Simone Weil 1909 - 1938

Simone Weil lived a short life but a very full one. Those wanting to understand her and the influences on her thought should read the biography by Simone Pretrement, who knew her well.

Chronology

1909 Simone Weil was born in Paris,, France on February 3, the second child of Selman and Dr. Bernard Weil1

-Undergoes an appendectomy after suffering from an infection unwittingly given by her mother at birth2

Andre - Weil’s family moves to another apartment in Paris after they return from vacationing in Switzerland3

191 4: Her brother André begins to teach himself geometry and teachers her to read4

1914-1917

The family moves to Meuse, Neufchâteau, Menton, Mayenne, and Chartres, all places where Dr. Weil is stationed throughout the beginning of the First World War5

- Simone Weil reads and memorizes Racine and André is solves challenging mathematics problems by himself6

1916:

Raymonde, a younger cousin, moves in the Weil family when her mother dies7

- Simone returns to Paris when her father is transferred to Algeria and then moves to Chartres when he falls ill8

- Studies at Lycée Montaigne for three months9

1917-1919

Weil family moves from Chartres, where Dr. Weil was assigned after his time in the hospital, to Laval and then back and forth between Laval and Penthièvre10

- Attends elementary school and struggles with handwriting tasks, yet remains ahead of her classmates11

- Develops an interest for politics and learns for the first time “of the existence of Jews and Gentiles”12;13

1920:

Concerns herself with the welfare of the poor and attends meetings for the unemployed14

- Receives private lessons from Mademoiselle Sapy and Mlle. Cotton, teachers at Lycée Fénelon, where she attended school while in Penthièvre15

1922-1924:

Attends Lycée Fénelon during the academic year16

- Takes courses to “become eligible for a higher certificate”17 and to prepare for the bachot18

1924-1925: Simone Weil attends Lycée Victor-Duruy19

1925-1928

Attends Henry IV Lycée to prepare for the exams at Ecole Normale20

- Simone Weil studies under Alain, whose teachings and writing assignments had a lasting affect on her philosophy, especially in terms of political thought21

Studies such philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Rousseau, Spinoza and Descartes, who she preferred much of her life; reads and quotes from the Old Testament and New Testament22

Befriends René Château, Jacques Ganuchaud and Pierre Letellier, who she may have developed an affection for23

Befriends Simone Pétrement, whose parents disapproved of a friendship with a girl people considered to be communist; and Simone Weil confides, in Pétrement, her belief that there should be no divergence between “one’s beliefs and one’s way of life”24 In dress and character, Pétrement observes, Weil was “truly different in the sense that she was already well above the common level, owing to the purity of her emotions and the strength of character even more than to her intelligence”25

1928- 1931:

Attends Ecole Normale, where she takes the examinations in “Morality and Sociology,” “Psychology,” “The History of Philosophy,” and “General Philosophy and Logic”26

Simone Weil meets Simone de Beauvoir at Sorbonne, an encounter that de Beauvior narrates in Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter.27

1931-1932:

Teaches Latin and French at a lycée Le Puy where she was known to give extra lessons, hand out books free of charge28

- Becomes actively involved in the rights of unemployed workers at the Labor Exchange29

Simone Weil meets Boris Souvarine, whose friendship continues throughout her life30

1932: Transferred to another girl’s lycée in Auxerre because of her involvement with the movement of the unemployed for bewtter conditions 31

1933:

Applies and is accepted to a girls’ lycée in Roanne and continues her involvement with the Labor Exchange32

Simone Weil participates in a march of miners organized by the Confederated Miners’ Union33

Simone Weil meets Leon Trotsky34

1935 - 1936

. Takes a sabbatical to learn the life of a factory worker and learn to support herself, especially financially and to grasp the knowledge of workers lives35 She Works in a factory as a power press operator at the Alsthom Company in Paris36 She befriends Auguste Detœf, the director of the Alsthom Company and tries to get him to view the workers problems37

- Works a stamping press at a factory, J.J. Carnaud et Forges de Basse-Indre in Boulogne-Billancourt; she was troubled when she saw a conveyor belt for the first time and took note of it, and other aspects of her job, in a journal38

Works on a milling machine in Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt39 These experiences are reported in her Factory Jounal which is filled with piece work calculations. Weil was not well coordinated and seldom could make the 'count' for pay.

1936:

Decides to join the Spanish Civil War to be on the front line as a journalist40.

She is taken to a hospital in Sitgès, after inadvertently stepping into a boiling pot of water, in order to be treated for a badly burned leg and foot41

1936-1937:

Suffers more frequently from headaches and fatigue, which make it impossible for her to teach more than one semester42

Simone Weil travels throughout Italy and then returns to Paris, where she teaches philosophy and Greek at a lycée for girls in Saint-Quetin43

1938: Takes a leave of absence due to the extent of her headaches44 Returns to Paris45

Moves with her family to Vichy and then Marseille, where she works for a literary magazine. Cahiers du Sud 46

Simone Weil meets Dominican priest, Father Perrin, who becomes an friend. He really wants to convert her. Her "Letter to a Priest" explains why she can not convert to Catholicism. Weil keeps in contact with him throughout the rest of her life47

Publishes “The Illiad, or the Poem of Force”48

Spends two weeks in a refugee camp, Aïn-Seba, near Casablanca, then flees to the United States but returns to Europe49

Works as a writer with the Free French organization in London50

Diagnosed with tuberculosis51 (As a patient, Weil continued to be very independent and appears to have infuriated the physician when she refused another collapsing of her lung since she thought that the end was near and wanted to end treatment. The doctor, in turn, wrote on the death certificate, that she had committed suicide by refusing treatment etc. Neither the nurse nor friends concurred with his statement BUT the doctor 'had the last word' and this death certificate has caused all sorts of judgments by those who have not read Pretrement's biography.)

Simone Weil died on August 24th and is buried in Ashford, England52

To read a bibliography of primary sources and a suggested bibliography of secondary source, go to: Simone Weil Bibliography

Click on the link to find and buy books by Simone Weil at:

Barnes & Noble or at Amazon.com


Tara Monastero, alumna of Mt. St. Mary College, Newburgh, New York did the work on this page while a student at the college.