French detective Jules Maigret was one of the major crime characters of the 20th Century. Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret books – and some of his other noted novels – are getting republished by Penguin over the coming months, so it’s time to take a look at his creator. Maigret is a man of simple tastes – he likes a smoke and a drink – but Simenon, a writer of considerable stamina, was a different fish altogether. Here are ten facts about his life:
1/ Although his most-famous creation is French, Simenon was actually a Belgian. Born on February 13th, 1903, on Liege, in those superstitious times his birth-certificate was altered to state the 12th.
After 1922 Simenon never lived in Belgium again. He uprooted himself restlessly, living in France, the States and Switzerland among other places – but despite repeated offers to become a French citizen he remained Belgian.
2/ Simenon was extraordinarily prolific. He wrote nearly 200 novels under his own name, and another 200 using pseudonyms – as a young man he would churn out pulp novels under 17 different names. He also completed 150 novellas and many short-stories. Simenon usually wrote 6,000-8,000 words a day, or anything up to 60 to 80 pages.
Most of his novels were written in less than two weeks, and he once wrote a novel in seven days while sitting inside a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge.
As a result, it’s estimated 550 million copies of his works have been printed.
3/ Simenon worked intensely and found writing a book a great physical and mental strain – his wife had Cartier make a solid gold ball to keep his hands busy while he was thinking. If he was kept away from a book in progress for a couple of days or more he would lose interest and abandon it.
Simenon’ s writing style was famously sparse and unadorned. He once said he wanted nothing in his novels to resemble literature. ‘If it rains, I write “it rains.’’’
4 / He wrote 75 novels featuring his famous creation Inspector Maigret. The first Maigret book Pietr-le-Letton appeared in 1931 – but a character with the same name appeared in a book from 1930 called Train de Nuit – and the final book, Maigret et M. Charles, was published in 1972.
Simenon had initially been given a contract to write five novels featuring the character and – typical Simenon – had written all five before the first was even published.
5/ Commissaire Maigret is a detective in the Paris Brigade Criminelle who has an uncommon understanding of the actions of criminals. He’s a less showy fellow than Holmes or Poirot, but with a strong sense of moral justice. He’s fond of a pipe and a drink, and wears a heavy raincoat in all weathers.
Like his creator, Maigret got around a bit in his adventures, which were set all over Europe and in the US.
There have been numerous worldwide television adaptations of Maigret down the years, including two noted British Maigrets, Rupert Davies and Michael Gambon. A French television series starring Bruno Cremer ran for 14 years.
6/ Simenson was an unabashed self-publicist – he was convinced he would one day win the Nobel Prize – and launched Maigret with a party for 1,000 guests in a Montparnasse nightclub.
7/ As well as his detective novels, Simenon wrote many acclaimed psychological novels, including The Strangers In The House, Red Lights and The Man Who Watched Trains Go By.
In his celebrated 1987 survey of the 100 best crime novels, English crime writer and critic HRF Keating awarded Simenon three places, for two Maigret novels – My Friend Maigret (1949) and Maigret In Court (1960), and the stand-alone The Stain On The Snow (1948).
8/ It’s incredible that he found the time to do anything else but write, however Simenon reputedly slept with two or three women a week, suggesting that over the course of his life the final tally added up to 10,000 women. Married twice, his relationship with mistress Henriette Liberge survived both marriages.
9/ Simenon stayed in France during the war, working for a German film company. After the war the French government found insufficient evidence to condemn him as a collaborator, but Simenson settled in the US and refused to return to France. The subsequent air of suspicion that surrounded him made Simenon a voluntary exile from France for the most of the rest of his life.
10/ Simenon’s later years were dogged by ill-health and personal troubles. Having given up writing in 1972, Simenon died in 1988.