Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 8362
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Freeman , Elizabeth.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Public and Private Functions of Heloise's Letters
  • Source: Journal of Medieval History 23, 1 (March 1997): Pages 15 - 28.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Journal Article
  • Subject (See Also): Abelard, Peter, Philosopher Binary Opposition Heloise, Abbess of Le Paraclet- Letters Latin Literature Literature- Prose Philosophy Private Sphere and Public Sphere Rhetoric Women Authors
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 12
  • Related Resources:
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: This article investigates Heloise's three letters to Abelard in relation to modern debates concerning the characteristics and usefulness of the categories 'public' and 'private'. It is common to assign women's letters and autobiographies to the private realm. While it is not denied that women's letters frequently fulfilled functions of a more or less 'private' nature, this article suggests that certain peculiarities of medieval textual practices complicate this assignation. Medieval 'participation in literacy' was always a more public practice than modern reading and writing. Moreover, the conventions of epistolography ensured that medieval letters were in fact highly public documents. It is suggested then that medieval female epistolography is a site for the interaction of private (autobiographical) and public (literary and rhetorical) interests. Heloise's letters show us a woman claiming her place in both public and private realms. She used the rhetorical skill which she had acquired via her position in the public world of learning in order to validate her many different experiences. Modifications to the original formulations of public and private suggest that the spheres are not separate and exclusive but, rather, permeable. Certainly, Heloise reminds us of the shifting boundaries of social categorisation, as she consciously rejects traditional binary opposites, such as that between wife and whore, in her individual quest for self-definition. [Reprinted from the Journal of Medieval History 23, Freeman, "The public and private functions of Heloise's letters," 15, 1997, with permission from Elsevier Science.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Melbourne
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1997.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 03044181
  • Material/Technique :
  • Rights: