Heloise and me: Smart women, foolish choices?
by Sherry Jones
Reading my new book, THE SHARP HOOK OF LOVE, makes some people squirm and cringe. Not only does the book with the sexy cover NOT have a happy ending, but Heloise, the protagonist, makes choices that few agree with. That the most accomplished scholar of her day would give up life as she knew it for the strutting, preening Abelard makes us shake our heads in disbelief. But why should we be surprised?
Women who love too much
|Kauffman - The Farewell of Abelard and Heloise.|
1780. Oil on canvas. 65.6 x 65.5 cm.
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Have we forgotten our own transgressions for the sake of love, our own sacrifices that may seem, in hindsight, witless and thoughtless and blind? I don’t know a single woman without regrets. Even the most intelligent females in the world today have struggled with cocksure men — look at all Hillary Clinton endured with Bill. Women around the world were shaking their heads at her choice to stand by her man, and we wondered, What is she thinking?
Love is a slippery, perplexing, prickly thing. Even while writing my book, I faced similar dilemmas to Heloise’s. The man I loved is an accomplished classical musician and very smart man whom I admired and adored, but who never seemed able to commit himself fully to our relationship. For years I waited for him to do so, even as he moved in with me and then, unhappy with the fact that I worked at home (in my studio, with the door closed), moved out again. Still, I clung to my knowledge that he loved me, and my own ideas of what that meant. He would come around eventually, I told myself as he continued to throw up boundaries between us. When he put us on a weekends-only sleeping-together schedule — after 4.5 years of dating — I decided that the wait was over.
All that misery, though, gave me a lot of empathy for the ever-patient Heloise. When Abelard insisted she give up their infant for a while, promising to retrieve him soon, she believed him just as I believed that, if I just moved to a studio to work away from home, my man would be happy with me at last. In fact, even as Abelard let her down again and again, Heloise continued to believe in him by engaging in a kind of magical thinking very similar to mine.
If only he…if only I…then we would be happy. We love each other, don’t we? We can make it work.
Love is truly blind
Oh, Heloise! How I wish you’d gone and gotten that baby and taken him back to Paris…and then, the thread escapes me. How would she have lived? She didn’t do so for what must have been good reasons. Nor did she reject the plans Abelard made for her, from an “ill-starred” marriage to disguising herself as a nun, which she considered a sin, to re-entering the convent where she’d been raised. Each reluctant step away from her own desires was, she told herself, another step closer to Abelard, another chance to prove her love for him.
I believed that the more I humbled myself on your account, the more gratitude I should win from you…
The fact is, Heloise, having betrayed her guardian and being constrained by 12th-century culture and Church, had only two choices: marriage or the convent. Abelard being forbidden to marry, she lobbied for a third option — concubinage — and risked everything for his sake. Oy!
We may roll our eyes and drum our fingertips and yearn to shake some sense into Heloise, but only if we’ve forgotten how it feels to truly love someone, to see them in their most vulnerable states, to know them in all their perplexing complexities and to have our own mirrored back, and forgiven, in that person’s eyes.
Breaking up is hard to do
“I want to do an intervention if you get back together with him again,” one of my friends said to me. She won’t have to: Heloise, in her frustration and powerlessness, serves as a perfect contrast to me today. I have so many options available to me, while she had only one. Supporting myself financially, unmarried, at liberty to move about as I please, willing and able to love again, I could simply walk away.
And so I did. But I won’t belittle Heloise for doing the same, at his behest. She loved Abelard so much that, like the Christ whom she adored, she willingly gave up her freedom for his sake. In doing so, she exercised complete free will — for nothing seemed more loathsome to her than marrying another man, her only other option. Was she weak or strong? What do you think?
“While I sleep you never leave me, and after I wake I see you, as soon as I open my eyes, even before the light of day itself.” —Abelard to Heloise
Among the young women of twelfth-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 Notre-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.
Praise for The Sharp Hook of Love
“Heloise is the sort of heroine you cannot help rooting for: brilliant and naïve, vulnerable and tough. The Sharp Hook of Love will have you up all night holding your breath as you turn each page.” (Rebecca Kanner, author of Sinners and the Sea)
“Jones weaves history and passion in a tale full of emotional heft that questions what it means to truly love someone…” (Kirkus Reviews)
“A sensual journey into twelfth century Paris. With a sharp eye for historical detail, Jones weaves an unforgettable, compelling tale about enduring love.” (Lynn Cullen, nationally bestselling author of Mrs. Poe)
“Passion and treachery mingle in Sherry Jones’s explosive novel The Sharp Hook of Love. Wrenching and erotic, this is a grand romance in every sense of the word.” (Mary Sharratt, author of Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen)
About the Author
Sherry Jones is the author of five biographical fiction books: The Sharp Hook of Love, about the famed 12th-century lovers Abelard and Heloise; The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, international — and controversial — best sellers about the life of A’isha, who married the Muslim prophet Muhammad at age nine and went on to become the most famous and influential woman in Islam; Four Sisters, All Queens, a tale of four sisters in 13th century Provence who became queens of France, England, Germany, and Italy, and White Heart, an e-novella about the famous French “White Queen” Blanche de Castille.
For more information please visit Sherry Jones’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Goodreads.
The Sharp Hook of Love is on a blog tour!