I first became aware of Simone Weil more than twenty years ago, when I was a young screenwriter enjoying some early success in Hollywood, getting paid handsomely for writing and rewriting movies that never got produced. I disliked the business and most of what I wrote, but lacked the courage to walk away. In search of my lost, best self, I took to reading the existential philosophers who had inspired me in college: Kierkegaard, Pascal, Sartre and Camus. When I discovered that Camus, an atheist, had revered Simone Weil, a Christian mystic, I sought out her slim oeuvre—most of which had been published posthumously. Weil was virtually unknown as a philosopher when she died of tuberculosis in 1943, at the age of thirty-four.
I will never forget the words that first caught my eye when Gravity and Grace fell open in my hands: I rather think that God prefers the atheist to those who look to religion only for consolation. In Simone Weil I found a lifelong companion and counselor to contemplate the wonder of existence and the mystery of God—without the need to surrender my intellect to the dogma of Christianity, or any other religious institution. The critic, Leslie Fiedler, wrote that Simone Weil, since her death, “has come to seem more and more a special exemplar of sanctity for our time—the Outsider as Saint in an age of alienation.”
In reimagining the life of Simone Weil (through the character of Sabine Arnaud), I allowed her to realize the dream that had consumed her since the start of World War II—to fight for the liberation of France. But I’ve also tried to convey in this work of fiction the moral courage and sacrificial love that Weil displayed during her short life—as well as expose the reader to fragments of her philosophical writing.
Sabine Arnaud’s co-protagonist in The Red Virgin, Craig Martin, is autobiographical only in the sense that he’s a jaded Hollywood writer, as I was in my youth, afflicted by the cynical nihilism of our age—yet yearning for a glimpse of the sublime, the sacred, and the unknown God.