Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Birthday, Georges Simenon

Today would have been the 104th birthday of novelist Georges Simenon, born in Liège, Belgium--although for many years Simenon’s birth was misrecorded as having occurred on February 12, due to superstitions surrounding the number 13.

Simenon was a prolific writer, beginning at age 16, when he worked as a journalist for the Gazette de Liège, filing more than 150 articles under the pseudonym “G. Sim.” While he was not a crime reporter, he was nevertheless exposed to all aspects of Liège, many of which ultimately surfaced in his crime fiction. Simenon’s first novel, a humorous work published under his Sim byline in 1921 (although written in 1919, when Simenon was just 16), was Au Pont des Arches. Over the course of his career, Simenon employed more than 20 pseudonyms, including “Monsieur Le Coq” and “Gabriel Bruhl.” The latter was the name of one of Simenon’s maternal ancestors, a serial criminal in Limbourg, Belgium, who was eventually hanged. Simenon’s ultimate output included 200 novels, nearly as many novellas, and several autobiographical works.

As a crime writer, Simenon is best known as the creator of Inspector Jules Maigret, who first appeared in The Strange Case of Peter the Lett in 1931. The pipe-smoking Paris police detective went on to be featured in 75 books and over two dozen short stories. While Maigret is portrayed as a brilliant natural sleuth, he also uses modern police technique to solve his crimes. Maigret is among the most popular characters from the last century of crime fiction, and he appeared in several films, played by actors ranging from Jean Gabin to Bruno Cremer. British TV viewers have seen Maigret in the form of Michael Gambon and Rupert Davies, among others. The fictional Commissaire’s final appearance was in the novel Maigret and Monsieur Charles, published back in 1972.

In the books, Maigret is married to Madame Maigret, whose Christian name is Louise. Maigret is faithful to his wife, but this cannot also be said of his creator. During his lifetime, Simenon claimed to be an insatiable sex addict, requiring thrice-daily romps, and is said to have bedded more than 10,000 women. That number is believed to have been made up primarily of prostitutes, though the author apparently also conducted a liaison with renowned American actress-singer Josephine Baker.

In 1966, Simenon was given the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America. He gave his final TV interview in 1988 and died in Lausanne, Switzerland, on September 4, 1989. Several of Simenon’s books have recently been reissued by The New York Review of Books as part of its “Classics & Collections” series.

READ MORE:Maigret and His Master” (The Age).

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