Religion: The Holy Fool

By most standards, Simone Weil was an absurd and unattractive woman. Almost constantly ailing, painfully humorless and so intense she was either irritating or ridiculous, she agonized through a short life of 34 years and died in 1943 in a gesture that seemed to typify her gift for futile heroics. She virtually starved herself to death in England by refusing, though she was weak and ill, to eat more than the wartime ration for her native France.

Her death left no particular gap—even among French intellectuals—because she had never seemed to belong anywhere. As...

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