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The writer, the writing,
and the relationship to time

by Murielle Wenger

original French

I'd like to return here to a theme I've already addressed several times, namely Simenon's relationship with the passage of time, focusing on the writing in the novels, and examining this chronology with regard to the course of a year. I've already discussed the relationship between the month of the writing and that of the action in the novel (see here), as well as the quantitative relationship between Maigrets and non-Maigrets written in a given year (see here).

This analysis will take up once more some of these elements, refining and supplementing them.

We'll begin with an overview of the chronology of Simenon's production, including only works in the author's real name, beginning with the year 1930. We have, since that year, a fairly precise idea of the date of the writing of the novels, and it was in 1930 that the first non-Maigret novel signed in the name of the author appeared. At that point Simenon abandoned almost completely his "commercial novels", produced under various pseudonyms, although these continued to appear fairly regularly until the end of the decade.

The year 1930 thus saw the completion, in the spring, of the first "official" Maigret, Pietr le Letton, [LET] then the writing, in the summer, of two other Maigrets, followed, in the fall, by the first non-Maigret signed 'Simenon', and then another Maigret. 1931 is the year of eight Maigrets, written between March and December, along with some stories and a non-Maigret novel in July. In 1932, five Maigret novels written between January and May, then three non-Maigrets in the fall. From 1933, the proportion is reversed. In January, Simenon wrote a non-Maigret, then in April, what he thought would be his final Maigret (L'écluse no 1) [ECL], then the rest of the year dedicated to the writing of five non-Maigrets, the last two of which were his first publications at Gallimard, the publisher Simenon had just joined. In January, 1934, he wrote the last Maigret of the Fayard period, and abandoned definitively (he believed) his Chief Inspector to write four non-Maigrets. From 1935 to 1938, Simenon wrote 24 non-Maigrets, plus numerous stories, with and without Maigret.

 

1939 marks the first turning point. After writing five non-Maigrets, the author picks up his character again in December, for the first of the six Maigret novels published by Gallimard (Les caves du Majestic [MAJ]). The year 1940 begins with a Maigret, followed by two non-Maigrets and numerous short stories, and finishes with another Maigret. 1941 consists of four non-Maigrets, and a single Maigret; 1942, two non-Maigrets and one Maigret; 1943, three non-Maigrets and one Maigret, the last of the Gallimard period. In 1944, Simenon wrote two non-Maigrets, and in 1945 a non-Maigret and numerous stories, as well as the first story and the first Maigret novel of the Presses de la Cité series, Maigret se fâche [FAC], which was the last written on French soil before the departure for the American Dream.

 

We will focus on the Presses de la Cité cycle, since it's the best documented with regard to the dates of the writing of the novels, allowing us a more detailed analysis.

From this period, Simenon will alternate more or less regularly between the Maigrets and the non-Maigrets. Every year, from 1946 to 1972, at least one Maigret appears among the non-Maigrets, in some years as many as four. But the ratios of the two types of writing show the attachment of the author to his character. For the 27 years considered, 10 count as many Maigrets as non-Maigrets, seven show a production of one-third Maigret to two-thirds non-Maigret, and five years count two Maigrets of the five novels written. We even find two years with two Maigrets to one non-Maigret, and one year with three Maigrets and only one non-Maigret.

We can also observe that, within the year, the writing of a Maigret does not occupy a trivial position. It's often the first novel to open the annual production (in 15 of the 27 years considered), and it may also be the one to close the year (in 9 years out of 27, a full third).

We can tabulate the relationship between the dates of writing of the 61 non-Maigrets and 50 Maigrets, by month of writing, summarized in this chart...

This table shows us that Simenon's production is divided in a non-trivial fashion over the course of a year. First, if we add the Maigrets and the non-Maigrets, we see that it's in June and October that Simenon is most productive, followed by September and March. And November and August are the months in which he wrote the fewest novels.

More interesting is the comparison between Maigrets and non-Maigrets. It seems that there are actually months which favor Maigrets more than others. We find that the winter months, (especially January and February) are more conducive to the development of one of the Chief Inspector's investigations than for one of the "serious" novels, while October is clearly the month for non-Maigrets.

If we divide the novels according to the season of writing, we note that production is more or less equally divided, with, however, a slight increase in the fall.

Fall and spring are the preferred seasons for the writing of non-Maigrets, while it's winter for the Maigrets, as shown in this table...

We can divide the Presses de la Cité cycle into two large periods, the first ten years (1946 to 1955) which make up the great American period of Simenon's work, and the final fifteen years (1957 to 1972), where the author creates at his Swiss base. The years 1955-1956 are a transition period, a short stay in France.

I've tabulated the counts for the months and seasons of writing, with regard to the place. I've called the first part the "American period", and the second the "Swiss period", leaving aside the two years Simenon was temporarily in France. Here are the results...

It appears from this chart that the writing of the novels did not occur at the same time for Simenon, depending on whether he was in the New World or one of his Swiss domiciles. In the first case, the most favorable time was the end of the year, particularly the month of December (we note that that's especially true for the Maigrets), while in Switzerland, it's in June and October that he was most inspired (for the Maigrets, also February and September).

The seasonal comparison shows us a clear enough difference between America and Europe. In the USA, winter is the season of greatest production, while in Switzerland, it's the fall. The comparison between the Maigrets and the non-Maigret shows us that the former are clearly more frequently written during the winter in the USA, but are divided fairly equally between the four seasons in Switzerland. As for the non-Maigrets, they are divided among the four seasons in the USA, but are more often written in the fall in Switzerland.

Another way to do the analysis is to consider the precise dates of the writing within a given month. So I have prepared a calendar of the days of the writing of the novels...

Gradations of color from yellow to dark red correspond to the dates of writing of the Maigrets. The darker the color in a cell, the more the given day was used to write a Maigret. For example, June 12 was only used once in the writing of a Maigret, while June 18 was used for six Maigrets. Blue cells correspond to the date of writing of a non-Maigret (they may also have been written on the same dates as the Maigrets, the color blue indicates that the date in question was only used for a non-Maigret), and the white cells are days on which Simenon didn't write any novel in the Presses de la Cité corpus.

We note the following points...

  • Mid-June seems a particularly fertile time for the writing of a Maigret novel.

  • Certain periods are reserved exclusively for non-Maigrets, particularly, mid-March, very fecund (the 16th and 16th used for six novels), most of the month of May, mid-October (October 11 used for eight novels).

  • Certain periods are reserved exclusively for Maigret... January 28-31; February 1-11, 14-15, 28, 29; Mar 1, 26, 27; April 30; May 2, 3; July 5, 6, 23-30; August 25-30; November 18-24.

  • It seems also that certain dates are never used for the writing of a novel, whether a Maigret or not. These are essentially dates corresponding to vacation times... From the end of December to the beginning of January, the period of end-of-year celebrations; from the end of March to the beginning of April, more or less corresponding to Easter vacation; mid-May (Ascension Day?); end of July – beginning of August (summer vacation). We note the dates February 12 and 13, which Simenon never used for writing a novel in those years... coincidentally (but is it a coincidence?) these dates correspond to the author's birthday – was he always busy on those days celebrating (with his family)? Or was it a kind of subconscious block, indicating that the author didn't feel up to writing because of his birthday? It's hard to say, especially since we know that the actual writing was preceded by a "preparation time" which lasted, according to the research of Simenon scholars, from one to three days,during which time the author thought about his characters, prepared the famous yellow envelopes, etc.

 

We can also examine the exact dates on which the writing actually began (we know these dates thanks to the calendars Simenon annotated for his work). The first day of writing is important, because that's where it all begins, and the first lines will form the base from which everything can flow – or not, in the case of loss of inspiration. Of course, you would imagine that a writer would make numerous corrections to his first draft, of which he could keep almost anything, depending on how the novel developed. But we know that this is not the case with Simenon, who, from the beginning of a novel, often went straight through to the end, possibly because of that state of preparation he had put himself into. The manuscripts and typescripts preserved by the Fonds Simenon attest that the novelist made numerous corrections of details, but most of the essential framework was present in the first draft.

To examine the starting dates of the writing, I've prepared this chart...

Speaking generally, we can say that the three dates of the month most favorable for beginning a novel are, Maigrets and non-Maigrets combined, the 5th, 11th and 21st. We note also that the first half of a month is more often more fruitful than the second. And we find that it's not the same day of the month used most often for beginning a Maigret and a non-Maigret. The two dates most favorable for beginning a Maigret are the 1st and the 5th, while a "serious novel" is more often begun on the 7th, 8th or 21st. Certain days of the month are never used to begin a Maigret: 3, 4, 7, 28 and 31. For the non-Maigrets, 9, 10, 15, 18, 19, 22 and 30. We note also that the dates April 26, May 1, July 21, and September 5, were each used twice to begin a Maigret, while March 8 and 11, June 21, July 7, October 7 and 8, were each used twice for a non-Maigret. October 5 was used three times for a non-Maigret. The dates June 13 and 17, September 6 and 11, and November 11, were each used to begin both a Maigret and a non-Maigret.

 

Lastly, we can extend the analysis to an examination of which day of the week Simenon wrote his novels, shown here...

Unquestionably, the most favorable day of the week to begin a novel was Tuesday, Maigrets and non-Maigrets combined, followed by Monday. The other days are less used, especially Sunday. We have already seen that Maigret's investigations also begin most often on a Tuesday, or a Monday (see here)... the coincidence is striking, to say the least... There remains what is to be found from the beginning of the framework in the "serious novels" – perhaps some Simenon researcher will attempt the comparison in turn...
 

translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, September 2012

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