From Notre Dame to Cluny, via a Beehive Hut

John Bossy

  • Abelard: A Medieval Life by M.T. Clanchy
    Blackwell, 416 pp, £45.00, January 1997, ISBN 0 631 20502 0

Everybody knows that Abelard was a philosopher, the lover of Heloise, and castrated in consequence: a romantic figure, like say Tchaikovsky, in an age of epics. Michael Clanchy’s life of him is too serious to count as romance, and too witty to be epic. He writes extremely well, and matches with a wide and happy learning, which runs from Socrates to Eliot and from Cole Porter to Eco, his intense engagement with the mind and heart of Western Christendom in the 12th century, a time which always seems particularly springlike. His engagement is no less with the authors who have already written about Abelard, 76 of whom are cited briskly in his preface; but he does not bang on about it. He is telling a story; his mode, to borrow a phrase from Peter Burke, is thick narrative.

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