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Le Soir magazine
February 12, 2003

The Simenon Year

Simenonville remembers
Simenon in Paris
A star never honored
An immense œuvre
Simenon in the Pléiade
Treasures of the Simenon Collection
Intimate Memoirs of a son
His final residence
A life of breaks and changes
On the festival menu
The Simenon Production
They all played Maigret
At the movies, 57 films

original French

Georges Simenon of Liege

René Henoumont was a Liege journalist.
He revives here the Liege of the father of Maigret.

Simenonville remembers Maigret

René Henoumont

Was it raining, in Liege, on the 13th of February, 1903, at ten past midnight? Was it perhaps snowing? What is certain is that a boy called Georges was born on the second floor of Cession Hatters, at 26 Rue Leopold, a few steps from Saint-Lambert Square (1). The wise woman moved a lamp in front of the window and the father knew that all had gone well. A pure sugar son of Liege bawled in his cradle. "The greatest joy that a woman can give to a man," declared his mother, Henriette Simenon, née Brull, of Limbourgers come to the beacon city, de facto capital of Wallonie.

Fonds Simenon
The Simenon family in Liege around 1910.
Georges is between his father and mother.

His father, Désiré Simenon, a tall man, good, shy, with a weak chest, of French descent. A Breton ancestor was a captain in Napoleon's army. Désiré was an accountant in an insurance company. Moustache, white collar, he smoked a pipe. Of the people, conformist, very Catholic. On the night of the 13th, an odor dominated the Rue Léopold, that of Hosay Chocolate and the gas lamps, which could be smelled three houses away.

As for his mother, her grandfather was a lumber merchant, along the old Maestricht canal, a large family, loaded with kids. Exactly 13 children, a failed father who foundered in drink. Henriette never forgot. Throughout her life, Georges's mother (I met her often) would tell me, "Georges is too extravagant." She was "careful with money", as they say in Liege. She washed the sidewalk on Wednesdays and did her marketing on Saturday. After the birth of a second son, Christian, Henriette stopped working at the Innovation notions department. The Simenons left the center city, crossed the Arches bridge (Pont des Arches, the title of Georges's first youthful novel) and established themselves in Outremeuse, at 1 Rue Pasteur (today, 25 Rue Georges Simenon).

Everything fascinated him – a mason constructing, brick by brick, a neighboring house... the tick-tock of the alarm clock, the crackling of the stove, and above all, an armoire in false oak which also crackled... the racket of the tramways (at the time of Rue Léopold)... his father's civil guard rifle.

At the Simenons', everything was reserved, modest, not slovenly. You didn't mention that you were going to the bathroom... They went to mass on Sunday and Désiré bought a rice tart. His first trousers were given by an uncle. They were red, and Georges was dedicated to the Virgin Mary... Henriette would take them back.

His first books were a prospectus distributed during a 1905 exposition, and a tissue paper album illustrated with all the brands of matches. August 15, a small basket hanging from his neck, Georges strewed rose petals behind his grandfather Simenon, one of the eight notables carrying the canopy of the Blessed Sacrament. The school caretaker, Sister Adonie, lighting the gas jets at 3:00 in winter... a lunch box and a plain iron bottle – he would have preferred enamel but Henriette thought it in bad taste.

In 1911 another move, to the Rue de la Loi, where Henriette rented fine rooms to students. Liege was known for its School of Mining. Two thousand foreigners were enrolled at the university. The young boy was fascinated by the foreigners, the icons, the girls, the talk, the clothing...

He was enrolled at the Institute Saint-André where a Brother sucked violet lozenges and took snuff. In 1914, it was war, the "Boches" as they were called. Young Georges was an adolescent... That was another story.

He was a good student at Saint-André, the teacher's pet – 293.5 points out of 315. He was a choirboy – as he would never forget – and Georges never played with the workers' sons. At 12, he entered the Saint-Louis high school, had a mystical phase when he decided to become a priest. He dreamed above all of writing, for he had already read much, thanks to the poet Joseph Vrindts, librarian. But how to earn a living? The young boy had noticed that priests and officers had free time. He would become one or the other. During the summer vacation, when he was only 13, a girl of 15 became his first mistress. He was precocious, young Simenon!

He moved to Saint Servais to be closer to his sweetheart, a student at Saint Veronica's. The woman, women... Georges Simenon had only one idea – not to be like the others, to leave, to have a different life.

At 14, he had read much, the greats of the 19th, the Russians, 12 books a week, Gogol became his new god, then Checkov, Conrad. He smokes a pipe, wartime tobacco made of acorns and oak leaves. He writes, but doesn't finish his third year, his father having but two or three years left to live. He must prepare himself to earn a living. He becomes an apprentice at a confectioners, but lasts no longer than two weeks, preferring to be a clerk at the Georges Bookshop, on Rue Cathédrale. A client asks for "Captain Pamphile". "By Théophile Gautier," says the owner. "No," says the young clerk, "by Dumasils." Once more out of a job.

Fonds Simenon
At the foot of a streetlamp, behind the young boy with the umbrella, Simenon, young journalist of Liege around 1920, already a pipe in his lips.

He wants to be a reporter, and Joseph Demarteau, editor of the Gazette de Liege, good writer, great beard, extreme Catholic, takes him on. For three years, during which under the name "Monsieur le Coq", he produces a column entitled "Out of the hen house," he writes much, get into mischief, follow a dancer behind the scenes. Drunk, he portrayed his boss as "a foul hypocrite with a strawberry in the middle of his face." Resignation? Joseph Demarteau excused him, his reporter already a local star, who'd had his scoops, filched the files from the town hall, announced that they been stolen, and then by chance, found them...

Now we find him in 1922 and little Sim, as he was called, has married Regine Renchon, middle class, a painter. In December, the young couple take the train for Paris. So that Regine can mix, in Montparnasse, with the painters the world is talking about... and so little Sim can conquer Paris.

In Liege – sorry, in Simenonville, more than ever Simenon is present. I reread his last letter... I can see him lighting his pipe...

I can hear him, with his pure sugar Liege accent....


(1) ) It was declared by Désiré and his brother Arthur as February 12. Henriette was superstitious, and the 13th was a Friday.

tr: ST 2/07

Le Soir magazine
February 12, 2003

The Simenon Year

Simenonville remembers
Simenon in Paris
A star never honored
An immense œuvre
Simenon in the Pléiade
Treasures of the Simenon Collection
Intimate Memoirs of a son
His final residence
A life of breaks and changes
On the festival menu
The Simenon Production
They all played Maigret
At the movies, 57 films


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