Barbara Newman’s fascinating book titled Making Love in the Twelfth Century: “Letters of Two Lovers” in Context was written for scholars and academics but will be cherished by anyone who loves a good love letter. The letters referenced in the title constitute the amazing discovery made at the closing of the twentieth century of the longest existing correspondence from the middle ages.
Making love in the twelfth century literally meant declaring love through words, and in the letters Newman translates, written between a “Man” and a “Woman”, plenty of love is made. I went through this book madly underlining all the beautiful phrases and sentiments – “farewell, you who shine more brightly than the moon tonight and please me more than tomorrows sunrise” – and if ever a case could be made for plagiarism, I would love to steal these declarations of love and send them off to find lodging in hearts open to love and joy, as well as to those needing the comport of company in the attendant emotions of confusion, distress, and longing.
There is much to learn in Newman’s book, not only from her translations of the letters and her accompanying notes but also from her fascinating essay Making Love in the Twelfth Century: An Essay in the History of Emotions (should be mandatory reading for all students of medieval and renaissance and modern social history) and her brilliant discourse on the possibility of renowned lovers Abelard and Heloise having penned not only those letters already attributed to the both of them, but also the “Letters of Two Lovers.”
Newman underscores that important thing is how the 116 surviving letters prove that the two lovers were “extraordinary people engaged in an extraordinary protect” – and we are grateful for Newman’s translations and explications of their extraordinariness.