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This article is taken from PN Review 144, Volume 28 Number 4, March - April 2002.

Simone Weil's Unfinished Shirt Desmond Avery

Simone Weil, je le sais encore mieux maintenant, est le seul grand esprit de notre temps.
Albert Camus, 1951


                                  Elle est folle!
                                                         Charles de Gaulle, 1942

Simone Weil's composition on the Grimm fairy tale of the six swans,1 which she wrote when she was sixteen, contains the great themes of her life and writing: innocent suffering, sacrificial labour, the power of truth, the power of love, silence, and not laughing.

In this 'topo' she did for philosophy homework, she neatly relates how in the tale a king had six sons and a daughter, and a second wife. As he was afraid of his wife and she had magic powers and he loved his children, he hid them in a castle in the forest, but she found the boys, and put a magic silk shirt on each of them, which turned them into swans. She did not know about the sister, though, who eventually found her brothers. They told her what had happened, and the only way she could save them: by making a shirt out of anemones for each of them within six years, during which she must neither talk nor laugh. She went off and got to work. A king fell in love with her although she neither talked nor laughed, and married her, but each time she had a baby the king's mother stole it and accused her daughter-in-law of killing the child. Still the mysterious young queen ...
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