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Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

English translations of Weil’s work have been published in a chronologically awkward fashion. All of her books were published posthumously, and most are composed of miscellaneous letters, articles, notes, and fragments, many of which were never intended for publication. Moreover, the English translations often gather these materials under different titles. As a consequence, Weil’s work has often appeared haphazardly, and the thematic integrity of her thought has been difficult to perceive. Thus, Gravity and Grace, while one of the first important publications of Weil’s work in English, needs to be read alongside other developed pieces. Attente de Dieu (1950; Waiting for God, 1951) provides, for example, access to Weil’s more personal voice. Composed of letters and papers in early 1942, Waiting for God not only clarifies the Weilian motif of “attending/waiting” but also describes her mystical experience, conversion, and subsequent relationship with the Church. L’Enracinement: Prelude a une declaration des devoirs envers l’etre humain (1949; The Need for Roots, 1952), regarded by many as her most brilliant and important book, is an extended meditation on the problems of rebuilding a just society in France after the liberation. It is the best explication of her sociopolitical thought, suggestions of which are provided in the final chapters of Gravity and Grace. Cahiers (1951; Notebooks, 1952-1955), which covers entries from 1940 to 1943 and from which extracts for Gravity and Grace were taken, contain the raw material for many of her other writings of those years. Readable for the most part and interesting in their own right, they exhibit the enormous range of her reading and interests; they also contain some of the harsher expressions of Weil’s thought. Oppression et liberte (1955; Oppression and Liberty, 1958) contains her critique of socialism, capitalism, and Marxism. Selected Essays, 1934-1943 (1962) contains all of her specifically historical writing; it includes her letter to Georges Bernanos expressing her convictions about the Spanish Civil War. In its longest essay, “The Great Beast,” Weil analyzes the historical preconditions which encouraged the rise of Adolf Hitler. Seventy Letters (1965) provides a cross section of Weil’s correspondence dealing especially with her experience as a factory worker in 1934. On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God (1968) contains her famous essay on Homer’s Iliad, along with specialized discussions on differential calculus and quantum theory. The publication of First and Last Notebooks (1970) makes available the last of her untranslated exercise-book entries with themes as diverse as artificial manure, higher education, the absence of God from His world, and the insights of Eastern mythology. What was begun in Gravity and Grace twenty years earlier has been made complete; her notebooks, portions of which were first published in English in 1952, are now available in their entirety.

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Masterpieces of Women's Literature Gravity and Grace Analysis