Friday, September 13, 2013

Sainte Simone?

Simone Weil
Well, not in the opinion of Flannery O'Connor.  And yet, the author was drawn to the writings of the French philosopher/social activist/mystic Simone Weil (1909-43)  like a moth to candle light.  So influential was Weil (pronounced "vay"), that it is possible that one of O'Connor's better known characters was modeled on her.  Jewish by upbringing, in her later years Simone Weil turned more and more towards Catholicism, but could not bring herself to be baptized and so chose to remain outside the institutional church.  Today, she is recognized as one of the most brilliant and original minds of the twentieth century.  As sublime as her thought can be, her writings can also be confusing, contradictory, and impenetrable as granite.   It was the person of Simone Weil rather than her work that simultaneously attracted and repelled Flannery.  In a letter to Betty Hester, O'Connor says "The life of this remarkable woman still intrigues me while much of what she writes, naturally, is ridiculous to me.  Her life is almost a perfect blending of the Comic and the Terrible.  Simone Weil's life is the most comical life I have ever read about and the most truly tragic and terrible.  If I were to live long enough and develop as an artist to the proper extent, I would like to write a comic novel about a woman - and what is more comic and terrible than the angular intellectual proud woman approaching God inch by inch with ground teeth." (The Habit of Being, pp. 105-106)  Sound like a character in an O'Connor story?  In a follow-up letter, Flannery admits that such a fictional character would not be a "hypothetical Miss Weil.  My heroine already is, and [her name] is Hulga." (The Habit of Being, p. 106)
- Mark

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