lunedì 27 marzo 2017


An analysis of the psychological collapse of Simenon’s protagonist 

Une analyse de l’effondrement psychologique du protagoniste de Simenon 
Un'analisi della crisi psicologica della protagonista del romanzo di Simenon 

A cinematographic version of the novel (1961)
Why does Spencer Ashby in Belle turn himself from being a completely innocent man into a horribly guilty one? What psychological mechanism makes him commit what Michel Carly calls “a falsely liberating violent act?” My answer is that extreme paranoia about persecution, real and imagined, pushes him over the line.
Spencer has always “worried about the community,” particularly his standing within it. On the first page, he perceives “people are observing him from outside” his house, not knowing then that he and his behavior will soon be “studied like an insect under a magnifying glass.” Simenon summarized the American need to conform in one of his dictées this way: “In the United States, you have to belong.” In this novel, the perception that ‘one has to fit in’ extends far beyond the country club. 
The discovery of Belle’s strangled body in the Ashby home, where Spencer has been all night long, immediately makes him a suspect in her murder. Despite the fact that no evidence shows up fingering him as her killer, an increasing number of people incriminate him. Most importantly, he perceives that, in the eyes of others, he is first the prime suspect and ultimately the obvious killer. In this way, Spencer evolves gradually through a progression from appropriate normal sensitivity to excessive pathological paranoia that leads to his downfall. 
“Why, not being guilty of anything, does he have a feeling of culpability” even before his wife and the doctor inform Spencer they have found Belle dead? Perhaps it is because she called the doctor before calling him. It’s only natural that the investigating authorities include him as a suspect, but it’s another matter in the local paper store where the cashier “devours him with his eyes as if he had become a character of another nature” and the other customers “sneak a curious peek.” The rejection by the students, secretary, and headmaster at the school that “had been his whole life” brings Spencer to tears. The enormous M tarred on his house, the recurrent anonymous phone calls received, the gallows drawn on a postcard, these aggressions all feed his escalating paranoia about being persecuted. This sense of being “outlawed by society” is reinforced when he realizes he is the only one who can be sure he is innocent. 
His situation deteriorates in a terrible experience in church and after a subsequent “even more agonizing” dream. They convince him “people are conspiring against him” and he is being “excluded from the community” where “all the righteous” parishioners want “to stone him to death.” Believing “the evil cannot belong to the brotherhood,” he conceives of “turning his back to that world” and “making a sort of protest” to “renounce it, to revolt against it.” Thus, on what he expects to be his last evening out before his arrest,” Spencer enters “a forbidden world and embarks on “a premeditated escapade.” For this inhibited man, it is as much going to a bar, “which had rarely happened in his life,” as it is drinking there. Soon, he is spinning in a sexual whirlwind with Anna, who morphs into Sheila and Belle in his mind. Suddenly “frozen” by his impotence and suffering their scorn, Spencer liberates himself with a conclusive irretrievable act. 

David P Simmons

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