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The Simenon Center at Drew University

By Anne M. Hamilton

A former Fulbrlght Scholar who studied in France and lectured in Peking, Bangkok and Kathmandu, Professor of French Lucille Becker rates as a world-class scholar and traveler. But now, she's bringing the world to her doorstep by establishing a special collection on the wonders of French literature in the Drew library.

The subject is Georges Simenon, a contemporary Belgian author on whom Becker published a book in 1977. With the aid of Director of the Library Arthur Jones, Becker hopes to make the Drew Simenon Center the first and foremost center for Simenon research in the country.

Considered one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, Simenon is most famous for his detective novels featuring Police Commissioner Maigret. He is the author of over 250 "psychological" novels, with others published under pseudonyms.

"This author's detective novels are different from those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Ian Fleming. A Simenon detective novel has great value and interest because it is a psychological study of the criminal," Becker said. "For instance, we know that Sherlock Holmes is a scientific detective; a crime has been committed and in the end, Holmes figures out who was responsible. In a Maigret novel, one knows very early the murderer's identity. Maigret is not interested in who committed the crime or how it was done, but why?"

Becker finds an especially interesting feature in all Simenon novels: a literary re-creation of France between the two World Wars. "He was probably the last 20th century novelist to create a whole world like this," said Becker, a 17-year Drew veteran who is writing her fifth book, a study of French 20th century women novelists.

Drew's special collection, modeled after the Simenon Center in Liege, Belgium, now consists of more than 500 titles published by the Helen & Kurt Wolff Books division of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich publishers, and other titles published by several Parisian publishing houses. It also includes typescripts of Simenon's works, donated by Helen & Kurt Wolff Books, as well as French department videotapes of movies based on Simenon novels and Becker's personal collection of 80 titles.

The collection was begun when Helen Wolff offered Becker all typescripts of Simenon's works published under her book division. Becker traveled to Paris to secure donations of other titles in French. The remainder of the collection is being generated through personal correspondence with individuals, including the author himself, now in his 80s. Simenon has offered to help obtain any titles Becker has difficulty locating. An appeal has gone out to all Drew faculty and staff members to donate any Simenon volumes in their possession, especially those in English translation. And Art Jones, a co-sponsor of this project, is trying to obtain grant money for the center.

Becker feels Simenon has not been properly recognized, largely because his writing is prolific and because detective fiction is not readily recognized by literary critics as having value. But she agrees with the late French novelist and critic André Gide who considered him one of the greatest 20th-century writers. "When others catch on to his writing, I believe a tremendous amount of research will be done," she said. "And we feel that our Simenon Center will make Drew a special academic center."

Georges Simenon at Deauville circa 1931, signing books.
Collections Fonds Simenon.

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