chapter  2
19 Pages

The Simone Weil factor

Beginning in the early 1950s, Iris Murdoch falls under the influence of the French religious thinker Simone Weil (1909-43) and accepts from her certain ideas that will leave an indelible mark.1 Murdoch makes no secret of her admiration for Weil, referring to her both in SG and (more insistently) in MGM, where a number of passages are quoted at length; and there are detailed studies by A. S. Byatt2 and Gabriele Griffin3 of how Weil’s thought has informed Murdoch’s fiction. Griffin in particular sets out in the direction I want to take, for she notes in her Introduction that ‘[literary] critics have tended to interrogate in the main those aspects of her work which Murdoch herself highlights for prime consideration. These do not include the issue of gender’4 – so that if Weil’s influence on Murdoch extends to her treatment of this issue, the task of describing its operation will devolve upon the inquisitive reader. This is a task with which Griffin has made substantial progress, but as her book is concerned primarily with the novels rather than the philosophy (and is in any case unable to take account of MGM), it may be worthwhile to attempt a further instalment. I must confess, though, that in my own studies of Weil the best I have been able to do is to accept her ‘in the way you accept nature, a piece of scenery for example’, to recall Wittgenstein’s words about Shakespeare;5 and I should also mention that in order to keep the present discussion within manageable limits, I have used as my main source for Weil’s views the collection of her writings published in Penguin Classics.6