When Simone Met Simone
by Mark Chmiel
Most interesting among [Alain’s disciples] was Simone Weil, the future author of Gravity and Grace, who was taking the same classes as the future author of The Second Sex. Simone Weil dressed oddly and always carried copies of Libres Propos and the Communist newspaper L’Humanité that spilled from her pockets. She was extremely committed politically, and she took the world’s sorrows personally. The strength of her convictions prompted her to become a worker at the Renault auto factory, to join the international brigades at the time of the Spanish civil war, and later to work at the Free French headquarters in London during World War II. Simone de Beauvoir wanted to get to know her fellow student and managed to start a conversation that soured abruptly when Weil declared flatly that the only thing that mattered was “the Revolution which will feed all the starving people of the earth.” De Beauvoir shot back that the only thing that counted was to make sense of the reason for human existence. Weil lashed out, “It’s easy to see you’ve never gone hungry!” and this effectively ended the exchange. Yet there was much common ground between this doctor’s daughter who had never lacked for anything and a Simone de Beauvoir who was always just a few steps ahead of privation.
–Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier, Simone de Beauvoir: A Life, A Love Story