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The Sad Love Story of Heloise and Abelard

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Even during the celebration of the Mass, when our prayers should be purer, lewd visions of those pleasures take such a hold upon my unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness instead of on prayers. I should be groaning over the sins I have committed, but I can only sigh for what I have lost. Everything we did and also the times and places where we did it are stamped on my heart along with your image, so that I live through them all again with you. Even in sleep I have no respite. Sometimes my thoughts are betrayed in a movement of my body, or they break out in an unguarded word. In my utter wretchedness, that cry from a suffering soul could well be mine: “Miserable creature that I am, who is there to rescue me out of the body doomed to this death?” —  Heloise to Abelard, Letter 4

Heloise and Abelard lived in medieval France. Heloise had a flair for languages and philosophy. So while she was living with an uncle, she became a student of Abelard who was a theologian. Teacher and student fell in love. But their very steamy and secret affair came to an end when her uncle castrated Abelard for carrying on with his niece.  The excerpt you’ve just read is the fourth in a series of letters they sent to each other. This was long after the affair had ended. 15 years maybe. Heloise is now a nun. And Abelard is a monk or something like that. Clearly she hasn’t gotten over him. It’s sad because when she carries on and on like this about how she just can’t forget what it was like being with him, all he says is Look, I’m done. I’ve moved on. You need to do the same too. I’m a girl like Heloise, and I totally get how difficult it is to let go. But yikes! after undergoing the trauma of castration, I can also see why Abelard would rather not be bothered by whatever they had.

Read all of Letter IV HERE!

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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