undefinedGeorges Simenon, 1955.

 

Mr. Simenon’s study in his rambling white house on the edge of Lakeville, Connecticut, after lunch on a January day of bright sun. The room reflects its owner: cheerful, efficient, hospitable, controlled. On its walls are books of law and medicine, two fields in which he has made himself an expert; the telephone directories from many parts of the world to which he turns in naming his characters; the map of a town where he has just set his forty-ninth Maigret novel; and the calendar on which he has X-ed out in heavy crayon the days spent writing the Maigret—one day to a chapter—and the three days spent revising it, a labor which he has generously interrupted for this interview.

In the adjoining office, having seen that everything is arranged comfortably for her husband and the interviewer, Mme. Simenon returns her attention to the business affairs of a writer whose novels appear six a year and whose contracts for books, adaptations, and translations are in more than twenty languages.

With great courtesy and in a rich voice which gives to his statements nuances of meaning much beyond the ordinary range, Mr. Simenon continues a discussion begun in the dining room.

 

GEORGES SIMENON

Just one piece of general advice from a writer has been very useful to me. It was from Colette. I was writing short stories for Le Matin, and Colette was literary editor at that time. I remember I gave her two short stories and she returned them and I tried again and tried again. Finally she said, “Look, it is too literary, always too literary.” So I followed her advice. It’s what I do when I write, the main job when I rewrite.

INTERVIEWER

What do you mean by “too literary”? What do you cut out, certain kinds of words?

SIMENON

Adjectives, adverbs, and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You know, you have a beautiful sentence—cut it. Every time I find such a thing in one of my novels it is to be cut.

INTERVIEWER

Is that the nature of most of your revision?

SIMENON

Almost all of it.

INTERVIEWER

It’s not revising the plot pattern?

SIMENON

Oh, I never touch anything of that kind. Sometimes I’ve changed the names while writing: a woman will be Helen in the first chapter and Charlotte in the second, you know; so in revising I straighten this out. And then, cut, cut, cut.

INTERVIEWER

Is there anything else you can say to beginning writers?

SIMENON

Writing is considered a profession, and I don’t think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don’t think an artist can ever be happy.

INTERVIEWER

Why?

SIMENON

Because, first, I think that if a man has the urge to be an artist, it is because he needs to find himself. Every writer tries to find himself through his characters, through all his writing.

INTERVIEWER

He is writing for himself?

SIMENON

Yes. Certainly.

INTERVIEWER

Are you conscious there will be readers of the novel?

SIMENON

I know that there are many men who have more or less the same problems I have, with more or less intensity, and who will be happy to read the book to find the answer—if the answer can possibly be found.

INTERVIEWER

Even when the author can’t find the answer do the readers profit because the author is meaningfully fumbling for it?

SIMENON

That’s it. Certainly. I don’t remember whether I have ever spoken to you about the feeling I have had for several years. Because society today is without a very strong religion, without a firm hierarchy of social classes, and people are afraid of the big organization in which they are just a little part, for them reading certain novels is a little like looking through the keyhole to learn what the neighbor is doing and thinking—does he have the same inferiority complex, the same vices, the same temptations? This is what they are looking for in the work of art. I think many more people today are insecure and are in search of themselves.

There are now so few literary works of the kind Anatole France wrote, for example, you know—very quiet and elegant and reassuring. On the contrary, what people today want are the most complex books, trying to go into every corner of human nature. Do you understand what I mean?