About Weil André Weil

About André Weil

André and Simone Weil
André Weil © Sylvie Weil, published with permission
  • André Weil, The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, UK: Birkhauser (1992). 
  • Sylvie Weil, At Home with André and Simone Weil (Northwestern University Press 2010, paperback: 2020)
  • Karen Olsson, The Weil Conjectures: On Math and the Pursuit of the Unknown, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2019)
  • Desmond Avery, “Simone Weil, Philosopher, According to Andre Weil, Mathematician, in Fifty Unpublished Letters to Richard Rees, Editor,” Cahiers Simone Weil, vol. 29, no. 3 (September 2006), pp. 299-312.

Among other places, Simone’s letters to her brother André appear in Simone Weil: Seventy Letters, New York: Oxford University Press, Richard Rees, trans. & ed. (1965), pp. 112-127: (Jan.-April, 1940), and pp. 133-135 (Oc. 1941-1942), pp. 184-185 (April 1943). Excerpts also appear in numerous places in Simone Pérement’s Simone Weil: A Life, New York: Pantheon Books, Raymond Rosenthal trans. (1976).

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Unless otherwise noted, the André Weil quotations below, with bracketed pagination, were excerpted from “André Weil, a Scientist, Discusses His Sister with Malcolm Muggeridge,” in David Raper, et al, eds, Simone Weil: Gateway to God, UK: Fontana Books, 1974, pp. 148-160 (transcribed from a 1973 Good Friday  BBC documentary titled “The Life and Death of Simone Weil”).

America (traveling to)

When André arrived in New York, Simone wrote to him about her views about coming to the United States: 

  • “[M]y attitude has not changed.  I don’t wish to stay in America for a whole pile of reasons . . . the fact of being far from Europe would make me suffer to the point of losing all moral equilibrium.  Being in France, the stories about, for instance, famine in France don’t upset me; even if a real famine occurred, I would undergo it like the others and my imagination would not be unduly affected by it; but in America, even though theoretically I know very well the exaggerations that newspapers are capable of, reading articles on this subject would upset me enormously.  Whether it be simply from an instinct of self-preservation or not, I must above all avoid going over there to live.” 

“I make an exception for only one circumstance: the circumstance in which the voyage would permit me to realize my [front-line nurses] project.  But as to this I want certainty . . .  There are three problems: the money, the official authorizations, and the material means . . . .” {Simone Pérement, pp. 396-97}

Baptism 

  • “I remember one particular conversation I had with her where she mentioned that there were a number of serious objections against her being baptized as a Roman Catholic, and I said: ‘After all, your objections would be exactly the same if you were to convert yourself to Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism or almost anything else.’ And she said: ‘Yes, that’s about my position.’” [p. 155]  

Bhagavad Gita 

  • “One of the books that influenced her most was the Bhagavad Gita.” [p. 155]  

Being Jewish

  • “I remember that during the war someone told me I was Jewish and I just didn’t know what that meant. . . . Being baptized was the most unpleasant thing that could happen to a person in a family with a Jewish background.” [p. 153]  

Christianity 

  • “I was not aware how close she had come to the Christian way of thinking until I saw her in America.” [p. 155]  
  • “I think her view seems to have been that all religions were essentially one and the same.” [p. 155]  
  • “You have as many reasons to be Buddhist, Taoist  etc. as Catholic.” {Letter á un religieux, Paris:  Gallimard, 1951, p. 79}

Early Education

Owing to Dr. Bernard Weil’s need to be on the move as a French Army physician, the family moved around a lot.  

  • “Instead of following the regular classes, we took lessons mostly by correspondence and did a bit at one school and a bit at another.” [p. 149]  
  • [circa 1914-1916] “With the exception of Africa, my mother wanted to follow him to all [his military] posts, trailing us – my sister and me – along with her; usually my grandmother Hermine accompanied us as well.  These travels, hardly conducive to a program of regular studies, were actually of a much greater benefit to us than a conventional school career.” André Weil, The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, Boston: Birkhäuser Verlag (1992), p. 22.

Gaullists 

  • “She had discussions with the Gaullists in America and what she disliked most of all was their total intolerance towards anyone who was what they described as a ‘collaborator’ in France. . . . She was of course condemned to be on bad terms with almost everybody – it was with her an old experience. Everybody considered her an enemy because she could see through them very quickly.” [p. 157]  
  • “[Question]: Did she really believe that she was going to influence the Gaullists?”

“I don’t think she gave any though to that question. . . . She started writing [L’Enracinement] and was so carried away by the subject that she wrote a whole book. I don’t think she stopped for a moment to think whether this would influence people. I wrote her a rather silly letter saying she must take good care of herself, because the future needed her. And she answered back by saying: the future needs me no more than I need it.” [p. 159]  

Headaches

  • “One time she even apparently contemplated suicide due to get out of it [migraine headaches]  — that was some time before the war.” [p. 149]  

Last Letter 

  • “[Her last letter] was written less than a month before her death . . . [it] remained unknown even to me until quite recently. The letter was directed to a man called Louis Closon, . . . and it remained for many years in the possession of Maurice Schumann.” [pp. 156-157]  
  • “That last letter to Louis Closon refutes completely the thesis of a kind of suicide on her part. It says: ‘I am broken into pieces. The only people who could pick up the pieces and put them together temporarily would be my parents, and of course they are out of reach. But possibly I and they will come together in Algiers.’ . . . She was – to discuss things in Christian terms – entirely resigned to the will of God about herself.  In fact, her whole attitude during her last illness may fairly be described as saying to God: ‘If you want me to live, you will preserve me: if you don’t want to preserve me, then I  am perfectly happy and ready to die.’ And so she died.” [p. 160]  

Mathematics 

  • “She acquired an interest in mathematics, a strong interest, but much later, as a consequence of her studies in philosophy.” [p. 150]  
  • In a letter to her brother, Simone wrote:

“Present day mathematics, considered either as science or as art, seems to me singularly far from the world. Could not an effort of reflection and criticism being it closer? . . . It is one of the goals to which I would have loved to devote my entire life, but, alas, I have several goals. . . . Let us hope that my future reincarnations will suffice to satisfy my many different longs.” {Simone Pérement, pp. 368-369}

Nietzsche 

  • André was quite taken by Nietzsche as a writer. When he expressed his admiration to Simone, she wrote back:

“We are quite far apart on the subject of Nietzsche. He inspires in me no inclination to treat him lightly; only an invincible, almost physical reaction. Even when he expresses things I believe, he is literally intolerable to me.” {Simone Pérement, p. 369}

Nurses Corps

  • “The idea may have been a good one in the First World War, but the circumstances had become completely different. ” [p. 156]  
  • “Simone [made] desperate efforts to get herself sent on a mission to France, most certainly to her death . . . .”  {The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, p. 183}

Philosophy & Religion 

  • “[I]n her later years . . . she certainly would not have drawn a line between philosophy and religion. She would have said the two are practically identical.” [p. 150]  

Speaking German 

  • “My parents always spoke German between themselves when my sister and I were not supposed to  understand, as a consequence of which we acquired a good deal of German and understood it perfectly.” [p. 150] 

Simone’s Death

  • “Nothing . . . prepared me for the telegram I received from a close friend, Madame {Thérèse] Closon; to this day the telegram remains etched in my mind: ‘Simone died peacefully yesterday, she never wanted to let you know.’” {The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, p. 183}
  • According to André, upon hearing of his daughter’s death, Dr. Weil 
  • “began to cry” “for the first time in his life. ‘Our poor little Simonette,’ he said (this had been his name for her when she was little); ‘she loved us so much.’ Then, thinking of my mother, he said, ‘How can we break it to her?’ After hearing the news, she talked of committing suicide, the two of them together. It took some time to get her to let go of this notion.” {The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician, p. 184}

Suffering 

  • “[In returning to London in December of 1942], she thought she would do something useful, but most of all she wanted to share in other people’s suffering . . . she was not looking for suffering for its own sake – but when others were suffering, she wanted to have her share of it.” [p. 158]  

Sugar & Chocolate for Soldiers {WWI}

  • “My mother told the story to some of my sister’s biographers, who made more of it than it deserved.” [p. 152] 

Trotsky

  • “[W]hen Trotsky came to Paris and his friends in Paris just didn’t know where they could find a sleeping place for him, my sister arranged for him to spend, I think, a couple of nights [at our home]. They had a long conversation. . . . [The conversation ended with Trotsky] saying to her: ‘I see you disagree with me in almost everything.  Why did you put me up in your house? Do you belong to the Salvation Army?’” [p. 154]  

A series of quotes from André and Simone as collected from their letters to one another and likewise from Andre’s The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician.

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