Heloise (1100/1101-1163/1164), the niece of Fulbert who worked in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, lived during the explosive Medieval Era in Europe. Europe was transforming from manors and estates to towns, inventing the predominant middle class. Religion and the church continued to play an integral role through the development of the towns. In addition, colleges and universities developed, which highly influenced an intellectual Europe (Slaughter & Bokovoy 247).
The torrid love affair of a young schoolgirl and her tutor will certainly capture the attention of my students. Both Heloise and Peter Abelard (1079-1142) were brilliant people. Heloise was knowledgeable in such topics of "faith and morality, logic and reasoning" (249). Peter's brilliance was found in his ability to "apply the use of logic and reason to questions of faith" (249). Students could assume that two individuals schooled in the topics of logic, faith, and morality would not find themselves in such a disastrous situation.
Heloise and Peter Abelard's relationship was set in Paris during the early twelfth century. Once source describes Europe during this time, ". . . [Europe] began to expand economically and territorially. This doubtless had much to do with the development of confident new attitudes and the rise of a generation that faced situations that the wisdom of its elders seemed inadequate to explain" (Frankforter 191). The rise of intellectuals eventually set the stage for the meeting Heloise and Peter Abelard. The two lovers met when Heloise's uncle, Fulbert, hired Abelard, a renowned intellectual, to tutor his niece. Ego and seduction were the motives behind Fulbert's offer for Abelard to tutor Heloise and Abelard's acceptance of the position. Fulbert's reason for hiring Abelard had less to do with improving Heloise's education and more with the image of having an intellectual like Abelard tutor his niece. Abelard's motive for accepting Fulbert's offer was both the seduction of young Heloise and possibly advancing his career amongst the church scholars (Slaughter & Bokovoy 256).
The lover's quickly abandoned their studies and focused more on their sexual encounters and intellectual conversations in letters written to one another. Upon Fulbert's discovery of the affair he banished Abelard from his home. When Heloise became pregnant with Abelard's child at the age of 15 or 16, Abelard had her travel to his sister's home in Brittany, France to deliver the child. After Fulbert discovered Heloise's absence from his home he demanded that Abelard marry his niece. Heloise, who understood the culture of the times, refused Abelard's proposal on the basis that the marriage would destroy his career as a church scholar. Heloise and Peter were married anyway, although Heloise refused to acknowledge they were married. Abelard placed Heloise at the convent Argenteuil to protect her from the abuse directed towards her from Fulbert as a result for her refusal of the marriage (258). In Abelard's "Historia Calamitatum" he writes about his attempt to make amends with Fulbert, "I begged his forgiveness and promised to make any amends he might think fit. I protested that I had done nothing unusual in the eyes of anyone who had known the power of love" (Radice & Clanchy 13). Despite agreeing to marry Heloise, Fulbert wanted more from Abelard. The lasting and most brutal consequence of Heloise and Abelard's relationship was not their subsequent separation, but Abelard's castration that was arranged by Fulbert. The castration was the means in which Fulbert chose to take revenge for the public embarrassment caused by Abelard's affair with his niece (Slaughter & Bokovoy 258).
The remainder of Heloise and Abelard's life was spent amongst the religious people at the convent and monastery. Occasionally, Abelard would see Heloise at the Paraclete, "a modest place of prayer and contemplation" built by Abelard (259). Abelard died in 1142 and Heloise in 1163 (263). Despite the conditions of Heloise and Abelard's relationship they maintained contact in their letters. The letters offer a vivid description of Heloise and Abelard's relationship, education, and opinions towards religion and romance. The letters will be an extremely useful tool in helping my students better understands the culture in which Heloise and Abelard lived and examine the nature of relationships.
Heloise was chosen for the unit because she was as intelligent as many of her male counterparts, but "was denied access to this new world of scholarship" and "the silencing of Heloise was a prelude to the silencing of academic women as a class fro the next eight centuries" (264). From this unit students will be able to examine a culture that prized intelligence, but only from men. The students will come to understand the gender inequality that existed in Europe during this time period. The letters of this unit will assist students in deducting ideas about the culture of the time period, the roles Heloise and Peter played in the relationship, examination into the ability of relationships to interfere with reason and logic, and the role of religion in relationships in the past and present.
Another woman who will be the focus of the unit is Li Qingzhao. The students will view in a power point presentation the following information regarding Li's biography:
Li Qingzhao (old spelling: Li Ch'ing-chao) was born into a Chinese family known for literary talent and service to the emperor. Her poetry was well known even before her marriage in 1101 to a student, Zhao Mingcheng (1081-1129). In 1103, her husband began his official career; from 1108 the couple lived in the Shandong province. From 1121, he spent much time traveling around the province; his periodic absences may have provided the occasion for some of Li's love poems (http://home.infionline.net/~ddisse/liquinzh.html).
I believe it is important for the students to understand that Li had established herself as an educated literary talent prior to her marriage. This is a situation that was not typical of most women in twelfth-century China. Chinese historians John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman described the role of women during Li's lifetime as "inferior creatures, relatively expendable, who were usually married into other families"(103). This quotation by Fairbank and Goldman will assist in illustrating to students the uniqueness of Li's in her society.
Another quotation that the students will examine in their initial lesson will be an excerpt from Stephen Owen's "The Snares of Memory" where Li recalls her marriage:
In 1101, in the first year of the Chien-chung Reign, I came as a bride to the Chao household. At that time my father was a division head in the Ministry of Rites, and my father-in-law, later Grand Councilor, was an executive in the Ministry of Personnel. My husband was then twenty-one and a student in the Imperial Academy. In those days both families, the Chaos and the Lis, were not well-to-do and were always frugal (Owen 82).
This excerpt is important for students to examine because the quotation illustrates the financial struggles of a young couple. The students would be asked a question such as "What does frugal mean?" "What issues can add stress to a marriage?" "Is money an important factor in a relationship?" "How would Li Qingzhao and Zhao Mingcheng's restrictions with money mold their relationship as a couple?" Despite living in a frugal manner Li and Zhao had a happy marriage that is described in an online source that the students will view:
Li and Zhao's marriage was extremely happy, as can be seen reflected in her poetry. The couple shared a love of art and antiquities and spent much of their time and money collecting seals, bronze vessels, rubbings of inscriptions, sculpture, manuscripts, scrolls, poetry, and paintings. Sharing the desire to preserve China's unique artwork, they would spend their evenings together in their studio pouring over their collection, examining and systematically cataloging the many pieces. They had amassed one of the most impressive collections of Chinese artifacts of their time. Zhao even began a book,
Record of Bronze and Stone,
documenting the relics (http://www.answers.com/topic/li-qingzhao).
The students will then discuss some of the difficulties Li encountered throughout her lifetime.
In 1125, tribes from northern Manchuria known as the Jurchens invaded the Northern Song region of China (Fairbanks & Goldman 115). Li and her husband were forced to flee their home in 1127 from these invaders. Throughout their five hundred mile trip to a more safe section of the country, Li and Zhao lost many of their belongings (Hansen, 335). The students, now having learned about Li's financial situation as a young couple will be asked to write in their journals why they believe that it would be so devastating for a couple to amass such a large collection of goods, only to lose many of them later in life.
The loss of the couple's possessions was not the only devastating part of their journey. After Zhao was forced to separate from Li, in order to see the Southern Song emperor, he contacted malaria. Li barely made it to his side, before he passed away as a result of the disease (335).
The initial lesson, "Inspecting the Past", will have students read the following excerpt about Li's life:
In the year 1127, the Jin, a minority nationality in the north, vanquished the Northern Song government, which fled south and established the Southern Song regime in Hangzhou. The war broke up Li Qingzhao's happy family. Zhao Mingcheng died of illness while a large part of their collection of books, scrolls, and curios were lost in the war. Alone, Li Qingzhao wandered about until she came to an area between today's Hangzhou and Shaoxing, and spent the rest of her days in misery, loneliness and profound melancholy. In many of her poems, she expressed her nostalgia for her native town, her old home, and late husband, recalling the peacefully happy life that was no more (http://www.chinavoc.com/history/song/lqzh.htm).
After reading the excerpt students will be asked to respond to the following questions in their journal: How would you feel if your family was forced to leave their home? What possessions would you take with you? Why did you choose these possessions? What meaning do these possessions have for your life? What emotions would you feel if you were forced to separate from your family? How would you cope with the death of a loved one?
The students, in later lessons, will analyze Li's poems before and after the invasion of her home and death of her husband. Using the reading, discussing, and letter writing in Li's "voice" students will better understand the political chaos that reigned over Li's lifetime. Students will also comprehend, through the classroom activities why Li and her poetry were unique and prized for her culture and gender. Li's poetry will enable the students to evaluate the topics and tones contained with in her poetry. Li's poetry and memoir offers us a rare glimpse into the joys and struggles of life in China during the twelfth century.