The Red Virgin, by Clark McCann, reimagines the life of the French philosopher, Simone Weil (1909-1943) through the character of Sabine Arnaud. Weil acquired the pejorative nickname, “red virgin,” at the Sorbonne because of her radical politics, mannish clothes, and asexual nature. During her short life, Weil frustrated all those who might claim her for their own. She was a Christian who refused baptism, a Jew who denied her heritage, a Marxist who denounced communism, and a towering intellect who condemned the intelligentsia for their social privilege and moral cowardice. Perhaps most telling, she was a prophet of love who shrank from the touch of man or woman. The Red Virgin brings the mind and spirit of this fascinating woman to life in a philosophical novel with a plot worthy of a thriller.
The story opens in Los Angeles in 1976. Craig Martin, a jaded sitcom writer, discovers clues among his mother’s effects that a long-dead French philosopher, Sabine Arnaud, might be his birth mother. Arnaud, a refugee from Occupied France, had been a neighbor of his mother in New York in 1942, the year of his birth. Arnaud then left for London, where she hoped to join de Gaulle’s Free French Forces, only to fall ill and die of tuberculosis before realizing her dream of fighting the Nazis. Martin sets off for Europe in search of Arnaud’s past and stumbles on a wartime secret that puts his life in danger. Arnaud’s death may have been faked by British Intelligence before sending her on a mission to Occupied France. As the mystery shrouding Arnaud’s life and death unfolds, Martin follows her trail, a step ahead of those who would silence them both. Alternating between the 1970s and World War II Europe, we follow Martin and Arnaud on their separate journeys, across three continents, until Martin finds the answers he seeks in the remote mountains of Ethiopia.
Issaquah, WA: Solesmes Press, 2019