Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Eccentric Heroines

My earliest readers remember when I strove to post a Seraphic Single of the Day, not just the Week. The list on the right is mostly compiled from these Singles. And when I first shopped my MS to publishers, I felt a little embarrassed that there was so much me and not enough them in it. But to my great surprise, publishers did not like my Seraphic Singles of the Day. One American editor went so far as to pick apart the characters of the Singles. Dorothy Day (unsurprisingly) was fine, but Muriel Spark was deemed unpleasant to her son. And Greta Garbo was hardly a good role model, etc, etc.

I was very surprised. Having been brought up on both Heroines of God and stories of Famous Canadian Women, I thought a collection of stories about Famous Single Women would be a wow. (And maybe it would outside the "Christian" market.) But what I didn't factor in was that for Catholic publishers, models are almost always Saints. Saints, I say! And most Catholic female saints were either nuns or mistakenly lumped in with nuns. (St. Catherine of Siena was a third-order, not second-order, Dominican, so she's one of you, my little Singles!)

Maybe this is not super-orthodox, but when it comes to the Single life, I am more interested in how celebrated Singles coped and prospered than in their personal holiness. In days of yore, it was even tougher for non-priests to be Single instead of Married or in Religious Life than it is today, so I find celebrated Singles of the past deeply inspiring. And because there are relatively few of them, I have been willing to look the other way in regards to their sexual sins, especially if they were in theatre or at least kept clear of open scandal.

With (Simone Weil), one does not have to overlook sexual sins, since she didn't seem to have had any, ever. Sins of the flesh were not Simone Weil's style, since the flesh itself was not Simone Weil's style. St. Jerome could have been Simone Weil's homeboy. And, like St. Jerome's disciple Blaesilla, Simone Weil finally died of her excessive fasting.

But Simone Weil was one of the most intelligent (and pigheadedly consistent) Frenchwomen of her generation. She placed first in the entrance examination for her class in the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. (Simone de Beauvoir came in second.) She taught and wrote philosophy. A pacifist, she made herself take part in the Spanish Civil War because she cared about the outcome and thought anyone who did ought to fight, and not leave it to other people to suffer in one's place. A socialist, she made herself take a gruelling factory job which damaged her health. A mystic, she became deeply Roman Catholic and yet refused to be baptised because she preferred to stay on the margins.

Simone! The woman died almost sixty years before I was born, but she drives me nuts. You can't be a Christian without even the desire for baptism, Simone! Argh! Starving yourself in solidarity with the French under the Vichy regime doesn't help anyone, Simone! Argh!

But because many Single people, especially Single people who are geniuses, do drive their wellwishers crazy with their stubborn adherence to their eccentricities, Simone Weil (1909-1943) is our Seraphic Single of the Week.


Dominic Mary said...

Speaking from my own experience (though not necessarily about myself), I do wonder whether it is a general characteristic of most Serious Singles, anyway, to be at least a little crazy !

Seraphic said...

Now, I have to contradict you on that one, since I know lots of absolutely sane Serious Singles, mostly priests.

However, sometimes long-term Singles (like me before May 9) can develop some odd habits, the kind that spouses cure you of, like never, ever, ever going to the doctor, collecting too many pets, and talking to oneself. Some express themselves with immoderate enthusiasm or passion when they speak and don't choose words suited to their audience. This is what can happen if you're too isolated and forget "company" manners.