giovedì 23 marzo 2017

SIMENON SIMENON. SIMENON JOURNALIST


"Police secours", Simenon’s journalism and the return of Maigret

SIMENON SIMENON. SIMENON JOURNALISTE
"Police secours", le journalisme de Simenon et le retour de Maigret
SIMENON SIMENON. SIMENON GIORNALISTA
"Police-secours", il giornalismo di Simenon e il ritorno di Maigret

In her post of 27 February, Murielle Wenger draws our attention to a little-known piece of Simenon’s journalism, the ten articles which appeared in Paris-Soir from 6-16 February 1937 and which were republished in the 1976 collection of Simenon’s journalism A la découverte de la France before appearing in 1998 in a separate volume, Police Secours ou Les Nouveaux Mystères de Paris. As Murielle informs us, there is little that is ‘sensational’ in these articles, focusing as they do on the daily (more precisely nightly) work of the control room of the emergency response unit of the Paris police.
By their very nature, the articles tend to be snapshots rather than in-depth studies, but in the final two articles of the series Simenon engages in a deeper consideration of the social context of the events to which the unit responds. What interests Simenon, and he will later put almost identical words into the mouth of Maigret in Les Mémoires de Maigret, are not the crimes committed by professional criminals but rather: ‘those which reveal the soul of a period, of a given moment in time […] the three-line news-in-brief articles.’ (Article IX, 14 February 1937) ‘There have always been thieves and there have always been certain of them who killed in the hope of getting away. You will discover the real temperature of Paris by studying the other crimes, those committed by amateurs.’ (Article X, 16 February 1937)
Interestingly, given its almost complete absence from the Fayard Maigret novels, the impact of the 1914-1918 war is presented as an important contributing factor to the crimes and suicides of the nid-1930s: ‘Oh yes! The war! Nerves stripped bare […] Irritability pushed to the point of illness because you feel your life is a failure. And this lump of wood that you’ve been dragging round for years where your leg should be.’ (Article X) The economic, social and political crises of the 1930s are rendered concrete in the sudden financial fall of those who had prospered in the feverish boom of the 1920s, the despair of the elderly whose life savings had been wiped out by inflation and the ranks of the unemployed unable to find work; and all of this is reflected in ordinary people’s ‘anger at the idea of a life that has failed, a balance that you feel incapable of regaining’ (Article X) 
In a certain sense, many of the incidents recounted by Simenon from his spell with Police Secours remind the reader of the beginning of a Maigret investigation in which an apparently insignificant act sets off a chain of events which will have serious consequences for those involved. For the journalist Simenon, as for his literary creation Maigret, each quartier of Paris has its own particular social character which is reflected in the crimes which typify the area. So, Police Secours zooms in on the XVIII arrondissement including Montmartre, the working-class districts from the Père Lachaise cemetery to the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin, the bourgeois XVI arrondissement and bohemian Montparnasse.
Simenon the journalist is never far from Simenon the author. Just as his apprenticeship writing 190 pulp novels under 17 different signatures between 1923 and 1932 developed his ability to create a storyline and profile his characters, so too the years spent at the Gazette de Liège from 1919 to 1922 were a fundamental influence on what would become the distinctively Simenonien style, namely an attention to detail and the use of apparently trivial observations to create an ambiance using very few words. Moreover, a journalist, like a police officer, has access by dint of their profession to a wide range of social milieux. As Simenon put it in an interview with Francis Lacassin in 1975: 
‘I’ve often said […] to young people who want to become novelists that the best thing they can do is get a job on a small newspaper. Certainly not a big paper, but a small one with only three or four journalists and where, as a result, you have to do a bit of everything and therefore get to meet people with whom you would not otherwise come into contact in daily life.’ 
The last of the eighteen Fayard Maigrets, the eponymous Maigret, had been published in 1934 and Simenon had launched his project to be recognised as a ‘serious’ author. Yet by the autumn of 1936, perhaps dissatisfied with the lack of critical acclaim or significant financial returns from his romans durs published by Gallimard, he was again writing Maigret short stories for Paris-Soir-Dimanche. These would appear between October 1936 and January 1937 in the period immediately preceding the Police Secours articles and were followed by a further series of short stories featuring the commissaire written in Porquerolles in the winter of 1937-1938 and published in Police-Roman and Police Film throughout 1938. Once again, as at the very beginning of his career, Simenon’s literary and journalistic paths were running along parallel lines.

William Alder

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