Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Another Forbidden Love: Abelard and Heloise and the Parallels to Gabriel’s Inferno and Rapture Part 2

Hello Everyone,

We are pleased to share another special guest post with you today.

Terry, whom you probably know as @Terry the Nurse on Twitter, is indeed a nurse, though she also has a degree in History and a graduate degree in Human Communication.

Last week, Terry shared her thoughts on Abelard and Heloise and their place in the story of Gabriel and Julia.  The response to her piece was enthusiastic and we're thrilled she is able to share more of her thoughts about the subject.

Enjoy and Take Care,

Another Forbidden Love: Abelard and Heloise and the Parallels to Gabriel’s Inferno and Rapture

Part 2

In the study of historical literature, the letters of Heloise and Abelard are considered emotional and tragic epistolary exchanges between two doomed lovers who are forced to live chastely and apart for the majority of their lives, even after marrying and having a child together.  In my previous post, I provided some of the historical background. In this post, I will describe what I view as the parallels between SR’s characters in Inferno, Rapture (and, now Redemption), and my two favorite medieval lovers, as well as discuss the letters  for which they are so famous; the final letter of which is partially quoted in Rapture.

As we know, in several scenes of both books, Gabriel alludes that he already sees himself as Abelard, references that make Julia want to grind her teeth since they both construe Abelard’s actions differently.  Their different interpretations can be partially explained by the letters being originally written in Latin and having undergone numerous translations.  And, in contemplating meaning or significance, we interpret language from our inner selves, from our own experiences, and from our own perspectives. To me, it’s natural that Gabriel would be sympathetic to Abelard, and that Julia would be more appreciative of Heloise’s feelings of frustration and anger.

You may be surprised to discover that there are only eight published letters, lengthy as they may be. The exchange of letters began after both had been living in cloister for some time, and only occurred because Letter I (from Abelard to his friend Philintus) made its way to Heloise. These are not letters that are regularly exchanged – years passed between each letter.  They are not merely snapshots in time, but a true description of two unhappy people forced apart by circumstance. As readers, we can feel and sense their confusion, their sorrow, their irritation, their passion.

Heloise never wanted to be in the convent, nor was she “called” in any way. She remained there because she had no choice. Her love for Abelard remained passionate and undying:

“Yes, it was your command only, and not a false piety brings no peace or sincere vocation, which sent me into these cloisters; I sought to give you ease and not to sanctify myself. How unhappy am I! I tear myself from all that pleases me; I bury myself alive…” (Heloise, Letter IV.)

But Abelard’s responses seem to vacillate with push/pull messages which serve to anger Heloise – and, like Julia, she is nobody’s fool. In Letter III, he declares his passion for her:

My love burns fiercer amidst the happy indifference of those who surround me, and my heart is alike pierced with your sorrows and my own. Oh, what a loss have I sustained when I consider your constancy! What pleasures have I missed enjoying…

But later says to her:

If since our conversion from the world to God I have not yet written you any word of comfort or advice, it must not be attributed to indifference on my part but to your own good sense... I did not think you would need these things..."

Heloise, in anger, writes:

"But tell me whence proceeds your neglect of me since my being professed? You know nothing moved me to it but your disgrace, nor did I give my consent, but yours. Let me hear what is the occasion of your coldness, or give me leave to tell you now my opinion. Was it not the sole thought of pleasure which engaged you to me? And has not my tenderness, by leaving you nothing to wish for, extinguished your desires? Wretched Heloise! You could please when you wished to avoid it." (Letter II)

As you can see in these brief snippets, even though the letters were exchanged 800 years ago, their emotions and reactions are as fresh and contemporary as if they were written a decade ago. They are full of angst, devotion, anger, frustration, passion, and faith. You can read six of the letters in their entirety here. It is really the best way to appreciate the relationship and all that happened in it.

After all I’ve told you about Heloise and Abelard, I hope that you can now appreciate that there are some stunning similarities between these two couples; specifically between Abelard and Gabriel, but also between Julia and Heloise. Is it possible that SR wanted us to appreciate the parallels between the two brilliant but thwarted intellectuals to better understand Gabriel’s deep emotional conflicts? (Speaking for myself, I think that he did.)

Both are academicians; one who lived in the Middle Ages, and one who is a specialist in Dante, considered one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages. With both men, the medieval period is prominent. And what was the name of the book Gabriel hid his message to Julia??
“Marriage in the Middle Ages: Love, Sex and the Sacred.”

Both lost a child; one through miscarriage, and the other by adoption, disgrace, and escape to religious life.

Both are unable to impregnate a woman after their lovers’ conceived the first and only time; one through castration, and the other through vasectomy.

Both find a sense of peace in religion; Gabriel by his extended visit with the Franciscans in Assisi, and Abelard who became an abbot at the Saint Gildas de Rhuys monastery. Neither remained there permanently.

Both return to teaching after a period of religious influences, and neither returns to their university of origin.

For both Gabriel and Abelard, they find their “bashert” in their most gifted student, and in both cases, there is a considerable age difference.

Both (for a time) question their relationship with God due to shame and self-loathing.  Abelard writes that he is aware that, according to the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible), “eunuchs” (as castrated men were called) were not permitted in the Temple, which scripturally suggests how eunuchs were shunned.  Gabriel says, “I’m closer to a devil than an angel, and I’m beyond redemption because I’ve done unforgivable things.”

Both are in love with one woman while another professes her love for him. We already know the story of Paulina and Gabriel.  A maid named Agaton in Fulbert’s household was in love with Abelard while he was in a sexual relationship with Heloise.  She told him:

“I am in love with you, Abelard; I know you adore Heloise, and I do not blame you, I desire only to enjoy the second place in your affections. I have a tender heart as well as my mistress; you may without difficulty make returns to my passion. Do not perplex yourself with scruples; a prudent man should love several at the same time, then if one should fail he is not left unprovided “(Letter 1, Abelard to Philintus)

And like Paulina, Agaton’s response to unrequited love was ruthless and vengeful (read the first letter to find out what she did.)

Both are charismatic and irresistible to women, and display narcissistic behavior in their relationships with them. It’s fair to say that both are self-absorbed, unfamiliar with sexual rejection, and pretentious control freaks. Abelard’s need for control is evident in the Letters and his distasteful habit of frequently lecturing Heloise; Gabriel’s in his inability to allow Julia to make her own decisions. (Is it possible we will see more of this behavior in Gabriel’s Redemption??)

There are similarities between Julia and Heloise as well:

Both live with a single male family member who dislikes their choices; Julia lives with her father who dislikes Gabriel, Heloise with her uncle who (eventually) detests Abelard.

Both fall deeply, passionately, and irrevocably in love with their professors; both are well aware that a relationship would be considered forbidden.  Both witness their lovers’ professional humiliation following a scandal directly due to the relationship, and both are forced into circumstances that cause them pain, separation, and heartache.

Both feel abandoned, and both feel that Abelard and Gabriel’s positions as Professor were more important than they were --in both cases, they were wrong. Heloise paid a much higher price than Julia, however. Abelard eventually returned to teaching and became a hero of The Enlightenment, whereas Heloise remained in the convent for the rest of her life.

Both are constantly worried and insecure about how attractive their lovers’ are to other women.

o Julia to Gabriel: “I have to share you with your past – with Paulina, with Professor Singer, with Jamie Roberts – with countless other women I’m probably going to pass on the street in Toronto.”

o Heloise to Abelard: “When you appeared in public, who — I ask — did not hurry to catch a glimpse of you, or crane her neck and strain her eyes to follow your departure? Every wife, every young girl desired you in absence and was on fire in your presence; queens and great ladies envied me my joys and my bed.”

Since first reading Gabriel’s Inferno upon its release in 2011, I have suggested to other readers and friends  that to fully appreciate the incredible beauty and complexity of SR’s writing, it’s worth it to become familiar with the hidden nuances and multi-layered references buried like gems throughout the books.  The literary, operatic, and artistic references are not only essential to the lovely story, but also provide an opportunity for us to learn more about the humanities -- which enrich our own lives in so many ways.   I hope these two posts have served that purpose for you in relation to Heloise and Abelard, and that you will want to read more about them.

If I have stimulated further interest, there are many academic resources on the Internet that you can refer to (NOT Wiki! :) ) Here are several:

To see Fordham University go here

To see Stanford University go here  here

Article: “Society as Portrayed by The Letters of Abelard and Heloise” go here 

To read Abelard’s “Confessions” from Fordham, go here

To read a great article in the NY Times Book Review about what might be newly found letters:  read Love Hurts


Blogmaitresse said...

Terry, thank you for your insightful post. I read the letters in the intervening time between now and your first post and have come to much the same conclusions. However, it wasn't my place to pre-empt your second discourse on Abelard/Gabriel and Heloise/Julia.

We can only be thankful that SR didn't cause Gabriel and Julia to be permanently estranged, and hope that in his forthcoming novel that Gabriel doesn't emulate Abelard's hubris and self-delusion.

Thanks again, and thanks to the AE ladies for hosting Terry's post.

Sheila xx

Jdt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jdt said...

WOW Terry! First I would like to say I ❤ you in a proffesional way. Don't know if this sounds correct in English.
Your post and the paralells between Abelard/Heloise and Gabriel/Julia are stunning! I am so happy reading your post because as I told you before SR's writing is not only about a love story. It i much much more. In the Gabriel books the reader get the opportunity to enjoy a fantastic authors magic with the words but also he provides to further reading, researching, if you like. Your post gives answers and insight to a rich treasure in Literature History. Thank you for writing the post and Thank You SR for writing the books about Gabriel and Julianne.

Judith xx

Renata said...

Dear Terry,

Your first post made ​​me reread the letters. I spent many years with the feeling that Abelard was a scoundrel. Thus, I can say I really agree with the vision of Julia about their story.

In this second post, I noticed some other issues that involve the whole history of them.

Reading about various other sources, I was able to know that the letters may have even been "edited" even in the thirteenth century. But even so, I assume that the letters are true and try to analyze what this words mean to me.

Anyway, I really think that maybe, Abelard and Heloise express two ways of seeing the world, or two philosophies. He, scholasticism, she staunch advocate of courtly love (Sometimes she seems almost an existentialist, isnt?!).

I was shocked when, while chatting with a friend, he made ​​me see that castration for a man is very powerful and that the feeling of Abelard no longer be a man to Heloise, even today, would most men, abandon their loved ones.

In this sense, I think that Abelard & Heloise made ​​me understand a little better the SR's characters, in all his complexity!

To end (because this comment is getting too big) I have to say that no other novel ever made ​​me go so deeply into various issues so important to the life and existence.

Thus, although not unique, I want to thank you, by post and by SR inspiration.

Still have much to comment, but I think I'll do this in an e-mail not to bother everyone! ;-)

PS: Forgive me for the English mistakes. Even with a dictionary to help, it certainly should be half bad ...

Unknown said...

Terry that was perfect! PERFECT I TELL YOU!!! You get an A+++!! I need to send this link to my professors who say there is no quality in the Contemporary Fiction I read. You proved here there is so much underneath it all! I love this post! This is why I studied English Lit, wasn't it great fun to uncover all the layers in the text?!?!? Like a Treasure!!! Amazing!!! Write More!!!! Teach me Teach!

TerrytheNurse said...

Renata, your English is just fine!! :)) (you make me laugh! Have you ever heard our Portuguese??? lol) I loved your comment and you gave me some things to think about. First, I should have mentioned that castration was a common punishment in the Middle Ages. But yes, I agree with you that while Heloise (I believe) would have accepted him that way and cheerfully given up a sex life just to be with him, the common tradition was to live apart. (and I think Julia would have wanted the same by staying with our Professor.)

I have to think about H being an existentialist and go back to the text again. But, absolutely, she was raised in the Courtly Love tradition, which is what caused most of her headaches in the first place. Courtly Love translates to perceiving women as the Virgin Mary (not the sinful Eve) so her rolling around under the sheets with A would cause her major problems that she needed to "repent" for, perhaps in the convent.

Since you are so interested in the topic, you might like some of the literature that examines H from a more modern and feminist perspective. (That opens a whole new can of worms!!)

In the end, though, I adore Gabriel and see him only as a brilliant, troubled, and gorgeous man who needed to learn to forgive himself ( a journey he is still on, I assume). If Abelard had done that, perhaps history would be different. I don't dislike A -- let's just say I'm glad I wasn't born in the Middle Ages. The men were too difficult. :))

TerrytheNurse said...

Miss Margie, tell your profs to come down from the ivory tower. They will get a nosebleed from being so high up :)) I'd give anything to see them go a few intellectual rounds with SR, and you know who'd win!!

Speaking of which, I am writing another analysis on yet ANOTHER hidden gem or two (or three....) Can you tell I love textual analysis?? :))

Unknown said...

The professor who said there is no quality in contemporary fiction obviously never read a book by SR. This is the reason his Gabriel series has captivated us like no other book.It has opened a mine field of debate and research to learn more about the complexities of the Middle Ages that, regretfully, held no interest for me when I was in school a hundred years ago. Thank you, Terry, for helping us appreciate even more SR's brilliant writing. I agree with you. SR would wipe the floor with the professor in the ivory tower. xo

Efrat Noy said...

Terry.. What can I say?... Other than - have you noticed I put "The letters of Abelard and Heloise" at the top of my goodreads list? :-D All thanks to you! I really can't wait to read this now.

I've said this in the past, I'll say it again - to me SR's novels are like a bottle of fine wine - with many layers of flavor and smell, that uncover throughout the drinking experience, and make the wine a lot more alluring.
Plus, you don't always know how it's made and what's in it, but you know that it's special.

Thank you Terry, for bringing those layers to the surface and making the wine a lot more special!

Unknown said...

It is awesome!! I cant wait to read what else you have in store for us Terry the Scholar! ;)

Racer said...

Brilliant. I don't this other words from me will suffice.

And SR, he's a smart, sneaky smart guy, and I love it. <3

TerrytheNurse said...

Thank you, Racer. *mwuh*!!!
As for SR, that he is, and I love it, too. Sneaky brilliant. lol

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