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The grand passion of a philosopher

15 November 2003

12:00 AM

15 November 2003

12:00 AM

Heloise and Abelard: A Twelfth-Century Love Story James Burge

Profile Books, pp.301, 16.99

Abelard has been made to play many roles in French history. In 1796 Alexandre Lenoir created the first museum of French national monuments. The French Revolution had abolished the past, but they thought that the French people should know about it. So the tombs of the French kings illustrated the continuity of French history, and alongside their magnificence the pathetic remains of Abelard and Heloise demonstrated the wickedness of the Ancien Régime. Those who visited the museum showed their sympathy for these victims of fanaticism and intolerance.

In the 1850s we find the name of Abelard linked to the emergence of a wealthy class which is spending fortunes on collecting art and antiquities. The descendant of a Nantes family that had made its money building ships in the 18th century famously gave an immense amount of money in order to acquire manuscripts of the sermons that had been preached by Saint Bernard and Abelard. This collection, which was kept in a bejewelled velvet box, showed Abelard as an important religious figure. But in 1872 Abelard was reduced to a more ordinary, though particular, role in the opérette bouffe, Hélo


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