The heroic tale of these 12th-century lovers--the tortured philosopher and the long-suffering noble lady who penned those elegant letters--still has considerable potency as a model for romances in which love, once lusty, is forced to become a much loftier item. Garrulous, bustling, and generally unbuttoned, Meade's narrative follows the ordeals of Heloise: here she's a full-blooded lover and a woman frustrated by the sexual oppressions of the times--she could easily outpace Abelard in scholarship. It is Heloise, according to Meade, who, to Abelard's irritation, began the compilation of contradictions in the writings of Church Fathers which resulted in Abelard's Sic et Non. As Heloise's tutor, hired by her guardian, Fulbert, Abelard admits grudgingly that Heloise's scholarly exercises are ""Good. Especially for a woman."" But when the two are lovers--and tumultous, gymnastic lovers they are--Abelard absorbs her whole being. The terrible castration of Abelard, plotted by Fulbert (even though the two, to please him, secretly marry), is received by Abelard as a deserved punishment from God; Heloise, obediently betaking herself to a nunnery at Abelard's wish, ripped from adored husband and baby, does not share his belief, although gradually she understands his spiritual needs. Heloise, once cloistered, is no pale contemplative: valiantly, through hardship and fresh emotional agonies, she becomes an abbess and founds several religious communities. Throughout, the theological wars boom from afar, with an occasional view of the contestants; but it is the female scurry around Heloise--servants, nuns strong-minded and strayed, scandal and shared hard times--which sets the pace. The grand old tale, up-dated for a feminist focus, but a bit downgraded in legendary wallop.