January 12, 2013

Historia Calamitatum (The Story of My Misfortunes) by Peter Abelard

It has been very quiet here, because it's exam time, and I really need all my free time for sleeping. And when I read, I am trying to chose something short and unusual to distract me. That's how I came across The Story of My Misfortunes, which is a medieval epistolary novella, and one of the first Western Europe autobiographies. Of course, I knew about Abelard and Heloise. Who doesn't? But I was really curious to know what really happened there and why it ended how it ended. So who better to tell this than Abelard himself?

The title reflects the mood of the book very well - it's a bit paranoid. Abelard describes himself as a poor genius, that is persecuted by everybody, because everybody else is plain and jealous of him. I don't know for sure, maybe medieval scholastic intrigues were that terrible, but I suspect he is exaggerating just a little bit ;)

Although he has a VERY good opinion of himself, he is also just, and I admire how he admits that the two most horrible things that happened with him - his emasculation and burning of his book- were well earned by him. He admits his lust and vanity and nearly thanks God for providing such an atonement. Abelard is quite earnest with his readers, and writes even the things he admits is difficult for him to write, so despite his opinion of himself, he is still somehow likable.

But all my sympathies are not with him, but with Heloise. Here is the strength of spirit! When everybody knows they had an affair (because she had a baby), Abelard is suggesting a marriage to make everything look proper. And she refuses. REFUSES a marriage, despite having a new-born baby and everybody's contempt! Her only concern is Abelard and his scholastic career, and marriage would have put an end to it. So she goes to a monastery and becomes a really good abbess. Unlike Abelard, she finally finds peace.

Although sometimes this reading is too full of citations and different abstract thoughts, it was really interesting to read a true (I think, it's the closest we have to truth) story of this. Recommended for those interested in famous love stories, especially in their "real" side.


  1. Wow, this sounds like an interesting book - flaws and all. And the main character sounds like a heel, but a sympathetic one.

    Tanya Patrice

  2. Hopped over from the Books on France Reading Challenge. Loved learning about these characters!

    Joy's Book Blog

  3. It does sound pretty interesting. Thanks for the review.

    Sorry it has taken me forever to get around to reading all the reviews posted on the European Reading Challenge page. Thanks for taking part in the challenge!

    I am a new follower, here and on twitter.

    Rose City Reader

    1. No problem, you have tons of them, as I see ;)


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