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Le Soir illustré
July 13, 1978
N° 2403, pp 44-46

Mme Simenon's Memoirs
or
Mme Maigret's Marriage?

A psychiatrist analyzes

Marie-Louise Pottier

 
original French

The "footnotes of history", the failings and flaws of great men, fascinate the masses of readers. Who better than their spouses to reveal them? Strange spouses, sometimes adoring, sometimes self-important, sometimes treacherous.

Among these latter, there was Clara Malraux and her Memoirs.

Today, there is "A Bird for the Cat", (J.-Cl. Simoën. Paris 1978). The bird, Denyse Simenon. The cat, Georges Simenon.

There is nothing but the title in the genre of the Chief Inspector.

A book in which the wife of the novelist recounts the small and great troubles of every day, but above all the failings of "her" man. And still, "failings" is perhaps too kind a word. For, if we believe the author – and many magazines, especially women's magazines – we have a great writer and a very small Monsieur. With manias, psychological problems, a large dose of immorality, egotism and a diabolical will to destroy that which he had earlier taken from a happy and free life. In short, a wife dominated, deceived, beaten, destroyed.

In the beginning, there was Georges. He wrote novels, he was very charming. And then, Denyse, a young Canadian of a good family who had an excellent career. He courted her passionately until she became his mistress. She more or less accepted a ménage à trois until the time when his first wife would agree to a divorce.

She loved him so much that she would go as far as transforming herself to take on the appearance of Mme Maigret... she let her hair grow long, she, who had been so thin, gained weight to become more rounded. She dedicated herself entirely to the ceremonial maniac of writing, all the while trying to improve him by doing away with alcohol. She worked 18 hours out of 24 administering his business affairs...

Then, suddenly, the inexplicable... after 15 years of communal life and three children, love changed to hate, rejection, refusal.

Psychological problems of the writer or the harmful influence of a psychiatrist who became the director of the novelist's thoughts?

Perhaps, but then, what was behind this mysterious transformation of love into hate?

Moreover, everything seems mysterious and leaves the reader perplexed. When we're not troubled by the erotic exposés or viciousness, which strongly resemble a rather sordid settling of conjugal accounts. Even if Denyse defends herself well and affirms that she's only responding to a need to free herself by revealing the truth.

Georges Simenon has refused to respond to the book. In several interviews, he has tried to explain, not the monster, the giant or the accused husband, but "the man," he says, "his wife never accepted".

What is the truth?

Armand Mergen, doctor of law, doctor of medicine and psychiatry from the Free University of Brussels, is professor of criminology at Johannes Gutenberg University, in Mayence.

He met Georges Simenon several years ago, on the occasion of the presentation of a prize he had been awarded by the German Criminological Society. They became friends.

He had read "A Bird for the Cat" with the eye of a friend distressed by this outpouring. For him and for her. But also with the eye of a specialist who analyzes and dissects a "pathological case".

He has given us exclusively the results of his analysis...

"I have not done a psychiatric examination of anyone. While I know Georges Simenon, I do not know Denyse Simenon. I've done an analysis of a character through a book. A very "Maigret" book, for in it we discover one couple, but two women and three men. We also discover there an emotional disorder. There is Denyse, Simenon's wife, who describes in dialogues the life of a heroine, Denise Maigret, with all the resentment that she feels for Jo, her disappointed love. For there is Georges, the man, Simenon, the writer, and Jo, the lover. As there is Denyse, the real woman, and Denise, who recounts, who transfers, only saying what seems useful for her to paint a portrait of an innocent victim. From the beginning, she is possessive. She wants the man she loves to be born at the moment of their meeting. However, Georges and Maigret exist. They are disturbing, because she can't be part of the past. And so she erases them in creating Jo, her love. As for Denyse, she becomes Denise. That makes it easier. That makes it above all more Maigret. Doesn't she say so herself (p. 74)... "The first novel written after we met was Maigret in New York. After reading it, the idea came to me to resemble the famous Chief Inspector's wife."

But that was impossible. Denise was really Jo's mistress, and not Maigret's wife. And Simenon, little by little, became her trauma. Because Simenon was both Maigret and Jo. If Denise was bound to Jo by a passionate and sexual love, Simenon was the genius writer who knew how to work hard, and Maigret remained untouchable. Denyse discovered that she couldn't be both Madame Maigret, Simenon's collaborator, and Jo's mistress. The key to the book and the knot of the personality of the heroine, are found in the scene of the attack (p. 257)...

On the low table before me was a large stone ashtray. I lifted it up in my two hands. 'You see this ashtray, Jo. If you don't lower your arms or you insult me again, you'll get it right in the face.' I put down the ashtray with my eyes never leaving his. 'It would be self-defense.' He slowly lowered his arms and sat down before me. That day I learned that when you showed strength, Simenon backed down.

*
*   *

In reality, it doesn't require a very extensive psychological analysis to recognize that that day, through Simenon, Jo was eliminated, but actually the attack was aimed at Maigret. Maigret discretely omnipresent and omnipotent.

At the end of the novel, everything is tangled up, and the reader has difficulty understanding. According to Denyse, Jo would be depressive and somber in a crisis. Simenon, distraught, would lose confidence in himself and tear up his manuscripts. Maigret would have lost his authority. No madness in it. Georges Simenon explained. He's 75. To write, for him, is always a need, but above all an effort, a performance, the loneliness of the long-distance runner. One fine day, he's tired of it. Tired of his role as novelist and above all, all the accouterments of an affluent and successful novelist.

Denyse Simenon admits that, after working like a maniac, she could no longer sleep, and that the doctors called in for consultation had advised her to take a psychotherapeutic cure. But she didn't want to admit that she was ill. She projected her psychological problems onto those around her... It wasn't she, but Jo, Simenon, Maigret, who needed the treatment. She suffered, she felt abandoned, lost, she was appalled by her psychological state which she wouldn't... couldn't accept. And instead of cooperating with her therapist, she set herself up in opposition, and lost herself, more and more in projections. Jo turned his back on her, it is true, and from that time on, he became an aggressor who wanted to hurt her, and everything became a tragedy.

I don't believe that Denyse Simenon knowingly lies, but she presents an extremely subjective truth that is frightening in its symptomatic content. For what a person lives as subjective reality, what they relate as such, permits us to draw conclusions with regard to their psychological state. Here, in this case, hysterical tendencies. She projects her own feelings onto her partner. A very simple example... she constantly accuses Jo of drinking while she herself was abusing alcohol. And when she reports a dialogue with the doctor treating them (p. 223)... "Tell me the truth, Jean. What did he say to you? (speaking of the psychiatrist)... "That Jo was developing a sort of allergy to you. It's frequent in these sorts of cases. The subject makes a negative transfer...", with regard to her.

*
*   *

Jo, he too, had the intention to write about his life with Denyse. He said so in his book "While I'm Alive" (Presses de la Cite, Paris 1978)... "Yesterday, all day long, I toyed with the idea of a project which had come to mind many times. It was to write a sort of history of a couple. The couple we made, D. and I, for some 15 years, where the dominant theme was passionate love. I'd like to lay bare that couple..."

Jo, himself, neither spoke of Denyse, nor of Denise. For him, over the years, she had become a simple "D", full of uncertainty.

Maigret counseled Jo not to write that book. Simenon decided to renounce the project. Jo won't write his Memoirs. He remains the man of multiple facets. As he is afraid of solitude, he needs a simple woman, who understands him and accepts him as he is... Jo, Simenon and Maigret.

We don't know what Teresa, his present companion, says to him, but we'd like to think that she calls him "Georges".

Marie-Louise Pottier.


In her book, "A Bird for the Cat", Denyse Simenon appears as a dominated wife, betrayed, beaten, destroyed.


Denyse et Georges Simenon, during a display of sympathy, in Liege, 1961.


M. and Mme Simenon at a preview of an exposition by Bernard Buffet (left).


The Simenon family at the baptism of Pierre-Nicolas, on the lap of his godmother, Mme Marcel Achard (1959).

 

translation S. Trussel      
Honolulu, January 2009      


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