paraclete. Once we realize this, it becomes possible, even easy, to integrate Heloise the lover with Heloise the abbess. The picture that emerges shows Heloise to be a woman of her time, albeit an exceptional one. In fact, what both lovers have to say about love closely reflects twelfth-century attitudes. The letters of Heloise rank among the great literary creations of any age and the view they give us of twelfth-century France is unusually personal, but they can be reliably viewed as an authentic woman's voice from the twelfth-century.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.