Simenon in 1963
|Born||13 February 1903|
|Died||4 September 1989 (aged 86)|
|Pen name||"G. Sim"|
|Notable awards||Académie royale de Belgique (1952)|
Georges Joseph Christian Simenon (French: [? simn]; 13 February 1903 – 4 September 1989) was a Belgian writer. A prolific author who published nearly 500 novels and numerous short works, Simenon is best known as the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret.
Simenon was born at 26 rue Léopold (now number 24) in Liège to Désiré Simenon and his wife Henriette. Désiré Simenon worked in an accounting office at an insurance company and had married Henriette in April 1902. Although Simenon was born on Friday 13 February 1903 superstition resulted in his birth being registered as having been on the 12th. This story of his birth is recounted at the beginning of his novel Pedigree.
The Simenon family traces its origins back to the Limburg region, his mother's family being from Dutch Limburg. His mother had origins from both the Netherlands and Germany while his father was of Walloon origins. One of her more notorious ancestors was Gabriel Brühl, a criminal who preyed on Limburg from the 1720s until he was hanged in 1743. Later, Simenon would use Brühl as one of his many pen names.
In April 1905, two years after Simenon's birth, the family moved to 3 rue Pasteur (now 25 rue Georges Simenon) in Liège's Outremeuse neighborhood. Simenon's brother Christian was born in September 1906 and eventually became their mother's favorite child, much to Simenon's chagrin. Later, in February 1911, the Simenons moved to 53 rue de la Loi, also in the Outremeuse. In this larger home, the Simenons were able to take in lodgers. Typical among them were apprentices and students of various nationalities, giving the young Simenon an important introduction to the wider world; this marked his novels, notably Pedigree and Le Locataire.
At the age of three, Simenon learned to read at the Saint-Julienne nursery school. Then, between 1908 and 1914, he attended the Institut Saint-André. In September 1914, shortly after the beginning of the First World War, he began his studies at the Collège Saint-Louis, a Jesuit high school.
In February 1917, the Simenon family moved to a former post office building in the Amercoeur neighborhood. June 1919 saw another move, this time to the rue de l'Enseignement, back in the Outremeuse neighborhood.
Using his father's heart condition as a pretext, Simenon decided to put an end to his studies in June 1918, not even taking the Collège Saint-Louis' year-end exams. He subsequently worked a number of very short-term odd jobs.
In January 1919, the 15-year-old Simenon took a job at the Gazette de Liège, a newspaper edited by Joseph Demarteau. While Simenon's own beat only covered unimportant human interest stories, it afforded him an opportunity to explore the seamier side of the city, including politics, bars, and cheap hotels but also crime, police investigations and lectures on police technique by the criminologist Edmond Locard. Simenon's experience at the Gazette also taught him the art of quick editing. He wrote more than 150 articles under the pen name "G. Sim." He began submitting stories to Le Matin in the early 1920s.
Simenon's first novel, Au Pont des Arches, was written in June 1919 and published in 1921 under his "G. Sim" pseudonym. Writing as "Monsieur Le Coq", he also published more than 800 humorous pieces between November 1919 and December 1922. He stopped writing for the Gazette in December 1922.
During this period, Simenon's familiarity with nightlife, prostitutes, drunkenness and carousing increased. The people he rubbed elbows with included anarchists, bohemian artists and even two future murderers, the latter appearing in his novel Les Trois crimes de mes amis. He also frequented a group of artists known as "La Caque". While not really involved in the group, he did meet his future wife Régine Renchon through it.
From 1921 to 1934 he used a total of 17 pen names while writing 358 novels and short stories.
Simenon's father died in 1922 and this served as the occasion for the author to move to Paris with Régine Renchon (hereafter referred to by her nickname "Tigy"), at first living in the 17th arrondissement, not far from the Boulevard des Batignolles. He became familiar with the city, its bistros, cheap hotels, bars and restaurants. More important, he also came to know ordinary working-class Parisians. Writing under numerous pseudonyms, he found his creativity beginning to pay financial dividends.
Simenon and Tigy returned briefly to Liège in March 1923 to marry. Despite his Catholic upbringing, Simenon was not a believer. Tigy came from a thoroughly non-religious family. However, Simenon's mother insisted on a church wedding, forcing Tigy to become a nominal convert, learning the Catholic Church's catechism. Despite their father's lack of religious convictions, all of Simenon's children would be baptized as Catholics. Marriage to Tigy, however, did not prevent Simenon from having liaisons with numerous other women, perhaps most famously, Josephine Baker.
A reporting assignment had Simenon on a lengthy sea voyage in 1928, giving him a taste for boating. In 1929, he decided to have a boat built, the Ostrogoth. Simenon, Tigy, their cook and housekeeper Henriette Liberge, and their dog Olaf lived on board the Ostrogoth, travelling the French canal system. Henriette Liberge, known as "Boule" (literally "Ball," a reference to her slight pudginess) was romantically involved with Simenon for the next several decades and would remain a close friend of the family, really part of it.
In 1930, the most famous character invented by Simenon, Commissaire Maigret, made his first appearance in a piece in Detective written at Joseph Kessel's request. This first ever Maigret detective story was written while boating in The Netherlands, particularly in and around the Dutch town of Delfzijl. A statue of Maigret in Delfzijl is a perpetual reminder of this.
Between 1932 and 1936, Simenon, Tigy, and Boule lived at La Richardière, a 16th-century manor house in Marsilly at the Charente-Maritime département. The house is evoked in Simenon's novel Le Testament Donadieu. At the beginning of 1938, he rented the villa Agnès in La Rochelle, and published Le Suspect, and then, in August, purchased a farm house in Nieul-sur-Mer (also in the Charente-Maritime) where his and Tigy's only child, Marc, was born in 1939.
Simenon lived in the Vendée during the Second World War. Simenon's conduct during the war is a matter of considerable controversy, with some scholars inclined to view him as having been a collaborator with the Germans while others disagree, viewing Simenon as having been an apolitical man who was essentially an opportunist but by no means a collaborator. Further confusion stems from the fact that he was denounced as a collaborator by local farmers while at the same time the Gestapo suspected him of being Jewish, apparently conflating the names "Simenon" and "Simon". In any case, Simenon was under investigation at the end of the war because he had negotiated film rights of his books with German studios during the occupation and in 1950 was sentenced to a five-year period during which he was forbidden to publish any new work. This sentence, however, was kept from the public and had little practical effect.
The war years did see Simenon produce a number of important works, including Le Testament Donadieu, Le Voyageur de la Toussaint and Le Cercle des Mahé. He also conducted important correspondence, most notably with André Gide. His novel La Veuve Couderc was published in 1945 at about the same time as Camus' The Stranger. Both novels contain a similar main character and themes, and Simenon was upset that Camus' work went on to greater acclaim.
Also in the early 1940s, Simenon had a health scare when a local doctor misdiagnosed him with a serious heart condition (a reminder of his father), giving him only months to live. It was also at this time that Tigy finally realized the nature of the relationship between her husband and Boule. He and Tigy remained married until 1949, but it was now a marriage in name only. Despite Tigy's initial protests, Boule remained with the family.
The ambiguities of the war years notwithstanding, the city of La Rochelle eventually honored Simenon, naming a quay after him in 1989. Simenon was too ill to attend the dedication ceremony. However, in 2003, his son Johnny participated in another event honoring his father.
Simenon escaped questioning in France and in 1945 arrived, along with Tigy and Marc, in North America. He spent several months in Quebec, Canada, north of Montreal, at Domaine L'Esterel (Ste-Marguerite du Lac Masson) where he lived in a modern-style house and wrote three novels (one of which was Three Bedrooms in Manhattan) in one of the log cabins (LC5, still there today). Boule, due to visa difficulties, was initially unable to join them.
During the years he spent in the United States, Simenon regularly visited New York City. He and his family also went on lengthy car trips, traveling from Maine to Florida and then west as far as California. Simenon lived for a short time on Anna Maria Island near Bradenton, Florida, before renting a house in Nogales, Arizona, where Boule was finally reunited with him. His novel The Bottom of the Bottle was heavily influenced by his stay in Nogales.
Although enchanted by the desert, Simenon decided to leave Arizona, and following a stay in California, settled into a large house, Shadow Rock Farm, in Lakeville, Connecticut. This town forms the background for his 1952 novel La Mort de Belle ("The Death of Belle").
While in the United States, Simenon and his son Marc learned to speak English with relative ease, as did Boule. Tigy, however, had a great deal of trouble with the language and pined for a return to Europe.
In the meantime, Simenon had met Denyse Ouimet, a woman seventeen years his junior. Denyse, who was originally from Montréal, met Simenon in New York City in 1945 (she was to be hired as a secretary) and they promptly began an often stormy and unhappy relationship. After resolving numerous legal difficulties, Simenon and Tigy were divorced in 1949. Simenon and Denyse Ouimet were then married in Reno, Nevada in 1950 and eventually had three children, Johnny (born in 1949), Marie-Jo (born in 1953) and Pierre (born in 1959). In accordance with the divorce agreement, Tigy continued to live in close proximity to Simenon and their son Marc, an arrangement that continued until they all returned to Europe in 1955.
In 1952, Simenon paid a visit to Belgium and was made a member of the Académie Royale de Belgique. Although he never resided in Belgium after 1922, he remained a Belgian citizen throughout his life.
Simenon and his family returned to Europe in 1955, first living in France (mainly on the Côte d'Azur) before settling in Switzerland. After living in a rented house in Echandens, in 1963 he purchased a property in Epalinges, north of Lausanne, where he had an enormous house constructed to his own design.
Simenon and Denyse Ouimet separated definitively in 1964. Teresa, who had been hired by Simenon as a housekeeper in 1961, had by this time become romantically involved with him and remained his companion for the rest of his life.
His long-troubled daughter Marie-Jo committed suicide in Paris in 1978 at the age of 25, an event that darkened Simenon's later years.
The documentary film The Mirror of Maigret by director/producer John Goldschmidt was filmed at Simenon's villa in Lausanne and was a profile of the man based on his confessional dialogue with a criminal psychologist. The film was made for ATV and shown in the UK on the ITV Network in 1981.
Simenon underwent surgery for a brain tumor in 1984 and made a good recovery. In subsequent years however, his health worsened. He gave his last televised interview in December 1988.
Georges Simenon died in his sleep of natural causes on the night of the 4 September 1989 in Lausanne.
Simenon left such a legacy that he was honored with a silver commemorative coin: the Belgian 100 Years of Georges Simenon coin, minted in 2003. The obverse side shows his portrait.
Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day. His oeuvre includes nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms. Altogether, about 550 million copies of his works have been printed.
He is best known, however, for his 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Commissaire Maigret. The first novel in the series, Pietr-le-Letton, was serialized in 1930 and appeared in book form in 1931; the last one, Maigret and Monsieur Charles, was published in 1972. The Maigret novels were translated into all major languages and several of them were turned into films and radio plays. Three films were made in the late 1950s and early 1960s, starring Jean Gabin: Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case; Maigret Sets A Trap; and Margret Sees Red. Three television series (1960-63, 1992-93 and 2016-), have been made in Great Britain (the first with Rupert Davies in the title role, the second with Michael Gambon and the third with Rowan Atkinson), one in Italy in four different seasons for a total of 36 episodes (1964-72) starring Gino Cervi; and two in France: (1967-90) starring Jean Richard and (1991-2005) starring Bruno Cremer.
1942 was the year his novel La Veuve Couderc was published at around the same time as Camus' The Stranger. Both novels contain a similar main character and themes, and Simenon was upset that Camus' work went on to greater acclaim.
During his "American" period, Simenon reached the height of his creative powers, and several novels of those years were inspired by the context in which they were written (Trois chambres à Manhattan (1946), Maigret à New York (1947), Maigret se fâche (1947)).
Simenon also wrote a large number of "psychological novels" (what the French refer to as "romans durs"), such as The Strangers in the House (1940), La neige était sale (1948), or Le fils (1957), as well as several autobiographical works, in particular Je me souviens (1945), Pedigree (1948), Mémoires intimes (1981).
In 1966, Simenon was given the MWA's highest honor, the Grand Master Award.
In 2003, the collection La Pléiade (inspiration for the Library of America) has included 21 of Simenon's novels, in two volumes. The task of selecting the novels and the preparation of the notes and analyses was performed by two Simenon specialists, Professor Jacques Dubois, President of the Center for Georges Simenon Studies at the Université de Liège, and his assistant Benoît Denis.
In 2005, Simenon was nominated for the title of De Grootste Belg / Le plus grand Belge (The Greatest Belgian) in two separate television series. In the Flemish version, he ended in 77th place; and in the Walloon version, he ended in 10th place.
Simenon's work has been widely adapted to cinema and television. He is credited on at least 171 productions. Notable films include:
Henriette Liberge, a seventeen-year-old farm girl who became his loyal servant and mistress (Translator's Introduction)