<B>Love's labors found</B>The saying "all the world loves a lover" has never rung truer than in the case of that famous, ill-fated couple, Heloise and Abelard. Their tumultuous story, which has been chronicled intriguingly but briefly in the lovers' eight letters, is one of history's most scrutinized romances, the subject of countless books, articles, films, plays, paintings and poems. Now, British author and newspaper columnist James Burge has added to the mix with <B>Heloise and Abelard: A New Biography of History's Great Lovers</B>.
Burge, with genial wit and a special sensitivity to the tenor of ecclesiastical 12th-century times, draws a new portrait of the lovers based upon New Zealand scholar Constant Mews' recently discovered cache of Heloise and Abelard's "lost" correspondence, a collection of 113 early letters between the philosopher-monk and his brilliant pupil. These missives reveal the origins of the lovers' erotic, intellectual and spiritual passions. The large scope of this correspondence (an excerpted appendix is included in the book) allows Burge to render a meticulous, but always engaging, explication of each lover's innermost desires, human foibles and, best of all, includes his sympathetic conjecture on how both Heloise and Abelard viewed their own characters and times.
Against the backdrop of 12th-century Paris and Europe, Burge gives an impressively researched account of the life and heresy trials of Peter Abelard, his pursuit of Heloise, their secret love affair and marriage, and the violent tragedy that would force the lovers to separate and pursue religious lives. His keen analysis of the new letters depicts Heloise as a strong-willed, exceptionally intelligent woman, fully equal to her lover in intellect and accomplishment. Abelard's portrait, in comparison, pales a bit, but readers may forgive the philosopher's often selfish, single-minded tendencies when he is seen through the light of Heloise's powerful love: "For I often come with parched throat longing to be refreshed by the nectar of your delightful mouth and to drink thirstily the riches scattered in your heart. . . .
With God as my witness, I declare that there is no one in this world breathing life-giving air whom I desire to love more than you." <I>Alison Hood is a writer in San Rafael, California.</I>