Adventure novels, reportages and denunciation of colonialism
SIMENON SIMENON. ESOTISMO, DAL SOGNO ALLA REALTÀ
Romanzi di avventure, reportage e denuncia del colonialismo
SIMENON SIMENON. L'EXOTISME, DU REVE A LA REALITE
Romans d'aventures, reportages et dénonciation du colonialisme
One of the genres practised by Simenon, at the time he wrote literature on order, was exotic adventures taking place in the most various and inaccessible places on earth. He liked mostly equatorial atmospheres, torrid climates, and also seaside situations. In fact he wanted to follow Conrad or Stevenson.
Yet these exotic short stories and novels were written without going out of Paris, from his desk in Place des Vosges. As soon as he could afford it, he bought an illustrated Larousse atlas. This was Simenon's real mean of transport, which carried him and his readers into the world of dreams, into extreme adventures, discovering unexplored countries, were dangers, wild beasts ands bloodthirsty cannibals, hid behind each plant and each rock.
This was in the 20's, and Simenon produced a huge of titles for publishers like Ferenczi or Tallandier. And their claims for precision or reliability of what was written were scarce. Important thing was to have an effective title, a story with a fascinating hero (and even better if he was in thwarted love with a princess or a beautiful and uncivilized native). And also other ingredients: a setting as far as possible from the readers' everyday life, and a tight fight against enemies and relentless natural events. Obviously Simenon was very good in this, and his titles were very explicit concerning the tone of the plot: La Prêtresse des Vaudoux (Tallandier 1925), Le désert du froid qui tue (Ferenczi 1928), Les Pirates du Texas (Ferenczi 1929), Seul parmi les gorilles (Ferenczi 1928), these are examples all signed Christian Brulls.
When Simenon started the Maigret series, in the 30's, it was not only a leap in literary quality, but also a substantial improvement in his financial situation, thus it gave him the possibility of travelling. First on canals in France and all Europe, then cruising in the Mediterranean, and finally doing a long trip in the African continent. And next he travelled around the world: from Caribbean to South America, from Australia to Pacific archipelagos.
Since then his point of view had much changed. Now there were directly lived experiences, and not only with the eye of the tourist that just sees and passes by, but with the look of someone who stays in a place for some months. All these crossed kilometres left an indelible mark, which was translated into reportages for Parisian newspapers, and thereafter in novels with exotic ambiences.
The plot in these novels is often an event inspired by the miserable conditions in which the colonisation by European nations had reduced Africa and other parts in the world. Injustice, exploitation, segregation, all these are situations that Simenon denounced in his reportages, but we can also find them in his novels. European people governed those countries with a mean, egoist and often incapable administration, closed on itself, corrupted and slave of alcohol or drugs. In fact, between the dreamed exoticism in popular novels and the exoticism as seen and reported in novels like Quartier nègre (Gallimard 1935), 45° à l'ombre (Gallimard 1936), Le Blanc à lunettes (Gallimard 1936), Touriste de bananes (Gallimard 1938), there is an abyssal difference.
We can see in these novels that Simenon is on the side of natives, not only by a sense of justice, but also because in those natives, even if they were corrupted in part by the colonial presence of white people, he had glimpsed something very close to this "naked man" he was looking for. These natives were not yet totally forced by the superstructures of occidental civilization; they were still spontaneous and far from industrial and financial society. Some of his sentences remained famous. In response to an advertising campaign that had as slogan "Africa calls you", Simenon had answered in one of his reportages: "Africa calls you and says shit to you". And against colonialism: "Who among Belgian, English and French people will be first put out by African people?"