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Georges Simenon. Official photograph
on arriving in New York to live in
America, 1945. Collections Fonds Simenon.

A Belgian Appreciation of Georges Simenon

By Herman Dehennin

Ambassador of Belgium to the United States

Not many know that Georges Simenon, who wrote about French Detective Maigret while living in Switzerland, is Belgian-born. Nevertheless, as a Belgian scholar has rightly written, "there would be no Simenon, as we know him, without Liège." The writer himself has said: "What you have not absorbed by the time you reach the age of eighteen you will never absorb. It is finished. You will be able to develop what you have absorbed. You will be able to make something or nothing at all of it, but your time for absorption is over and for the rest of your life, as a consequence, you will be branded by your childhood and early adolescence."

Simenon grew up in the crowded quarter of Liège known as Outre-Meuse, between the river and the canal, a neighborhood of shopkeepers and artisans where generations of Simenons had lived. Although very few of Simenon's works are set in Belgium — the best known Belgian novel is Le bourgmestre de Furnes — attentive readers will find the influence and mood of Liège in nearly all his work.

In fact, Simenon may be considered quintessentially Belgian. Born of a French-speaking father and a Dutch-speaking mother, Simenon himself seems to possess characteristics of both the Latin and Germanic cultures which reach a point of confluence in my country. And Belgium is proud of him. In 1973 the University of Liège conferred on him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa. The idea of gathering together at Liège documents pertaining to the novelist took shape and resulted in the creation of "The Georges Simenon Study Centre". Today its collection comprises thousands of documents — novels, bound manuscripts, films, letters and photographs — concerning one of Belgium's favorite sons, Georges Simenon.

Herman Dehennin
Ambassador of Belgium to the United States

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