Catholic Herald, 4 August 1989
Review: Simone Weil by Simone Pétrement (Schoken Books, £8.95)
The scholar or specialist will have discovered and read this book when it was first published in 1976. But lay people like myself may come to it after reading some piece of Weil’s work, or simply hoping to find out more about a name that is synonymous with a brilliant intellect.
The Pétrement biography is long, exhaustive and thoroughly detailed, Yet the author humbly admits that her book is by no means complete or definitive, and she begs to be corrected on matters of fact or omission with a charming absence of arrogance.
She was a close friend of her subject, and Mme Selma Weil, Simone’s Mother, asked her to undertake the biography, and supplied her with many documents and oral material.
The brilliant Simone Weil died in 1943 aged 34, at Ashford, Kent. She is buried there, as close to her beloved homeland as it was possible to be during World War II. She died, sadly, unbaptised, though she told a doctor she was a Jewess hoping to become a Catholic.
Evelyn Waugh seems to have been exasperated by her vacillating. He wrote to Lady Lothian in 1952 (published in Essays, Articles and Reviews) that Simone Weil “accepted the main truths of Christianity, but had a distaste for the exclusive and authoritative tone of the Church and the unworthiness of some of its members.”
Simone Weil died regretting that people were more attracted to her person than to her thoughts. She was convinced that her ideas contained nuggets of pure gold and she wanted people to ask the question: “Is what she says true?”
Here indeed is the rub, the core, the heart of the matter. Pétrement’s masterly study of this modern heroine, whom some have hailed as a saint, and whom nobody can ignore, goes a long way towards answering this crucial question.