Some insights into Simenon’s formative years drawn from Assouline’s biography.
SIMENON SIMENON. GEORGES, UN PETIT GARCON A LA DERIVE A LIEGE
Quelques aperçus des années formatrices de Simenon, tirés de la biographie d’Assouline
SIMENON SIMENON: GEORGES, UN RAGAZZINO ALLO SBANDO A LIEGI
Qualche spiraglio degli anni che formarono Simenon, trattii dalla biografia d'Asssouline
|The little Georges and his brother Christian|
Georges Simenon grew up in a stressful family environment where he was continually challenged and confused by his vastly different mother, Henriette, and father, Désiré. They had remarkably black and white personalities. She was uptight; he was easygoing. She was overbearing; he was forgiving. If the parental contrast was crucial, the maternal dominance was paramount.
Henriette was tense, hypersensitive, hypercritical, and proud. After quoting Simenon who strongly singled out the role of his mother’s excessive egoism in their lives, his biographer writes in a non-translated passage: “Egotist, Henriette? It’s not that simple.” Early on, in asking how much their “chronic, permanent and often painful conflict” contributed to the Simenon Georges eventually became, Assouline responded that he could put the pieces from the records together. (Stay tuned.)
Désiré was calm, modest, discreet, and humble. “In perfect harmony with his destiny and his identity,” he was as resigned to his life as his wife was reproachful of hers. Because he was so reserved, his “stock of tenderness” was regrettably invisible to Georges. Despite the “difficulty in communication” and “inability to express feelings” characterizing both Désiré and Georges, they understood each other well.
Young Georges struggled while living within the “gap that separated his parents.” In another non-translated passage, one learns how few exchanges crossed this divide, and when they did, they were disputes “more absurd than a dialogue between the deaf.” The division increased when Henriette filled the house with boarders and humiliated Désiré by making him the very “last” in line. Thus, until his mid-teens, Georges “suffered” and “suffocated” between parents who went “for hours without speaking to one another,” between a father rarely “emerging” from his newspaper and a mother wholly “consecrated” to household chores.
The other child in the family further proved the separation. In fact, Henriette referred to Georges as Désiré’s son, and Désiré referred to Christian as Henriette’s son. For her, Christian was the favorite and Georges, “the problem.” No wonder, in another passage omitted from the translation, Assouline reports: “For him [Georges], the world divided itself into those who received spankings and those who gave them.” Georges and Désiré were in the former group and Henriette was in the latter. When mother “scolded,” father “winked,” so it’s easy to visualize Georges, striving to shy away from the complainer and side with the tolerator—without success.
Awareness of these potent parental influences will help in assessing and perhaps explaining Simenon’s words and behavior later on.
David P Simmons
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