lunedì 17 dicembre 2018


Does the portrait of Aunt Jeanne reflect misogyny or not? 

Le portrait de Tante Jeanne reflète-t-il de la misogynie ou non ? 
Il ritratto di Zia Jeanne, riflette o no delle misoginia?

Apparently, in an interview with biographer Fenton Bresler, Simenon offered up his character Aunt Jeanne as a sort of personal character reference in response to the oft-repeated accusation that he was a misogynist. Assuredly, the female protagonist in Aunt Jeanne plays a positive heroic role in the novel, but numerous descriptions of her at least sound misogynistic. 
On the very first page, Simenon presents her as “an old beast.” A 57-year-old woman who had deliberately separated from her family to live the past 40+ years abroad, Jeanne arrives at her birthplace to live out her final days. An agonizing lump in her chest that is “certainly as big as one of her breasts” provokes acute respiratory distress. Worn-out, in pain, and handicapped, the poor woman can barely walk and she “believes she would most certainly die.” We quickly discover her “fat breast” is a symbol of her disabling corpulence, a recurring theme throughout the novel. 
Simenon goes on to detail how Jeanne is “fat, monstrously fat, plus she has to carry and move all this soft flesh which disgusts her, which she does not recognize as hers. And, as if this portrayal were not already adequate, the author underscores Jeanne’s current fatness by introducing her former schoolmate Désirée, who had been “the fattest girl in her class and afflicted with “sausage arms” and “enormous legs. Now, she becomes a striking foil, serving as a “skinny” physical aide to Jeanne, who is deteriorating bodily. In other negative imagery, Simenon turns Jeanne into “an old clown” who chugs cognac for breakfastStair climbing, walking and even standing is difficult due to her misshapen legs, one more than the other, a fact that spawns a tragicomic explanation for ordering and downing a second glassful“One doesn’t walk on one leg. 
Gradually, Simenon has Jeanne unveil her life story, replete with many unsavory features, such as having been a madam in a whore house, a criminal trafficker, a heavy drinker, and so on. In short, Jeanne was no angelmaking her present transition to angelic behavior more dramatic. Derogatory references to her obesity continue. For example, she recalls feeling “monstrously fat as an adolescentfat enough to fill her bedroom with her mass, and the most agonizing memory is that she was spongy matter comparable to a mushroom’s flesh, so insubstantial she could have floated around in space.” Although Simenon does progressively build Jeanne into a heroic figure, he still presents her as a “fat, loony returnee,” at least in the opinion of one particularly nasty detractorWhat’s more, at the very end of the novel, Simenon puts Jeanne to bed with massively swollen legsliterally on her last legs—awaiting transfer to the hospital to treat her life-threatening heart failure. The final focus in the very last lines? Her stretcher-bearers, both “strapping fellows, have to calculate how to handle the task of transporting her weight…. 
I find this female portrait brutally realistic but not blatantly misogynistic. The opinion from a roman dur review by Tim Morris states it well: “I don’t think that Simenon is essentially misogynist […] But Simenon certainly liked representing misogyny.” 

David P Simmons 

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