Weil, Simone ( 1909-1943). Political and spiritual philosopher and writer of prewar and wartime France, Weil explored issues of science, language, and theology. One of the few recognized women scholars of her generation, she completed a thesis on perception in Descartes. In this rewriting of the Méditations, Weil produced one of the first documents on modern existentialism*. A teacher of philosophy, Weil also vigorously pursued a life of intense political and social commitment.
Weil published many prewar studies of German society and politics, as well as comparative commentaries on French and German history. During a year of labor and research as a production-line worker in the Renault and Alsthom factories, Weil wrote La Condition ouvrière ( 1951), one of the most important studies of women's working conditions in French factories. Her daily journal entries documented the inequities between women's and men's wages, and the accidents and physical suffering of women forced to labor in dangerously unprotected sweatshops. Active in the labor union movement, Weil helped industrial leaders and factory owners reform the factory environment.
In 1937 Weil served in Spain as an independent volunteer for the Republican struggle against Franco. When Hitler invaded France, the Weil family fled first to Marseilles, then to America. Weil returned to Europe and worked for De Gaulle's Free French organization in London; during this time, she completed a commissioned study on the reasons for France's fall in 1940--a provocative work that was published posthumously by Camus as Enracinement ( 1949). Having limited herself to the ration of food and drink allowed her French compatriots living under German occupation, Weil died in 1943 from pulmonary pneumonia. Through her activism and writings, Weil helped to enlighten society as to the inequities and cruelty imposed on workers--women in particular-- and inspired in ensuing generations a more humane ethos and a renewal of