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Le Soir Illustré
September 14, 1989
N° 2986, pp 4-20

All Simenon

Album of a prodigious life

Curious since childhood
Houses with a view
Is communication closer
Three brief encounters
Liège lived in Simenon
The Simenon atmosphere
Jean Richard will make his 92nd
I'm the last Parisian
The Legacy at Liège
The author of the naked man
His handwriting reveals
original French

Curious since childhood, he enmeshed himself
in the labyrinth of human nature

He was born on Friday the 13th.
His mother declared him born on Thursday the 12th.

Simenon's life started with a little lie. Born during the night of February 12-13, 1903, in Liège, at ten minutes after midnight, his official date of birth was the 12th... because the 13th was a Friday, and his mother, Henriette, didn't want to start him off on the wrong foot. He would re-establish the truth himself in several books, unless it was simply a desire to tempt fate, one of those discreet nose-thumbings of which he held the secret all his life.

In his family, life was small. His father, Desiré, was a model employee, who prefered perfection in his work – and peace – to the risks of advancement and more responsibilities. There was no point in counting on him to bring in the family fortune. What is remembered about him is that he was big, and that he had an elegant gait... not especially the portrait of a remarkable character. Henriette was a penny-pincher until her death, always trying to put aside a franc, and wondering, when she visited her now rich son, whether he didn't risk being put out into the street from one day to the next. It was because she knew him, her Georges! She had tried to find him a "good position". But studies didn't attract him. He had apprenticed to a confectioner at 16... but for two weeks only. Then, because books interested him, he got himself hired as a clerk in a bookstore... but that lasted two months! Georges Simenon began to slip through his parents' fingers, coming home later and later, drunker and drunker. He borrowed money from his father to drink, or to pay for girls... The bad road, in a word. Nevertheless...

He probably already knew at that moment that what he really wanted to do was to write. At least that is what, in 1939, he told André Gide, with whom he maintained a long correspondence. He described the future that he saw for himself: "At 12, I wanted to be a priest or an officer, the only means, it seemed to me, to write while earning my living. At 16 I announced while crossing the Pont des Arches one foggy night: 'at 40 I will be a minister or an academic' (impossible, of course). And since the age of 18, I've known that I want to become a complete novelist one day, and I know that a novelist's work doesn't even begin before 40 at the youngest."

To become a novelist you need training. So Simenon presents himself at La Gazette de Liège where, surprisingly, he is hired. Very soon, he is writing daily columns, dealing with a little of everything. He opens himself to all horizons, meeting people in all surroundings. In 1920, his father dies. In spite of Regina Renchon, the young painter whom he has decided to marry, Georges Simenon is suffocating in Liège. He writes his first novel, Au pont des Arches, published at his own expense. It is time for his first uprooting.

Paris will be the next stage. He disembarks at the Gare du Nord, suitcase in hand, with just enough in his pocket to last a month. For someone who has always spent more than he earned, there is not much time to waste. He becomes secretary to an aristocrat, and he writes quickly. Multiplying his pseudonyms, he submits stories to various papers – risqué tales, police stories... On the keys of an old rented typewriter – he couldn't afford his own – he produced up to eight stories a day. If the saying goes "submit your work a hundred times...", for him it was hundreds of times. Before 1929 he published under various pseudonyms (such as Georges Sim, the most straightforward, but also Gom Gut, Plick and Plock, Poum and Zette, Aramis, etc.) some 1,000 tales in popular romance magazines and newspapers, and close to 200 novels in the low-priced popular collections.

The pot was boiling, but he didn't consider himself a novelist yet.


GRAND DAD – "My true métier is that of father of the family," attests Georges Simenon. In 1959 his third and last son, Pierre-Nicolas-Chrétien was born...

On the other hand, he was starting to have more money. If you write up to eighty pages of a novel in a day, it makes sense that the cash register rings more often. Now, taken with a sudden passion for everything about the sea, he has a boat built: "The one I'm dreaming of, what I want, is a robust boat, somewhat squat, like those of the fishermen of the North, spacious enough so that the four of us can live aboard, Tigy, Boule, Olaf and me." Tigy is his wife, Regina, rebaptised because Simenon prefers names that he invents to the real ones of the people who surround him. Boule is actually Henriette, and will play an important role in his life and that of his children: sometimes servant, sometimes maid, she will especially be a faithful and discreet lover. As for Olaf, he is the dog, a Great Dane.

The great breakthrough is in sight... At Delfzijl, Holland, on an abandoned barge "where rats swam", while his boat was being worked on, he writes Pietr-le-Letton. Principal character... a certain Commissioner Jules Maigret of the P.J. of Paris, age 45. It is September 1929, and Simenon has just found one of his two paths. The "Maigrets" will begin to appear in 1931 at Fayard, and that year there will already be eleven, including Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien and Le Chien jaune.

But Simenon is still not satisfied. Hardly has the series of detective novels begun to meet with success than in July, 1931, he looks for other horizons with what he will call his romans durs, "hard novels". He says of this second breakthrough, "Two years later, when the series began to appear monthly, I was no longer an apprentice, but a novelist, a true professional. After another two years, I would free myself of the detective novel to write the novels that would be born in me."

From 1931 to 1971, from Le Relais d'Alsace (The Man from Everywhere) to Les Innocents (The Innocents), he produced 117 "hard" novels against 76 of his "standard" Maigrets. The balance is obviously in favor of the more psychological literature over the detective. But Simenon penetrated farther into the dark labyrinth of human nature. He suffered more and more while writing his books – which may also be the reason he wrote them more and more quickly – and with the approach of the 70th the creator cracked: "On September 18, 1972, which, if I remember correctly, was a Sunday, I went down to my office as usual. I was to follow a regular predetermined pattern: I had decided to write on the yellow envelope on which I note the identity of my characters of a new novel. That novel, which I had entitled "Oscar", was one of the most difficult, in my mind, that I'd ever attempted. For four months, or maybe more, I had carried it within me. I intended to put all my human experience into it, and that is why I had hesitated so long to begin it. I went back up to my room with great satisfaction, a real relief. Finally, there it was! However, on the 19th, the following day, I suddenly decided, without heartbreak, without drama, to put the Epalinges house that I had had built ten years before, up for sale."

But Simenon was above all the "Great Dad" as she said lovingly, of Marie-Jo. She is seven in this photo which shows the fascination of which he was the object. From infancy she had formed an attachment which linked them. Marie-Jo, fledgling actress, committed suicide in Paris at age 25.

At the same time, and as a logical consequence, Simenon definitely gave up the novel. Not that he remained very long without producing – but this time, it was a period dedicated exclusively to memories, to his "Dictations" in which he wanders between the past and the present. A last rich production again, of 23 volumes, but as much a mask as a succession of revelations. By trying to appear as he truly is, Simenon scrambles his tracks more than ever. To know the man it is necessary to delve deeply into his private life, with less remorse than he has spoken of many times.

Women, of course, constitute one of the keys to Georges Simenon. His mother, first, then his two legitimate wives, Regina and Denyse, as well as his two faithful companions, Boule and Térésa, and finally, all the others, prostitutes and easy women who always conquered him with their incredible faculty of welcome and their infinite reserves of tenderness.

Marie-Jo, his daughter, occupies an intermediate position between women and children. For the love she had for her father was total. Perhaps Marie-Jo was for Simenon the ideal woman, finally met... but she committed suicide in May, 1978. The father was from then on the orphan of his daughter. He who had dedicated so much time, so much love and attention to his children, could not undergo a greater loss. But the loss of Marie-Jo didn't erase Marc, Johnny or Pierre, the adored sons. At Marc's birth, Simenon had answered a journalist who asked what he considered his main activity, "Father of the family!" A shout from the heart that says much!

Third and (tentatively) last key to Simenon's existence: the succession of his domiciles and his moves. There was in this man a curious need to constantly move while being more and more at home. A paradox that he was able to have lived, thanks to his fortune.

The enormous success of his books, the numerous adaptations to movies and television, made Simenon a universally known writer. Possibly a certain snobbery of intellectuals reticent before his success was the last obstacle to the total recognition of his genius. Gide had already written to him in 1938, "You pass for a popular author and you never write for the general public at all. The very topics of your books, the fine psychological problems that you raise, all are addressed to the sensitive, to precisely those who think – to the extent that they haven't yet read you – 'Simenon doesn't write for us'."

The novelist has been silent since 1972, but that doesn't prevent the man who disappeared today from marking his century – ours – deeply.

Pierre Maury

translation: Stephen Trussel
Honolulu - January 2006

86 years of a life filled with happiness,
but also a tragedy – his daughter's suicide

Wasn't she beautiful, Marie-Jo, starting off in the world of the stage!

Until the day...


Baptism at Echandens, in 1959. l to r, 1st row: Mme Denise Simenon, Jean, the baby Pierre-Nicolas-Chrétian on the lap of Mme Achard. In the rear, Simenon and his eldest son Marc, of his first wife Regina Renchon. [and Marie-Jo and M Archard(?)]


Denise and Georges Simenon taking a walk with their three children, Jean, Pierre-Nicolas-Chrétien and Marie-Jo, in Echandens, 1961.


With his brother, Christian. Georges is on the right.


At the end of his life, an ironic regard for people.


In the immense library of the Epalinges house, among his innumerable works.


The mother of Georges Simenon on the doorstep of the house in the rue Pasteur, in Liège.


Le Soir Illustré
September 14, 1989
N° 2986, pp 4-20

All Simenon

Album of a prodigious life

Curious since childhood
Houses with a view
Is communication closer
Three brief encounters
Liège lived in Simenon
The Simenon atmosphere
Jean Richard will make his 92nd
I'm the last Parisian
The Legacy at Liège
The author of the naked man
His handwriting reveals
original French


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