The Letters of Abelard and Heloise

Her legacy

Beyond the love story they tell, Héloïse's letters contribute one of the earliest, most radical feminist philosophies of not only the 12th century, but even of today.

Héloïse plainly writes of her disdain for marriage and even feminine life, stating in her first letter, "I preferred love to wedlock, freedom to a bond."[17] She is also later quoted with her famous lines, "What man, bent on sacred or philosophical thoughts, could endure the crying of children…? And what woman will be able to bear the constant filth and squalor of babies?"[18] She goes so far as to define marriage as the ultimate form of prostitution, a brash statement for a female in 12th century France. She states, "Assuredly, whomsoever this concupiscence leads into marriage deserves payment rather than affection; for it is evident that she goes after his wealth and not the man, and is willing to prostitute herself, if she can, to a richer."[17]

Although her exceptional and different "pure love" for Peter Abelard provides the contextual backdrop for her brash statements, she is essentially calling marriage contractual prostitution. It is clear that Héloïse meant for this philosophy to be heard because Peter Abelard himself reproduces her arguments in The Story of His Calamities.[18]

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