Some information on how Simenon reacted to his growing success―and lack thereof
SIMENON SIMENON. UN STYLE STABLE MAIS UNE FIGURE CHANGEANTE
Quelques informations sur la façon dont Simenon réagissait à son succès, qu'il trouvait trop lent à venir
SIMENON SIMENON. UNO STILE STABILE, MA UN LOOK CHE CAMBIA
Un flash sul modo in cui Simenon reagì al suo successo, che considerava troppo lento ad arrivare
When describing Simenon’s transition from Fayard to Gallimard, Pierre Assouline makes it clear the author did not change his style of writing at all. “His work was a block” albeit “with its cracks.” The author “had already created his universe” and, as king of it, he “did not intend to abdicate, renounce, or adapt.”
However, Simenon could not resist developing his image. Thus, he switched into high gear to play the role of belonging, or at least creating the impression of belonging, to the upper middle class. His suits, shirts, ties, hats, car, line of credit, wines, meals, meeting spots, and so on, all smacked of “a microcosm dedicated to an elite.” To paraphrase Assouline, Simenon ostentatiously cultivated his love of luxury and comfort as marks of success. Although Simenon described his life as “being like a hair in the soup” and “dreaming only of escaping it,” Assouline affirms “he was leading exactly the existence he intended to lead.” Despite all his overindulgence, the writer continued his disciplined writing―at least three hours every morning.
Simenon had succeeded in forcing Gallimard into drafting and signing a “draconian” contract in 1933. “Never seen before. An author as vicious as a publisher!” So, the fearful publisher kept the terms a tight secret from his other authors. At first, the publishing house had trouble keeping up with Simenon’s output, but eventually it managed to produce a book a month. Ironically, his image within the publishing house, at least with the literary types, was not a good one. Their list of negatives was long: a lack of talent. Writing too fast. Writing too much. Content too populaire. No sense of “tragedy.” “Vulgarity.” Marketing “excesses.” It’s no surprise Simenon distrusted these “intellectuals.” In fact, he detested them.
This divide extended outside of Gallimard into the world of independent literary criticism. In reaction, Simenon “refused to become a man of letters.” Compromises, concessions, and renunciations were simply unacceptable. In short, he rejected his critics even if he didn’t, and couldn’t, ignore them completely. This rejection included writers within the literary milieu as well. Since Simenon stood off from, even outside of, the literary institution, his hope of being recognized and awarded prizes seemed self-defeating. A Goncourt? Election to the French Academy? A Nobel? All in his mind (and in his dreams?) at various times yet ultimately unattainable.
Over time, Simenon did gain support. Not only was he being noticed, he was being favorably received. Most likely this was because “the sum of his qualities largely exceeded that of his faults.” Basically, he did have enough talent. However, his aversion to rereading and revising was an ongoing impediment. If errors dotted his works, it was because “you will not make him modify a single page.” Note his revealing explanatory statement (absent from the English translation): “Me, too, I would have liked to be capable of fine-tuning. But, just as I don’t know how that’s done, I know still less about how that can fix it.” According to Assouline, the idea that “rules” might correct “emotions” was strange to Simenon. “What was the product of instinct should retain [its] qualities and faults. Revision must be minimum. It was.”
David P Simmons
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