28 September 2018
Heloise: Misogynistic or Infatuated?
Heloise d’Argenteuil and Peter Abelard, the infamous star-crossed lovers of the 12th Century, exchanged a series of letters fifteen years after their notorious affair. These letters, while intriguing to many for their enchanting and passionate nature, provide significant insight into the realities of gender roles during the time period. Heloise, as evidenced in her direct confrontations of Peter, was an exceptionally assertive and strong willed individual. Curiously, however, Heloise makes rather misogynistic claims throughout the exchange that seem to contradict her intelligent and independent disposition. However, it is likely that this contradiction is more apparent than real because of the influence that her overpowering infatuation for Peter Abelard had on her interactions with him.
Throughout the documented interaction, Heloise continually proves her assertive and intelligent nature via her direct confrontations of Peter. Heloise’s main concern at the time was that Peter had neglected and forgotten her[footnoteRef:1]. She directly questions his character suggesting that lust, not love, inspired his desire for Heloise in the first place[footnoteRef:2]. In addition to questioning his actions in the past, Heloise denounces Peters actions in the present stressing that he owes Heloise and her abbey greater attention[footnoteRef:3]. Heloise goes so far as to say that Peter is wasting his time preaching to swine as opposed to dividing more of his attention to her and her community[footnoteRef:4]. Even Peter, in his public letter to console his friend, recounts Heloise’s unmatched assertiveness as she questioned his ability to abstain from the impurities of bodily pleasures[footnoteRef:5]. Clearly, Heloise demonstrates her sharp and forceful character traits throughout the exchange. She aptly proves her default conviction and establishes what might seem like a relatively egalitarian perspective for the period in which she lived. [1: McLaughlin, Letter 2, 54] [2: McLaughlin, Letter 2, 55] [3: McLaughlin, Letter 2, 52] [4: McLaughlin, Letter 2, 53] [5: McLaughlin, Letter 1, 28]
The most contradictory aspect of Heloise’s disposition, however, is her perspective on gender. There are many instances where Heloise supports misogynistic opinions. Heloise, firstly, does so through her conversations with Peter on marriage. She claims that it is deplorable that Peter would tie himself down to one woman and follows up by saying that any wise man should never take a wife[footnoteRef:6]. Further on, Heloise corroborates the concept that the baneful influence of women did afflict most severely the greatest of men[footnoteRef:7]. Many times Heloise comments in this vein marking women as evil or inferior to men. For example, in asking Peter to divide more of his attention to Heloise and the abbey, she...