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The Sharp Hook of Love
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|The Sharp Hook of Love
By Sherry Jones
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books
Pub. Date: October 7, 2014
Genre: historical/biographical/literary fiction
from the publisher for a
virtual book tour on France Book Tours
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Almost a thousand years after their death, I would say Héloïse and Abélard are still the most famous Medieval couple in Europe. Their story has given rise to a massive amount of literature, and it is the source of many works, and myths as well. Unfortunately, it seems their fame is not so widespread in the US, apart from the world of Medieval scholars. So I am really thrilled Sherry Jones decided to introduce her American readers to them through The Sharp Hook of Love. Based on lots of primary and secondary sources, it is a brilliant presentation of their life.
First, my Medieval Latin heart totally resonated with the titles given to the 3 parts of the novel: Amor, Dilectio, Caritas, in other words 3 terms to speak about love in all its facets. This theme comes back many times in the book, and gets to its climax in a most powerful final scene on Abélard’s death bed.The 3 words fit perfectly the events of their life.
Left in the abbey of Argenteuil at a young age, Heloïse is taken back by her uncle Fulbert to live with him in Paris when her mother dies. She already has a wide education and the reputation of a “female scholar“.
One day, she hears the renowned teacher poet, and philosophy teacher Pierre Abélard, a canon of the Church and headmaster of the Nôtre Dame Cloister School. Thinking about the possible social advantages for himself, Fulbert hires Abélard to give her classes, so that she can one day become the abbess of the famous Fontevraud abbey, where her own mother was a prioress.
A woman, I was only a pale moon in a world of suns, reflecting the light of men but emitting none of my own. What use had the sun for the moon? What use had Pierre Abélard for me?
But Abélard WAS interested! And using the pretext to teach her dialectic, something totally revolutionary at the time to be taught to a young woman, they start to practice the art of letter writing imagining themselves as lovers… Fiction becomes soon reality.
The novel is the story of their love, in all its power and obstacles, mainly due to the Church and social rules of the time, and also motivated by jealousy and self-interest, mostly among the males surrounding Héloïse:
- Her uncle starts to drink. He thinks of nothing but his own reputation and social promotion, and is ready to do anything to get it. Beating her is not out the question
- His servant Jean is shady. Can she trust him or not?
- Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, has a despicable character, and cannot stand women
- And what about even Abélard’s love for her? Would he be ready to sacrifice his career for her?
Each chapter begins with a short passage from the letters the lovers exchanged. I highly recommend you now to read these letters, especially in this brilliant edition.
If you have no clue about their life, be prepared for a powerful surprise and scene. Remember we are in the Middle Ages, some rough times. I remember reading about this event in Abélard’s and Héloïse’s life, one day many years ago, while sitting between two rows in a library and browsing through books. I just started crying and crying when I read what happened to them. Jones’ book helped me though see things a bit differently, and not just consider Abélard as a mere victim, but also as a selfish scholar at times.
The book is full of important historical background:
- When they meet for the first time, we are 30 years into the Gregorian reform, which no longer allows priests to marry. Yes, Catholic priests used to be able to marry, not only in Eastern Europe but also in Western Europe. The law for marriage celibacy is based on social elements, not theological ones. Strictly speaking, the law was aimed at priests only, but there was a general tendency of including all clerics, including canons
- So there’s the whole context of reform of the Church, and also the problem of investiture
- They go one day to listen to the famous Bernard of Clairvaux
- Another major monastic founder is present: Robert of Arbrissel, founder of Fontevraud Abbey
- Through Héloïse and Abélard, we see the importance given to love, including love of knowledge and of education, in the Middle Ages
Apart from the romance, there’s even an element of mystery, about who Héloïse’s father was and why really her mother seemed to have abandoned her in an abbey at a young age.
Having spent many hours on Medieval texts and history, I would like to add a few points. Please understand that these in no way minimize my admiration for this book, not intended to be a scholarly work, but a much needed presentation of a Medieval couple to a very modern public. This will probably not interest most of my readers actually. But here it is, for the few monks and Medieval lovers who may read these lines:
- First about Héloïse’s mother: Jones chooses her to be Hersende de Champagne. Scholars are still debating, there could also be good possibilities she would be Hersende de Saint Éloi.
- And about her father: Jones took the liberty to decide it might be Robert of Arbrissel. One possible argument about Robert being her father is how much Abélard knew about Robert. Scholars think he could only have known details about him through Héloïse, because her own mother would have told her. This does not really work here, as Jones chose not to show any talks between the two women.
Another possible option is that Fulbert himself would have been her father, which would not be far from this despicable character. Maybe this could have been an interesting track to follow
Others think her father could be Gilbert de Garlande. His own brother Etienne is quite sympathetic towards her in the book, so this could have worked together as well
- I was surprised the author did not follow more the Bernard of Clairvaux track. I love Bernard very dearly, but really, his condemnation of Abélard’s theology, in absentia!, at the Council of Sens in 1140 was really the final blow given to Abélard. I was disappointed not to see this mentioned
- To go on with Bernard, I was surprised to see the point about him and his mother Aleth, that he waited for her to die before entering Cîteaux. She died in 1106, but he did not enter the monastery before 1113. So I don’t think we can say he waited for her to die as there were 7 years between the 2 events
- I would have expected a few more chapters between the last two, and less than a 50 year gap. There’s not much here about the big scandal at Argenteuil: Héloïse was not only kicked out, she actually left with half of the monastery to found her own at Le Paraclet. As a brilliant abbess, she had a formidable reputation and did a lot for her Order, with all the necessary fights. Maybe this could be looked at in another book?
As an aside, I can’t recall how the author explained the title of her work, if she did, but I wonder if she was inspired by a famous Medieval document attributed to the Pseudo-Bonaventure.
To end, I would like to share picture I took at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris a few years ago. It contains thousands of tombs, but theirs, moved to this place in 1817, was definitely on top of my list to visit:
VERDICT: Based on Heloise and Abelard’s letters and many other documents and studies, The Sharp Hook of Love reminds modern readers of the most famous Medieval couple, of their powerful love and their numerous obstacles to live it. Combining romance and elements of mystery, this is a must read to know more about how a brilliant European woman lived and fought in the Middle Ages.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Among the young women of 12th century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God.
But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever. Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Nôtre Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. His controversial reputation only adds to his allure, yet despite the legions of women swooning over his poetry and dashing looks, he is captivated by the brilliant Heloise alone. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition.
Sherry Jones weaves the lovers’ own words into an evocative account of desire and sacrifice. As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure. [provided by the author]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Send her an email: sherry [at] authorsherryjones [dott com
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