Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Readings: Simone Weil - Part III

Below is the third installment of Paul West's biographical sketch of Simone Weil, from Portable People:

The photographs mutely record the decline from her second year, when she was chubby-cheeked, with curly black hair the color of her almond-shaped eyes—a pensive, cute doll—to thirty-four, when she starved herself to death in order to share the sufferings of the French. Her face in 1936 (at twenty-seven) is handsome, firm, full-mouthed and rather appealing; and in the uniform of Confederación Nacional del Trabajo she looks like an Arab youth dressed up for a baggy-trousered prank. But five years later she has an expression of intent vacuity. She has become the headmistress type, owl-eyed through excessive perusal, her expression an odd blend of hennish timidity and impatient pity. And there is a general look of—well, dryness. A sad little gallery of pictures indeed.

Astute and tomboyish, she chain-smoked and even rolled her own cigarettes. Because she did this carelessly she often had shreds of tobacco in her mouth. She wore large horn-rimmed spectacles for myopia, walked awkwardly in a forward lean, preferred clothes of masculine cut and low-heeled shoes. She “had a sharp, restless glance” and spoke in a staccato monotone, aspirating almost all her h’s. She played women’s rugby and would return from the fray covered with mud and bruises; and it was on her return from a game in 1930 that she had by far the worst attack, up to then, of her migraines (later attributed to sinusitis).

To this point, we have yet to discover how this sketch, which has dwelt here on her physical ungainliness, made Simone Weil so attractive to me that after reading it I went straight to the library to find books about her.