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magazine littéraire
February, 2003
N° 417, pp 18-68

On the trail of Simenon
  On the trail
Portrait, ads
Every life a novel
Chronology
Liège
Paris
Nièvre
La Rochelle
Africa
Porquerolles
Sables-d'Olonne
New York
Vaud
The writing
At the bookstore
The Simenon Year 
original French

rue des archives   
With his brother Christian (left), around 1908.

1903. Friday, February 13, Georges Simenon is born in Liège, 26 rue Léopold. His father, Desiré Simenon, is a hatter's son, with modest employment in an insurance office in the city. His mother, Henriette Brüll, is the youngest of thirteen children. In July, the Simenons move to the rue de Gueldre.

1906. September 21, Georges's brother Christian is born. The Simenons live in the rue Pasteur, which will become the rue Georges Simenon in 1978. [In Belgium, street names do not use the hyphen.]

1908. Georges is enrolled at the Institute Saint-André school of the Christian Brothers.

1911. The Simenons move to the rue de la Loi. Henriette Simenon rents rooms to students. "... all the life of the house was concentrated in the kitchen, where the tenants themselves went to eat before us." (Destinées).

1914. Georges enters the College Saint-Louis, run by the Jesuits. He will only stay there a year.

1915. He enters the College Saint-Servais, "where they especially emphasized mathematics", (Un banc dans le soleil) and he was there for three years, without particularly distinguishing himself.

1918. He puts an end to his education when his father falls seriously ill, taking various small jobs, including one in a bookstore.

1919. Georges Simenon becomes a journalist and reporter for the Gazette de Liège. He will work there until December 1922 and will write nearly a thousand articles under several pseudonyms.
His family moves again, this time to the rue de l'Enseignement. The singular "odor" of this house will inspire one of his very first tales, "Le Compotier tiède".
rue des archives   
With Christian in the 1920s.

1920. He begins associating with fledgling artists and writers who meet in an obscure club, La Caque (The Keg), a few steps from the Saint-Pholien church. In the group was Robert Denoël, the future Paris publisher of Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Throughout his numerous autobiographical works, Simenon often makes allusion to La Claque and mentions it explicitly in two novels, Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien (Maiget and the Hundred Gibbets) (1931) and Les Trois Crimes de mes amis (The Three Crimes of my friends) (1938).

1921. He meets Regina Renchon, a painter, whom he nicknames Tigy, and to whom he dedicates Ridicules, a 24-page booklet, printed in only a dozen copies under his supervision on the presses of the Gazette de Liège. His first novel, Au pont des Arches, appears under the name Georges Sim, and the insignia of the Bénard Press. On November 28, Desiré Simenon, his father, dies at the age of 44. Following his death Georges Simenon decides to precede the call of his class and to immediately accomplish his military service.

1922. In December, on a "cold and rainy morning" (Un homme comme un autre), Georges Simenon disembarks at the Gare du Nord in Paris.

1923. After marrying Regina Renchon, Simenon accepts the position of secretary to the Marquis de Tracy, and discovers through him a world of wealth and luxury that will leave him with "an impression of unreality (Un homme comme un autre).

1924. He starts writing stories for Le Matin, of which Colette is the literary director, and for a number of generally light publications: Gens qui rient, Froufrou, Le Merle blanc, Le Merle rose and Paris-Plaisirs, a kind of Lui before that existed. His texts are signed with some twenty pseudonyms. He will have recourse to most of them to sign the popular novels that he writes with a disconcerting ease: Jean du Perry, Georges-Martin Georges, Gom Gut, Christian Brulls, and always, Georges Sim. He will publish scores of them until the mid-1930s.
rue des archives   
in 1925.

1925. At the end of the fall, he meets Joséphine Baker. Their passionate relationship will last until June, 1927.

1928. He gets interested in navigation, and in the Ginette, undertakes a long journey on the canals and rivers of France. The world of boatmen, mariners, lockkeepers and carters then becomes one of his great sources of inspiration.

1929. He supplies the weekly Detective with small narrative mysteries signed Georges Sim: The Thirteen Mysteries and The Thirteen Enigmas. Aboard the Ostrogoth he browses the canals of the north of Europe. In September, at Delfzijl, Holland, while having his boat recaulked, he writes other detective stories and sketches the character of Maigret.

1930. He publishes in L'Œuvre, under the signature Georges Sim, La Maison de l'inquiétude, a "popular" novel in which Maigret is the hero. Soon after, he writes Pietr-le-Letton (Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett), which he submits to Arthème Fayard. Fayard is not impressed, unable to see how the public could be interested in a static policeman who passes most of his time before a demi of beer or a glass of brandy.

1931. Convinced that he's on the right track, Georges Simenon writes two other Maigrets, Monsieur Gallet, décédé (Maigret Stonewalled) and Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien (Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets), and winds up having them published by (imposing them on?) Arthème Fayard. On February 20, the two titles are launched at La Boule blanche, a popular cabaret in the rue Vavin, at a great "Anthropometric Ball". It is a success – contrary to nearly all expectations.
In the months that follow, nine other Maigrets are published. At the same time, Simenon inaugurates, with La Folle d'ltteville, "the first and only volume," a book collection where photos, in this case by Germaine Krüll, "have as much importance as the words". (When I was old).

1932. Six new Maigret adventures appear from Arthème Fayard. In April, La Nuit du carrefour (Maigret at the Crossroads) by Jean Renoir is the first of the many feature film adaptation of Simenon's works to be projected on the screen. To follow, Jean Tarride's Le Chien jaune (The Yellow Dog), a few weeks later, and La Tête d'un homme (A Battle of Nerves) by Julian Duvivier in 1933, with Harry Baur in the role of Maigret. "I was rich!" (Un homme comme un autre).
Simenon moves to a manor house in Marsilly, Charente-Maritime.
Fonds Simenon - Université de Liège  
With his first wife, Tigy, in 1935.

1933. He publishes under his own name La Maison du canal (The House by the Canal), the first of his novels outside of a strictly police collection, and does some important reporting for high-circulation magazines, notably an interview with Trotsky for Paris-Soir. In October, he signs a publishing contract with Gaston Gallimard. "I didn't know actual literary life. Gallimard, before the war, gave a big literary cocktail party every week (every month?) to which everyone who was anyone in Paris rushed. I went only once because André Gide had made an appointment with me there. I didn't have the time to speak to anyone, nor had I had any desire to. (Des traces de pas).

1934. He alternates between novels and reporting. Gallimard publishes Le Locataire (The Lodger), and Fayard the nineteenth Maigret, titled simply Maigret, before, in principle, closing the cycle of his investigations.

1935. He makes a grand round-the-world tour which feeds his journalistic articles and his series of so-called "exotic" novels like Quartier nègre [Negro Quarter] and Long cours (The Long Exile) (pub. 1936).

1938. He moves to Nieul-sur-Mer. He has several major books appear this year: L'Homme qui regardait passer les trains (The Man Who Watched the Trains Go by), Monsieur La Souris (The Mouse), La Marie du port (A Chit of a Girl), Le Suspect (The Green Thermos) (all from Gallimard).

1939. April 19, at Uccle, Brussels, Tigy presents to the world Marc Simenon, who will become a film-maker, marry the actress Mylène Demongeot in 1968, and notably produce Signé Furax in 1981. Marc Simenon will pass away in 1999.

1940. Georges Simenon is named high commissioner for the Belgian refugees of the department of Charente-Inférieure. His mission completed at the end of four months, he first settles in the forest of Mervent, then at Fontenay-Le-Comte, in the Vendée, where a physician diagnoses an illness that would leave him but two or three years to live. With that, he immediately begins writing Je me souviens... [I Remember], the first of his autobiographical works, in a sentimental manner intended for his son.

1942. He gets settled in Saint-Mesmin-le-Vieux, still in the Vendée, and publishes La Veuve Couderc (Ticket of Leave) and Maigret revient (Maigret Returns), a collection of stories marking, as the title indicates, the return of Maigret to the bookstores.
Roger-Viollet  
With his son Marc, at Fontenay-le-Comte, in 1942.

1945. After have been restricted to "permanent residence" at Sables-d'Olonne, Simenon comes to live in Paris for several months to prepare for his departure for the United States, which had recently caught his interest. In October, he disembarks at New York with Tigy and Marc.
The following month, in a New York restaurant "a few steps from Central Park" he meets Denyse Ouimet, a young Canadian woman who has "kept a strong Quebec accent" and "shows a lot of spirit" (Intimate Memoirs). It is the love at first sight. Which he describes, almost on-the-spot, in the beginning of the following year, in Trois chambres à Manhattan (Three Beds in Manhattan). This book (pub. 1946), and nearly all that will follow, will be published by Presses de la Cité, whose director, Sven Nielsen, very quickly becomes one of his most faithful friends.

1946. With Tigy, his wife, and from this point Denyse, his mistress, he undertakes a crossing of the United States by car and makes of it the material for his last reporting for France-Soir. In November, he settles in Florida.
Julian Duvivier produces Panique, a film based on Les Fiançailles de M. Hire (Mr. Hire's Engagement) (1933).

1947. He decides to move to Tucson, Arizona, where he writes La Jument Perdue [The Lost Mare] and La Neige était sale (The Snow Was Black), and to which he will return in 1949, after a stay in Tumacacori.

1948. He publishes Pedigree, the fictionalized and enlarged version of Je me souviens..., on the recommendation of André Gide.

1949. Thanks to his lawyer, Maurice Garçon, Simenon is cleared of all accusations of collusion with the German authorities during World War II. September 29, in Tucson, Denyse gives birth to Jean, called John, Simenon's second son.

1950. He divorces Tigy and marries Denyse. The family then moves to Lakeville, Connecticut, where they will remain for five years, in a home that Simenon will keep after his return to Europe in 1955, "for no reason, just sentiment" (When I was old), and where he will be at his most creative, producing a good twenty-six novels there. Among others: Tante Jeanne (Aunt Jean), La Mort de Belle (Belle), L'Horloger d'Everton (The Watchmaker of Everton), Le Revolver de Maigret (Maigret's Revolover), Maigret a peur (Maigret Afraid). Thomas Narcejac will publish at Presses de la Cité, Le Cas Simenon, (The Art of Simenon) the very first thesis dedicated to the author.

1951. La Vérité sur Bébé Donge (The Trial of Bébé Donge) comes to the screen. According to many film-lovers, this Henri Decoin film with Jean Gabin and Danielle Darrieux will remain the best movie adaptation of a Simenon novel.

1952. Simenon makes a triumphal journey to France and Belgium, where he is named member of the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature, in the chair of Glesener Edmond (1874-1951). This election would certainly not have made if there had been any foundation to the rumors concerning the questionable activities of Simenon during World War II.

1953. Near Lakeville, Denyse brings her second child into the world, Marie Georges Simenon, called Marie-Jo.

1955. Simenon returns to Europe, nevermore to leave. With his family he lives first in Mougins, then on the heights of Cannes.

1957. He decides to move his household to Switzerland. They settle into the château d'Echandens, in Vaud canton. This castle, where he will reside until December, 1963, "holds an important place" in his life, in that of his children, and in the long history of his books (Intimate Memoirs). But, curiously, the twenty-five novels that he writes there are all dated Noland, a little as if this place had no geographical reality.
Jean Delannoy's Maigret tend un piège (Maigret Sets a Trap) appears, with Jean Gabin in the title role. He will also produce, in 1959, again with Jean Gabin, Maigret et l'Affaire Saint-Fiacre (Maigret on Home Ground), with dialogues by Michel Audiard.

1958. Claude Autant-Lara makes En cas de malheur (In Case of Emergency) with Jean Gabin, Brigitte Bardot and Edwige Feuillère. "For an actor, the main thing is to appear three-dimensional. It was Gabin's strength. He is there, before you, on the screen. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't seem to think about anything. And yet he exists." (Des traces de pas)

1959. In Lausanne, Denyse gives birth to Pierre, Simenon's fourth and last child. Presses de la Cité publishes La Femme en France [Women of France], one of his rare essays.

1960. He presides over the 13th Cannes Film Festival. Henry Miller is the vice-president. The Palme d'or is given to Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, to the hisses of the public. He publishes L'Ours en peluche (Teddy Bear), an important medical novel.

1962. He begins to have intimate relations with Denyse's "personal maid", Teresa Sburelin, who will become more and more his companion. "Never in my life, I swear it, have I ever forced a woman, one way or another, to accept my advances" (Intimate Memoirs).
Jean-Pierre Melville's L'Aîné des Ferchaux (The First-born) appears, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Charles Vanel, based on the 1945 novel of the same name.

1963. Simenon leaves Echandens for Epalinges, close to Lausanne, for a house which looks like a fortress and is the only one that he will have built. "A new house, from top to bottom, made for us, conceived by us, for our life and that of our children." (When I was old)
He publishes Les Anneaux de Bicêtre (The Bells of Bicêtre). The novel makes a big splash in the press and is especially welcomed by François Mauriac.

1966. September 3, in Delfzijl, Holland, a statue of Maigret is unveiled in the presence of Simenon, some of his editors, and actors who portrayed the commissioner in the movies or on television.

1967. The Complete Works of Simenon begins to appear from Éditions Rencontre (72 volumes), under the direction of Gilbert Sigaux, Simenonist of the first order. Simenon publishes Le Chat (The Cat) which Pierre Granier-Deferre will bring to the screen in 1971, with Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret in the two main roles.

1970. Henriette Simenon, Georges Simenon's mother, become Mme Joseph André after her remarriage in 1929, dies in Liège at the age of 90.
Simenon publishes When I was old, the second of his autobiographical works. "In 1960, 1961 and 1962, for personal reasons or for reasons that I don't understand, I felt old and I started writing in notebooks."

1972. He publishes Les Innocents (The Innocents), his last "roman dur", and Maigret et M. Charles (Maigret and M. Charles), his last Maigret and the very last of his fictional works.
Sunday, September 18, after noting on a yellow envelope, as always, the title of the book that he intends to bring to life, Victor, he becomes sudden aware that he cannot write it, and decides to immediately put a final point to his novelistic creation. [In his memoirs Simenon will incorrectly mention Oscar instead of Victor.]

1973. He gets a tape recorder and starts speaking into it, determined to henceforth get into his own skin, and no longer that of others. "A small tape recorder has replaced my typewriter on my worktable. It is a lot less impressive and, as I had never dictated before, it is more of a toy for me than an instrument of work." (Un homme comme un autre).

1974. He leaves Epalinges to occupy a house (called 'the pink house'), avenue des Figuiers in Lausanne. He publishes Letter to my mother.

1975. He publishes Un homme comme un autre and Des traces de pas, the first two of his 21 Dictations.

1976. He makes a grant of his literary archives to the University of Liège, on the condition that the institution create a Simenon Foundation. This Foundation will be solemnly inaugurated the following year, before being transferred in 1981 to the locale of the château de Colonster, on the wooded campus of Sart Tilman.

1978. May 19, Marie-Jo takes her own life in her Parisian domicile, with one shot of a 22-caliber pistol. May 27, Simenon scatters his daughter's ashes in the garden of the pink house.

Louis Monier / Gamma  
in 1981.

1981. He publishes his last four Dictations (Les libertés qu'il nous reste, La Femme endormie, Jour et nuit and Destinées) as well as his Intimate Memoirs, the most voluminous of all his works. The Intimate Memoirs are followed By Marie-Jo's Book, "Your book, my little girl, that you wished so much to write, and that you wrote and sometimes sang in your manner, always tender, sometimes cheerful, often sad."

1985. June 24, at Porquerolles, where she came for the first time in 1924 with her young husband, Regina Renchon, Simenon's first wife, dies. "Porquerolles, where I had to have my house and my boats, remains one of the high points of my life..." (Intimate Memoirs).

1989. Monday, September 4, Georges Simenon dies in the hotel Beau Rivage in Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva. His body is cremated at the funeral home in Montoie.
On the night of September 7, Teresa scatters Simenon's ashes in the garden of the pink house.

 


translation: Stephen Trussel
Honolulu, November 28, 2005


Jean-Baptiste Baronian

President of the international association of The Friends of Georges Simenon, Jean Baptiste Baronian has just had published by Éditions Textuel, Simenon, l'homme à romans (Simenon, the man of novels) and Simenon ou le roman gris (Simenon, or the gray novel).

magazine littéraire
February, 2003
N° 417, pp 18-68

On the trail of Simenon
    On the trail
Portrait, ads
Every life a novel
Chronology
Liège
Paris
Nièvre
La Rochelle
Africa
Porquerolles
Sables-d'Olonne
New York
Vaud
The writing
At the bookstore
The Simenon Year 


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