Written Books & Plays

The French Historical Narrative and the Fall of France: Simone Weil and her Contemporaries Face the Debacle

Christine Ann Evans
Book Abstract

The fall of France in June 1940, La Débâcle, posed a challenge to France’s understanding of itself. Could the existing “sacred” narrative of French history established by the Third Republic hold in the face of the defeat of France’s military and political systems, both built upon its foundations?

Christine Evans

The French Historical Narrative and the Fall of France: Simone Weil and her Contemporaries Face the Debacle focuses on assessments of the debacle and places Simone Weil’s writings of 1938 to 1943 within this continuum. This study recreates the debate in those fraught years to posit a “horizon of expectations” within which to place and better appreciate Simone Weil’s writing of the period, far-reaching and bold but hardly “crazy” (as De Gaulle is said to have characterized her ideas).

  • Lexington Books (forthcoming: July 15, 2022)

Advance Praise

“Drawing on historiography, literary theory, and narrative psychology, among other fields, Christine Ann Evans’s carefully researched and wide-ranging book serves to locate important threads of Simone Weil’s thought within the fabric of French history.  Weil was an outlier and rebel, fiercely committed to the truth and to the arduous project of bringing it forth, no matter the consequences.  She was also a true servant of “the needs of the soul,” one who cared enough about France and its people to give herself over to its cause — even if that meant repudiating those triumphalist, “sacred” narratives so readily embraced and enshrined.  Evans’s fascinating story does well to capture both the rebel and the servant, and also sheds valuable light on the deep politics of both historical memory and national identity.”

Mark Freeman, Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society, College of the Holy Cross, author of Hindsight: The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward (Oxford UP, 2010)

“Written in a highly engaging and accessible manner, this book shows the riches nested within Simone Weil’s reflections on history. Offering readers a detailed contextualist study, Evans demonstrates the degree to which Weil engaged insightfully with her contemporaries on French history and effectively challenged complacent national narratives. It is a must-read for all Weil scholars.”

Sophie Bourgault, University of Ottawa

“Dr. Christine Evans’s excellent study clarifies the historical backdrop that frames Simone Weil’s condemnation of the “untruths and half-truths” contained in the Third Republic’s “sacred history,” because, in her opinion, they contributed to the Fall of France in 1940. Innovatively using narrative theory and narrative psychology, Evans presents the manipulative effect of the false version of events. Simone Weil counters this deceit with her impassioned plea in L’Enracinement (The Need for Roots) for an honest historical portrayal, essential to constructing a milieu vital that nourishes what is sacred in every person. Evans’ conclusion presciently evokes the two “starkly different narratives and visions of the future” presently competing in the United States built on 1619 and 1776 as parallels to the debates prior to the fall of France.”

E. Jane Doering, University of Notre Dame

About the Author

Christine Ann Evans is professor emerita of comparative literature at Lesley University and the author of “Simone Weil et la justice d’après-guerre” in Robert Chenavier & Thomas Pavel, eds., Simone Weil, réception et transposition (Garnier, 2019). She holds a BA and MA from Stanford University and a MA and Ph.D. from Harvard University.



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