Cover image for Utopian pessimist : the life and thought of Simone Weil
Utopian pessimist : the life and thought of Simone Weil
McLellan, David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Poseidon Press, [1990]

Physical Description:
xvii, 316 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
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Format :


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B2430.W47 A3 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reviews 2

Booklist Review

One of those brief flashes of light that brightens a century, the life of Simone Weil has already been explored thoroughly in Simone Petremont's 1976 monumental biography, not to mention Robert Coles' more recent Simone Weil: A Modern Pilgrimage (1987). But ~McLellan, author of Karl Marx: His Life and Thought, does the interested reader a service by providing a more concise version, one comfortably melding life and thought. This book offers all of the familiar facts: Weil's Jewish upbringing, her alignment with Sartre and de Beauvoir, her work in the Spanish civil war and with the trade union movement, her hard-won reputation as the "red virgin," her flirtation with Catholicism, and her retreat from it on her deathbed, where (at the age of 34) she landed partly due to self-starvation. As well, though, McLellan offers on-the-mark insights into her body of beliefs, seeing her as "a cross between Pascal and Orwell." Ultimately, Weil is pictured as an absolutist in a world of temporizers, thus doomed to a life of disappointment. Bibliography; index. --Allen Weakland

Publisher's Weekly Review

McLellan's robust intellectual biography dissolves the mists surrounding Weil (1909-1943), replacing the popular image of the ethereal Catholic mystic (born to Jewish parents) with that of a thinker anchored in economic and political realities. Weil was one of the first to describe the Soviet Union as a bureaucratic police state. She applied her anti-totalitarian critique to Nazism and to enlightened technocracy in the West. McLellan, author of several books on Marx, asserts that Weil was neither anorectic nor masochistic, as other biographers have maintained, and, while respecting her mystical bent, places prime emphasis on her social and philosophical thought. Weil put her ideas to the test through manual labor in Parisian factories and by joining the French Resistance. She emerges here as a fierce individualist, all of a piece, whose enthusiasms ran from the ``lost'' Languedoc civilization of 12th-century southern France to ways of making labor meaningful in the modern age. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved