10 Things You Didn’t Know About Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon (1963) | © Erling Mandelmann/Wiki Commons
Georges Simenon (1963) | © Erling Mandelmann/Wiki Commons
Photo of Pamela Milano
14 December 2016

The Belgian novelist Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was one of the most productive and popular writers of the twentieth century. Author of more than 500 novels, translated into dozens of languages, he was most famous for his detective novels featuring Inspector Jules Maigret. Read on to find out ten facts you (probably) never knew about this man of all excesses, who did nothing by halves.

Simenon, 1963 | © Erling Mandelmann/Wiki Commons

Fashion Victim

Georges Simenon, often described as a very elegant man, paid particular attention to his attire. His wardrobe consisted of countless types of trousers, jackets, shirts, and more than sixty pairs of shoes, all meticulously hand-made. On the first floor of his house, he had a dressing room fitted with wall-to-wall mirrors, so he could observe himself in his outfit from all angles. Louis Vuitton has listed Georges Simenon as one of its most loyal customers. Clothing is also an important aspect in Simenon’s fiction. His detailed descriptions of the clothing worn by Inspector Maigret constitute an important part of this character. Indeed, think of Maigret and a mental picture of an overcoat with a velvet collar, a hat, and the ever-present pipe will come to mind.

Disputed Birthday

The date of Georges Simenon’s birth has always led to much discussion. As per his birth certificate, Georges Simenon’s official birthdate is February 12, 1903. It seems, however, that he actually came into the world on the following day, i.e. February 13. This date, considered inauspicious by the writer’s very superstitious mother, was advanced by one day and recorded by his aunt at the municipal registry office in Liège.

A Prolific Writer

Georges Simenon was an extremely prolific writer, who produced more than 350 works under his real name. He also published over 1200 stories using over 15 different pseudonyms, such as Georges Sim, G. Sim, Geo Sim, Christian Brulls, Christian Brull’s, Jean du Perry, Jacques Dersonne, Jean Dorsage, Luc Dorsan, Georges Martin-Georges, Gaston Vialis, Germain d’Antibes, Aramis, Bobette, La Deshabilleuse, and Gemis. In 1928, he wrote 44 novels. We must not underestimate the fact, however, that Georges Simenon has endlessly produced a diversity of work ranging from several literary genres from novellas and short stories to the serialized novel, the noir genre and some psychological thrillers, erotica, romances, crime, and adventure novellas.

‘I write fast because I have not the brains to write slow.’

Georges Simenon’s incredible literary output was also due to him being a notoriously fast writer. Simenon usually wrote 6,000-8,000 words a day, or anything up to 60 to 80 pages and took approximately 11 days to complete a novel. He would mark off on a calendar eight days for composition and three for correction. Though perhaps an urban legend, it seems that Simenon once wrote a novel in public in 24 hours, while sitting in a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge in Paris, accepting character and plot suggestions from an amazed audience.

maigret trio | CHRIS DRUMM/Flickr

Methodical Man

Georges Simenon’s extraordinary production was undoubtedly linked to the strict, unvaried routine he followed for producing a book.

Firstly, Simenon would list the names of his characters, including their descriptions, addresses, and other personal details on a large manila envelope. The plot line would come later, almost as a revelation, while writing. On the eve of his first writing day, he would meticulously prepare, polish, and change the ink ribbon of his IBM electric typewriter. He would lay out a selection of pipes, some of his special ‘Coupe Maigret’ tobacco, a coffeepot and a large cup, and two folders — one for typescript, the other for carbons. With the phone disconnected, he would hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door of his study. The whole household knew that a tomb-like silence had to be observed to avoid distracting Georges Simenon during his creative process.

On the following day, Simenon would be up at dawn, ready to work. He wrote quickly, never consulting a dictionary, never going back to edit. By about 10:30 a.m. he would be finished for the day, his sweat-drenched shirt ready to be washed for the following day of writing. In fact, his ritual demanded that he wear the same shirt until the novel was finished.

Pipe Collector

He owned more than 300 pipes, which he chain smoked, just like his most famous character, Inspector Maigret. Georges Simenon confessed smoking six to eight pipes during the creation of one chapter. It seems that smoking helped him while elaborating his novels.

A Cocktail in His Honor

To celebrate this Belgian icon, the jazz bar L’Archiduc, in downtown Brussels, has created an exclusive cocktail in honor of this author. A mix of vodka, Campari, and grapefruit juice with a smoky aftertaste – some say it is a nod towards his pipe-smoking.

L’Archiduc bar, on Rue Antoine Dansaert, where you can sip a Georges Simenon cocktail | © WikiCommons

Looking for inspiration in telephone books

Georges Simenon kept over 150 telephone books, from different countries, in his study. When in search for a name for one of his new characters, he would spend hours poring over these telephone books. He would then copy about 300 names on the famous yellow manila envelope and then read these names out loud, over and over again, until one of them would sound right for his next character.

Simenon on the big screen

Simenon’s work has been widely adapted to cinema and television. He is credited on at least 171 productions. Georges Simenon loved the movies, and he even considered becoming a producer in order to adapt his own work for the big screen. Simenon remains today the one writer with the greatest number of works adapted to the big screen. If one also counts other successful Maigret television series, we get an absolutely phenomenal number of films.

The first of Simenon’s work to be adapted for the big screen was La Nuit du Carrefour, produced in 1932 by the great Jean Renoir. The latest production of Simenon’s works will be broadcast on TV during spring 2016: Maigret Sets A Trap will be one of two stand-alone dramatic films featuring the legendary French fictional detective Jules Maigret, played by Rowan Atkinson.

Love for the Ladies

Given the number of works he has published, it is difficult to imagine Georges Simenon having time for anything other than writing. Yet, as per his own admission, Simenon is as famous for his Inspector Maigret as he was for his sexual conquests. Simenon claimed to have had 10,000 lovers, of whom 80% were prostitutes. Josephine Baker, a French-American dancer and actress, was perhaps one of his most famous lovers.

Georges Simenon once said, ‘I literally suffered from knowing there were millions of women in the world that I would never know.’ For their part, Simenon’s two wives and several ‘official’ mistresses tolerated Georges’ infidelities. It seemed that servants and other employees in Simenon’s household served a dual function. In fact, one of his last conquests, Teresa Sburelin, a Venetian woman who became Simenon’s mistress for 23 years, had originally joined the household as his second wife’s maid.

Josephine Baker in Banana Skirt from the Folies Bergère production "Un Vent de Folie" | © WikiCommons

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