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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 the writer

In spite of his enormous popular success, Simenon was never recognized with a literary prize.

A star never honored

Joëlle Smets

Fonds Simenon
The cinema gave another life to the literary work of Simenon. Already in 1932, he was working on a film adaptation of "A Man's Head" with Valery Inkijnoff.

He never received the Goncourt, nor the Nobel, nor any other great literary prize. Never during his life did Georges Simenon see his work recognized. However, he would be, with Agatha Christie, the most read novelist in the world. Simenon suffered from this absence of recognition. He dreamed of being considered a great writer. In vain. The world of "great" literature was then too filled with prejudice, feeling a certain condescendence for the detective genre, fantasizing on the image of a writer, an isolated man, an acknowledged intellectual, writing a work, polishing his style, but being in no case able to support himself by his writing. How then could they recognize a mystery writer, so popular and prolific, who lived by his pen? How could they consider an author who could write five books per year, not putting in more than 10 days to reach the end of a novel? No respectable writer could have anything in common with such a "writing phenomenon". Pierre Assouline writes in his biography that Simenon didn't have the sober and reserved attitude of the Gallimard authors, and in that holy of literary holies that is the house of French publishing, he made noise, hummed to himself, joked with the secretaries. However, it was this same enfant terrible of French publishing who argued with Gaston Gallimard and came off the winner, and who will enter, next May 6, into the most prestigious literary collection of all, that of the Pléiade. Simenon is finally one of the immortals.

How can we explain the immense popular success of Simenon?

"By the fact that the stories that he tells are ours," says Benoît Denis, professor of Romance Languages and Literature at the University of Liège, and author of numerous notes in the Pléiade Simenon edition. Across the hundreds of Simenon's writings, we can extract a recurrent theme, that of a man, more rarely a woman, who leads an everyday existence until undergoing an event which turns everything upside down. And then to tell the story of how the person reacts when the break occurs. All his life, Simenon had been possessed by this story, which is somewhat his own, he who left everything at 19 for Paris, and never ceased to repeat his breaks, changing ceaselessly his countries and abodes."

"This story of everyday life shattered by some event is the story of all of us," specifies Jacques Dubois, professor emeritus of the University of Liège and editor of the Pléiade Simenon edition. "It responds to a universal question, how to accept the banality when everyone tells us that life is meaningful only when it is transformed by destiny."

What are the recurrent themes in his work?

"There are the themes of deviance, of the family," continues Benoît Denis. "His work is a continual family drama which doesn't exactly reflect his own life. His creation isn't autobiographical, even if some elements of his life are found in his novels, but completely changed. For example, there is his story of a gold watch, received from an adored father, given to a black prostitute in payment. This event is found, but transformed, in "The Watchmaker of Everton," where a son breaks with his father... who is a watchmaker."

What qualities made him the writer he became?

"Simenon said that he had no imagination," says Benoît Denis. "He had rather the faculty of rearranging his memories. And rather than the force of working, I would speak of an extraordinary capacity for concentration such that he spoke of a "trance" when he wrote. He was plunged into his writing to the point of being able to cry or vomit, so strongly was he taken by what he was writing. To explain his incredible success, I would also speak of his tenacity. Very early, Simenon knew what he wanted to become, and even when he was poorly received, he knew to stick to what he believed. When he spoke to Fayard proposing his character Maigret, the publisher was skeptical, arguing that a hero so plain would never appeal to the public... but Maigret was an immediate success. Gide also offered him literary counsel, that he never followed."

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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