The Sharp Hook of Love

by Sherry Jones

Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson

The Sharp Hook of Love retells the twelfth-century story of Heloise and Abelard, a scholarly young woman in Paris and the thirty-year-old tutor who took her virginity under the nose of her guardian and was castrated in revenge. Both were skillful writers. Abelard would certainly have preferred to be remembered for his scholarly writing on the Holy Trinity, now tame but considered heretical in its day, than for his ''Historia Calamitatum" about his experience with Heloise. Her passionate letters to Abelard, years after they were separated and she became an abbess, remain astonishing for their frankness. She says she preferred love over marriage, freedom over bondage, and would rather be known as Abelard's whore than Augustus's empress.

In 1980, a collection of 113 love letters between a medieval man and woman who wrote in Latin convinced Professor Constant Mews, who was teaching and pursuing medieval studies at the University of Paris, that they had been written by Abelard and Heloise. There is significant evidence to support his theory. Jones's novel is largely based on these erotic, emotional letters, which reveal the woman's growing feelings for her teacher - with much of their intensity coming from the exhilarating sense of intellectual freedom aroused by her studies.

The Sharp Hook of Love is historical romance written in an effusive style no doubt inspired by the declarations of love in Heloise's letters. Readers who grow impatient with romance novels may be put off by the prose, certainly on the lavender side, if not purple. Readers who relish a lushly romantic novel with a bit of explicit spice - including some mild S&M - should love it. (2014; 365 pages, including an Author's Note on the history and sources behind the novel)

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Other novels about Heloise and Abelard:

Farewell, My Only One by Antoine Audouard (2000 in the original French, 2004 in English). More info

Stealing Heaven by Marion Meade (1979). More info

Spider's Voice by Gloria Skurzynski (1999), a novel for teens about a boy who carries messages between Abelard and Heloise. More info

Nonfiction about Heloise and Abelard:

Heloise and Abelard: A New Biography by James Burge (2004). More info

Abelard and Heloise by Constant J. Mews (2005). More info

The Letters of Heloise and Abelard:

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, Betty Radice, translator and editor (revised edition 2003). More info

The Lost Letters of Heloise and Abelard: Perceptions of Dialogue in Twelfth-Century France by Constant J. Mews (1999). More info

At the Movies:

Stealing Heaven, the 1988 movie directed by Clive Donner and starring Derek de Lint and Kim Thomson as Abelard and Heloise.


Heloise and Abelard: Love Hurts, a 2005 essay in the New York Times book section

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