Simone Weil Additional 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.

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.

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Coles, 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.