Abelard and Heloise is one of the greatest love stories of all time. It belongs with Tristan and Iseult, Troilus and Cressida, Romeo and Juliet. Bragg has mastered his sources, chiefly the letters of Abelard and Heloise and Abelard’s autobiographical Historia Calamitatum. By the pen of Arthur the novelist, Bragg with his own flair and perceptive imagination tells their story. The love-stricken couple ‘came through, despite the questionable seduction, the castration, the persecution, the deceits, the stupidities, and the failings’. It is the classical battle between Eros and Agape... Bragg writes his version of this life-long love with ease and confidence. It is a pleasure to read; and to be reminded of Chaucer’s fastidious Prioress whose shining gold brooch declares: ‘Amor vincit omnia.’
The novel asks: Can we understand the religious and cultural mindset that led to the lovers’ downfall?
In this fascinating, haunting evocation of two people aflame with passion and love of learning, Melvyn Bragg dramatises the struggle to find consolation in faith.
Accounts of the star-crossed 12th-century lovers have haunted the European imagination since at least Alexander Pope’s hugely influential Eloisa to Abelard (1717). But where Pope’s poem concentrated on the agonised dilemma of Heloise as a nun, “spouse of God” but “slave of love”, Bragg strives to recreate the saga in its intellectual and historical context, as well as adapt it for readers with present-day priorities.