heloise d'argenteuil


ladies who should be playing mythical head bitches in charge | MICHELLE DOCKERY as HELOISE D'ARGENTEUIL, the brilliant scholar who was renowned throughout europe by her late teens, the lover and equal of pierre abelard.

Turn your affections to God, he advises, and her hands clench hard around the heavy wooden cross at her throat. Direct your love to our lord and saviour Jesus Christ, for it is he, not I, who had loved you all this while. How foolish he is, to think that love is a thing that can be controlled. She turns her eyes heavenward, and sings the hymns with her sisters, she clenches her hands around the beads of her rosaries, and prays until her voice is hoarse. Our father who art in heaven, she whispers on nights lit with dripping tallow. Hallowed be thy name. Let me loose from this love, o Lord. Let me loose and let me be free, turn my heart from this mortal man and let me serve you, entire. The songs come out hollow from her throat, and God does not fall within her heavy, and filling as her love. God leaves her empty after prayer, cold after confession, and she closes her eyes, thinks: please.

On Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d'Argenteuil

A few things truly angered me about ‘Stealing Heaven’, the 1988 film about Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d'Argenteuil, and it isn’t me just being an accuracy bat, because it was the '80s, so fine. A few of you know that Pierre and Héloïse are my pet favorites, and they are for the same reason that I think telling their story falsely is an insult and an atrocity.

The film let her be with him after he was attacked. The film let them see their son. The film let them see one another frequently, and be together at the end. The film The film gave them a happy ending.

Pierre and Héloïse did not GET a happy ending. 

He fell in love with her and she with him as intellectual equals. “Her wit and her beauty would have stirred the dullest and most insensible heart, and her education was equally admirable. Héloïse was the mistress of the most polite arts.” After a few months, he was the one to confess his love for her. She told him that she wished he hadn’t told her- or at least that she wished she didn’t believe him, for men were often false, throwing around words to get into bed with women. So he spent the better part of a year convincing her that his love was true. When he did, she admitted that she felt the same- after a few months, his teaching began to suffer, and his pupils began to suspect that he was lovelorn, a rumor which reached her uncle Fulbert. Shortly after Pierre’s expulsion from her household, she discovered that she was pregnant, whereupon he took her to Brittany to have their child with his sister, Lucilla. He wished to marry her- she did not want to, believing it would destroy his career. His sister also tried to persuade him not to do it, but he was determined. They married in secret. 

He sent her away to be kept safe while the news of their marriage blew over, and while she was at Argenteuil, she got news that the man she loved- her HUSBAND- had been castrated by men hired by Fulbert. She did not get to go see him- he was sent away to become a monk, and she stayed where she was to take Orders. She did not get the comfort of seeing him, nor of bidding him farewell. He may as well have died- she could have treated it as such and probably been much happier in the long run.

They knew that they would never see each other again. He DID found an abbey for her- the Paraclete- and “when I learned when she was to settle there, can you believe it… I left her without taking leave.” They knew that they would never see one another again, that their duty was to God now, that they weren’t GETTING a happy ending, but they didn’t care.

For years, they still wrote to each other. 

Their letters are not all fluff and nonsense- they hated it, every second apart, and they said so. They were human. They expressed anger at their situation, but they still tried to be happy and overcome it. They did not take the easy way out and spend the rest of their lives angry at God as the film portrayed- they used God to help others. They were philosophers, educated people- they knew better. They knew a great deal of things, and yet they chose never to let go of one another. 

The first letter she read from him was addressed not to her, but his friend- he thought that writing to her would be too painful for her. It fell into her own hands, however. 

The following are excerpts, as the original letters are pages and pages long.

“Ah, Philintus! does not the love for Héloïse yet burn in my heart! I have not yet triumphed over that unhappy passion. In the midst of my retirement I sigh, I weep, I pine, I speak the dear name of Héloïse, and delight to hear the sound!”

“Upon receiving your [first] letter… I began to consider the whole afresh, and perceived myself pressed with the same weight of grief as when first we began to be miserable… My tears, which I could not refrain, have blotted half your letter; I wish they had effaced the whole… I beg of you, that little relief which you only can give. Let me have a faithful account of all that concerns you; I would know everything, be it ever so unfortunate. Perhaps by mingling my sighs with yours I may make your sufferings less, for it is said that all sorrows divided are made lighter. We may write to each other; so innocent a pleasure is not denied us. Let us not lose through negligence the only happiness which is left us, and the only perhaps 

"Could I have imagined that a letter not written to yourself would fall into your hands, I had been more cautious not to have inserted anything in it which might awaken the memory of our past misfortunes. I described with boldness the series of my disgraces to a friend, in order to make him less sensible to a loss he had sustained. If by this well-meaning device I have disturbed you, I purpose now to dry up those tears which the sad description occasioned you to shed; I intend to mix my grief with yours, and pour out my heart before you: in short, to lay open before your eyes all my trouble, and the secret of my soul, which my vanity has hitherto made me conceal from the rest of the world, and which you now force from me, in spite of my resolutions to the contrary… It is true, that in a sense of the afflictions which have befallen us, and observing that no change of our condition could be expected; that those prosperous days which had seduced us were now past, and there remained nothing but to erase from our minds, by painful endeavours, all marks and remembrances of them. I had wished to find in philosophy and religion a remedy for my disgrace; I searched out an asylum to secure me from love. I was come to the sad experiment of making vows to harden my heart. But what have I gained by this? If my passion has been put under a restraint my thoughts yet run free. I promise myself that I will forget you, and yet cannot think of it without loving you… I have resolved it: this letter shall be my last fault… I hope you will be willing, when you have finished this mortal life, to be buried near me. Your cold ashes need then fear nothing, and my tomb shall be the more rich and renowned.”

They exchanged several letters, always promising never to do it again, but never actually able to do so. Pierre died in 1142, and their correspondence ended. 

Pierre and Héloïse did not GET a happy ending- they survived an unhappy one. They are an example of surviving real life. They are a testament that remains to remind us that sometimes, real life doesn’t GIVE us happy endings, but that doesn’t mean that the sad ones have to destroy us. 

To portray anything short of that is an insult to everything they endured.