Simenon

“Weapons in the war of ideas” ? Armed Service Paperbacks & Crime Fiction

 

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Georges Simenon, On the Danger Line, NY, Armed Services Editions,  No 21, 1943

American soldiers serving overseas during WWII were offered a rich selection of  compact paperbacks.   Destined to help them dodge the tedium of war, they were designed to fit in their pockets.   The Armed Services Editions  books were printed at a cost of 6 cents a volume and distributed for free from 1943 to 1947.  This is a landmark in the history of mass market reading. The mention on all but a handful of  the covers that “This is the Complete Book—Not a Digest” is a reminder that  paperbacks were at the time still new, and that readers had to be reassured that these were not abridged or condensed books. 123 million books were printed as part of this programme,  representing 1,227 different titles.  Only a minority of these titles were Crime Fiction. The purpose of the programme was educational as much as recreational. Continue reading

Maps of Contempt

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Edgar Allan Poe (1 occurrence)

Le Monde ‘s Data Visualisation team (Luc Bronner & Maxime Vaudano)  have produced a fascinating and revealing interactive map of French Schools names ( http://www.lemonde.fr/les-decodeurs/article/2015/04/18/l-ecole-francaise-prefere-saint-exupery-a-voltaire_4617519_4355770.htm)
Based on publicly accessible data and the names of 67105 French Schools (public and private, and at all levels) it shows, without surprise, that many of these schools (some of them 200 years old) chose the name of a writer. But there are great disparities between writers, and the data tells about the omission of Crime fiction authors. It indicates an apparent stigma attached to this specific type of authorship, as Crime authors fare considerably less well than other, even much lesser known authors.  Edgar Poe, admitttedly not a French author is named only once. Gaboriau, the author of the first crime novel, zero.  Victor Hugo, by contrast (who invented with his inspector Javert a very memorable policeman, but  definitely not considered a crime author) had his name chosen by 365 schools.    It is more than surprising that some of the most read, most popular and internationally famous French authors (such as Gaston Leroux, the author of the Phantom of the Opera) don’t seem to have been deemed worthy of such distinction. When will a French school be named after  him, one of France’s more gifted writers? Or after Eugène Sue, or Frédéric Dard ?

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The Vampiro Series (Livros do Brasil)

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The “Colecção Vampiro”, published  from 1947 by Editora Livros do Brasil, in Lisbon, was one of the very fist series of Crime Fiction paperbacks in Portuguese. It  was certainly the most popular. The “Masters of detective fiction”  published  there showed  a large emphasis on English and American authors.   The notoriety of the authors seemed of rather  more importance than a clear definition of the sub-genre of crime Fiction the books pertained to. Agatha Christie  and Dorothy Sayers  appeared alongside Hammett and Chandler; Wallace with Simenon; Van Dine with Ellery Queen.  The latter, and the likes of Erle Stanley Gardner were the most represented.  While a close contemporary of Gallimard’s “Série Noire” (created in 1945) Vampiro was editorially much closer to Le Masque (Librarie des Champs Elysées, 1927). Vampiro favoured novels of deduction and investigation over hardboiled noir. Continue reading

Simenon in the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal

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«O cão amarelo», Lisboa, Empresa Nacional de Publicidade, 1939? (Le Chien jaune, Fayard, 1931)  First Title in the Series «Romances policiais de Georges Simenon».

Georges Simenon, 1903-1989: mais do que Maigret  is the title of the exhibition with which  the  Portuguese national library  currently ( 8th January to 18th April) commemorates the 25th anniversary of Simenon’s death. The exhibition shows  first Portuguese editions of his novels. These  were translated in Portugal from the early 1930s’. The curators of the exhibition contribute to understand the global (and intermedia) appeal of an author who, with 550 million copies sold, ranks as the third most widely read French language writer, after Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas.

The first Portuguese translation of a work by Georges Simenon  was  the novel  Condenado à morte (Sentenced to death, for La Tête d’un homme, 1931) , published in 1932 in the Os Melhores Romances Policiais  Series, directed by Adolfo Coelho, for the publisher Clássica Editora. By the end of the decade, Simenon’s success was such that he  was published in a separate series : Romances policiais de Georges Simenon (Empresa Nacional de Publicidade). One of his most  popular novels, The Yellow Dog , translated by Adolfo Casais Monteiro started the new series.

For more information on the BNP and the exhibition :

http://www.bnportugal.pt

http://www.bnportugal.pt/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=997%3Aexposicao-georges-simenon-1903-1989-mais-do-que-maigret-8-jan-18-abr-15&catid=165%3A2015&Itemid=1019&lang=pt

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Georges Simenon in Penguin

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A simple wordcloud, when it displays hierarchically structured information, can tell instantly something both very significant and  onerous to establish otherwise.  One would have to browse through hundreds of bibliographical data and to sort them, before being able to discover what the cloud above suggests simply and immediatly.

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The author who published the most books in the Penguin Crime Club,  the famous British pocketbooks publisher’s subseries devoted to the classics of crime fiction, is actually not  Agatha Christie, nor a member of the detection club,  nor any  British author. Neither is it one of the prolific American masters, such as Ellery Queen, or Erle Stanley Gardner. It is actually Georges Simenon, with 48 books published under the universally recognised green cover.

Moorings revolver Wife

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Detection Series in France in the 1920’s

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In France, the 1920’s saw  a decisive evolution in the critical recognition of the crime genre (with, notably, the 1929 publication of Régis Messac’s thesis on the detective novel)  and in the organisation of the publishing industry towards the promotion of crime fiction. The most notable series created at the time was certainly the perennial “Le Masque”. It was by no means the only significant one.  Neither was it the first. Here are a few landmarks

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Discovering the “King of the French Kiosks”, in English language

US_C'est mort et ça ne sait pas

San-Antonio, Stone Dead (C’est mort et ça ne sait pas),

Translation Cyril Buhler,  Paperback Library, New York, 1970

There is a striking contrast between Georges Simenon’s status as an international bestseller, and his younger contemporary, once friend,  and main challenger in the French market, San-Antonio (aka Frédéric Dard). The latter, with his eponymous character, the Commissaire San-Antonio,  an ironic hardboiled counterpart to Simenon’s Maigret actually far surpassed Maigret in terms of sales in French, yet  is virtually unknown in the English speaking world. Too much of his  idiosyncratic verve seems to get lost in translation.  As American Scholar Susan Dorff once put it, in a survey published in the Armchair Detective,  San-Antonio, the king of the kiosks in France is also one of her best-kept secrets. With over 100 million San Antonios in circulation and 200 different titles, many of them published, at a point, in 600,000 mass-market paperback, this is a vast, and vastly untranslated continent, which English readers could only view from afar, if at all.

Here is a list  of English and US translations, with some images of how the books actually looked like.

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