Authors: Simone Weil

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French philosopher and critic

Author Works

Nonfiction:

La Pesanteur et la grâce, 1947 (Gravity and Grace, 1952)

L’Enracinement, 1949 (social criticism; The Need for Roots, 1952)

Attente de Dieu, 1950 (Waiting for God, 1951)

La Connaissance surnaturelle, 1950

Intuitions pré-chrétiennes, 1951

Lettre à un religieux, 1951 (Letter to a Priest, 1953)

La Condition ouvrière, 1951 (social criticism)

Cahiers, 1951-1956 (3 volumes; The Notebooks of Simone Weil, 1956)

La Source grecque, 1953

Oppression et liberté, 1953 (Oppression and Liberty, 1958)

Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, 1957 (includes selections from Intuitions pré-chrétiennes and La Source grecque)

Leçons de philosophie de Simone Weil, 1959 (Lectures on Philosophy, 1978)

Écrits historiques et politiques, 1960

Pensées sans ordre concernant l’amour de Dieu, 1962

Selected Essays: 1934-1943, 1962

Seventy Letters, 1965

On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, 1968

First and Last Notebooks, 1970

Gateway to God, 1974

Simone Weil: An Anthology, 1986

Drama:

Venise sauvée, pb. 1955

Poetry:

Poèmes, 1968

Miscellaneous:

Écrits de Londres et dernières lettres, 1957

The Simone Weil Reader, 1977

Formative Writings, 1929-1941, 1987

Œuvres, 1999

Biography

The writings of Simone Adolphine Weil (vay) had significant influence on religious and political thought in the second half of the twentieth century. Weil was the second child of Jewish agnostics Bernard and Selma Weil. She expressed social concerns at an early age–when only five years old, she steadfastly refused to eat sugar as long as French soldiers could not get it. The strain of humility that runs through Weil’s adult writings also began early; the achievements of her brother André, a prodigy who went on to enjoy a distinguished career as a mathematician, eroded her self-confidence. In this, as in so much else, Weil was a mixture of opposites, and her writings also reveal a strong consciousness of her intellectual powers and a morally judgmental tone bordering on arrogance. At the age of twelve Weil endured the first of the migraine headaches that tortured her throughout her life and from which she may have distilled some of her intense compassion for human suffering.{$I[AN]9810000814}{$I[A]Weil, Simone}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Weil, Simone}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Weil, Simone}{$I[tim]1909;Weil, Simone}

Weil was awarded her baccalauréat with distinction at the age of fifteen. After studies with the famed French philosopher Emile-Auguste Chartier (known by his pen name, Alain), she passed first in the extremely competitive entrance examination of the École Normale Supérieure. A brilliant and precocious student, she became deeply involved in social and political causes. Following her graduation in 1931, Weil began teaching philosophy at a girls’ lycée. School boards shuffled her from one school to another, nervous at her picketing and her writing for leftist journals. By 1932 she was publishing in the Révolution Prolétarienne such articles as “Reflections on the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression.” In her notebooks of this period Weil reflected on the social alienation caused by workers’ increasing enslavement to industrial society.

To get experience of workers’ lives at first hand, Weil left teaching in 1934 to work at a Renault auto factory. The Need for Roots presents her conclusions about the obligations of the state to the individual. Weil’s antifascist convictions led her in 1936 to join a unit training for the Spanish Civil War. Her pacifism kept her from battle but not from injury: While working as a cook, she badly burned herself with oil and was forced to return after only two months. Weil’s writing through the 1930’s addressed the problems of economic depression, fanatical politics, and war. Her chief preoccupation became increasingly evident: how to reduce human suffering and to find meaning amid that suffering.

During leisure enforced by deteriorating health, Weil began reading the English metaphysical poets. George Herbert’s “Love” (III) inspired the first of her mystical revelations. The religious concerns that came to dominate her thought provide the thematic pulse of Waiting for God, a posthumously published collection of meditations and reflections. Here Weil criticizes the oversimplifying rationalism of Christian doctrine, insisting that God cannot be discovered through the senses or intellect.

On May 17, 1942, Weil and her family escaped Nazi-occupied France and fled to the United States, but the complacency there struck her as insensitive to the suffering of her embattled compatriots. In November she went to England, where she wrote The Need for Roots, a response to the request of the Free French in London to report on possibilities for the regeneration of France. The Need for Roots is a passionate intellectual plea for the West to recover its spiritual heritage as the first step to solving political problems. Weil discusses the spiritual significance of physical labor, delineates the needs of the soul, and outlines the social principles upon which a truly Christian nation might be built. In the famous preface to the English translation of this book, also published posthumously, T. S. Eliot calls Weil “a woman of genius, of a kind of genius akin to that of the saints.” The war notebooks include writing Weil did in the United States and England in 1942 and 1943, the last pages penned a few days before her death. Weil died at the age of thirty-four of pulmonary tuberculosis and starvation as a consequence of her refusal to eat more than what she assumed people in occupied France were rationed.

Critics have pointed to contradictions in Weil’s thought. Intensely religious, she rejected her Jewish background and refused baptism in the Christianity she adopted. She is both Marxist and mystical; in her writing, seventeenth century religious fervor accompanies twentieth century intellectualism. It is the very inclusiveness of that paradoxical perspective that has drawn countless readers to her work. Weil has a reputation as a creative thinker, intensely realistic in her awareness of suffering and passionately idealistic in her hopes to lessen that suffering.

BibliographyColes, Robert. Simone Weil: A Modern Pilgrimage. 1987. Reprint. Woodstock, Vt.: Skylight Paths, 2001. Insightful and accessible study of Weil, an introductory survey of her life and work. This edition contains a new foreword by the author.Courtine-Denamy, Sylvie. Three Women in Dark Times: Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, or “Amor Fati, Amor Mundi.” Translated by G. M. Goshgarian. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000. A study of these three Jewish women philosophers against the background of wartime Europe.Dunaway, John M. Simone Weil. Boston: Twayne, 1984. This brief sketch is intended as an introduction to the subject, primarily for the use of the nonspecialist. A bibliography, extensive notes, and references are also provided.Fiori, Gabriella. Simone Weil: An Intellectual Biography. Translated by Joseph K. Berrigan. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989. This lengthy and well-written synthesis of Weil’s life and thought is based upon evidence solely provided by individuals closely familiar with Weil and her works. Extensive notes and a bibliography of primary and secondary works are included.Gray, Francine du Plessix. Simone Weil. New York: Viking, 2000. Well-written introduction for general readers.Hellman, John. Simone Weil: An Introduction to Her Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. Offers helpful commentary on Weil in relation to her contemporaries.McFarland, Dorothy Tuck. Simone Weil. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. This brief but very readable study underscores the continuity of Weil’s work beneath the seeming reversal of political positions. Also contains footnotes and primary and secondary bibliography.McLane-Iles, Betty. Uprooting and Integration in the Writings of Simone Weil. New York: P. Lang, 1987. Gives special consideration to Weil’s contributions to science.McLellan, David. Utopian Pessimist: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil. New York: Poseidon Press, 1990.Nevin, Thomas R. Simone Weil: Portrait of a Self-Exiled Jew. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.Petrement, Simone. Simone Weil: A Life. New York: Schocken Books, 1988. An excellent source of biographical information. Petrement was a close friend of Weil, and her substantial, well-documented book provides a comprehensive account of Weil’s life.Winch, Peter. Simone Weil: “The Just Balance.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. A sophisticated study that focuses on the uneasy mix of religion and philosophy in Weil’s thought.
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