Among the many professions Simone Weil (1909-1943) undertook during her short life were factory worker, teacher and soldier. Principally a philosopher, Weil sought to draw people’s attention to the oppressed, the poor, the starving and the outcast people of society, writing, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”.

From a young age Weil acted with unguarded selflessness showing her to be a sensitive and highly astute thinker. At the age of six she refused to eat any more than the quantity of food allowed for the soldiers fighting during the First World War and refused to eat any sugar.

At the age of ten Weil had declared herself a Bolshevik and became involved in politics out of sympathy for the working class. Engaging with the ideas proposed by Leon Trotsky and the Russian Bolshevik party, she even arranged for Trotsky to stay in her parents’ house in 1933, while he was visiting Paris in secret.

Simone Weil, a soldier during the Spanish Civil War (1936)

Embracing all religions, Weil was fascinated by mysticism and befriended many religious clerics. With a deep spirituality she was empowered with an objectivity and clarity of mind that inspired many of the great writers, politicians and philosophers of her day. Meditating in Simone Weil’s room before going to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Albert Camus described her as ‘the only great spirit of our times’ and Susan Sontag described her as one of the most uncompromising and troubling witnesses to the modern travail of the spirit.

Simone Weil embraced a struggle against the conventions gender and her social convention. One of the most rigorously moral and compassionate thinkers of her day, she is as an emblem of female courage and success, and “a giant of reflection”.

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