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GEORGES SIMENON: first editions, manuscript and typescripts in Paris

Press release


"The greatest of all" according to André Gide first editions, original autograph manuscript and original typescripts


Sale in Paris on Tuesday 24 June 2003

At the time of the centenary celebrations of Georges Simenon's birth, Sotheby's will offer for sale one of the most famous collections of works by the celebrated novelist. This remarkable collection was gathered by a Frenchman, a great admirer of literature, first editions and manuscripts. Predisposed to literary culture by his family environment, he was brought up with the texts of the great authors of the 19th and 20th centuries, and was captivated by Georges Simenon's novels from a very young age.

Today, the businessman he has become speaks with great enthusiasm about his taste for reading and about his literary choices. "At first, he says, I endeavoured to buy first editions of French writers such as Benjamin Constant, Barbey d'Aurevilly, Maupassant, Mirbeau and Vian, as well as French translations of foreign authors like Herman Melville, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and Henry Miller. I then realized that unconsciously Vian, Camus, Merle, Nabokov, Miller and James had all been influenced by Simenon and were all his heirs in a way. In the past fifteen years, I focused on collecting Georges Simenon. More than just detective novels, his works are accomplished texts of a great profoundness and are remarkably well-built. To me, Simenon is timeless and has a huge freedom of mind. I wanted this sale to coincide with the centenary of his birth and the catalogue to be a tribute to this fascinating writer".

The sale of the J.-M. B. Collection will take place in two sessions - estimated from 500, 000 to 700, 000 euros each - and will be described in two separate catalogues, one being devoted to the 19th and 20th centuries (284 lots) and the second one exclusively to Georges Simenon's work (186 lots).

"The greatest of all" according to André Gide, Georges Simenon was born in 1903 in Liège (Belgium). When he was fifteen, he started working as a junior reporter for a local newspaper called La Gazette de Liège. He was only twenty when he arrived in Paris, a city that would always fascinate him and would often serve as the setting for his novels. There, he published under various pseudonyms several popular novels and serial stories for romantic newspapers like Froufrou.

This lucrative activity allowed him to buy a boat and undertake a long tour of the canals and rivers of France, which would become the setting of a great many of his novels. Fond of travelling, he subsequently visited several continents, met Trotsky in Turkey, sailed around the world on his boat in 1935, lived in Porquerolles, in La Rochelle, in Vendée, and after World War II stayed in the United States for more than a decade before finally settling in Lausannne in 1959. His prolonged stays in provincial French towns and in foreign countries, as well as his ocean-spanning voyages provided new and exotic inspirations for his novels. The year 1931 marked his real début in literature with Pietr-le-Letton : Commissaire Maigret was born, along with his pipe, his surly manner, and his inimitable psychological penetration. Yet Simenon would suffer many refusals from various publishing houses, which could hardly imagine how this big placid man could interest the readers. Nevertheless, his works were to become widely adapted to both the big and the small screens. Then he decided to put the idea of a detective collection devoted to his famous commissaire to the editor Fayard. Its success was immediate. In 1934, the novelist started publishing his texts at Gallimard, publishing house to which André Gide introduced him.
In 1945, Georges Simenon met the man who was later to become his only editor : Sven Nielsen, the director of the Presses de la Cité. The first novels they published together were La Pipe de Maigret (first edition, estimate 200/300 euros) and the "non-Maigret" Trois chambres à Manhattan (first edition, estimate 500/800 euros). Thus, not only is Simenon the father of commissaire Maigret, but he has also given us various other "non-Maigret" novels, his "romans durs" (tough novels) as he describes them himself. Examples of these are Le Cercle des Mahé (estimate 2, 000/3, 000 euros) or the disturbing Les Fantômes du chapelier (estimated 500/800 euros).

A workaholic, Simenon wrote in accordance with a long-standing ritual. After a time of reflection during which he would write on a yellow envelope the names of the protagonists and some details of the story, he would begin writing the novel itself - "il est en roman" as he would say himself. He would lock himself in his room for some time - rarely more than ten days - and would write one chapter every day, in one go, and without revisions. The autograph manuscript of La Mort de Belle and nine original typescripts show the writer's first work.

Apart from his very first book, Le Pont des Arches, published in 1921 under the pseudonym Georges Sim (estimate 1, 000/1, 500 euros), this collection only contains novels published under the name Georges Simenon, from the first novel published by Fayard in 1931, Monsieur Gallet décédé (estimate 200/300 euros) to the last one published by Presses de la Cité in 1972, Les Innocents (estimate 200/300 euros).


The most desirable item will certainly be the lot containing the original autograph manuscript of La Mort de Belle. This will be sold together with all the other documents that illuminate on the creation of the work : the yellow envelope, the autograph manuscript, as well as the original typing with corrections (estimated 100, 000/150, 000 euros). The result was one of the most famous and most entrancing novels of Simenon's American period.

Also offered for sale will be nine original typescripts, with corrections, including six of Maigret et la Vieille Dame, 1949 (estimate 30, 000/40, 000 euros), three original "non-Maigret" typescripts, including an unpublished one named Le Soi-disant Monsieur Prou or Les Silences du Manchot (estimate 30, 000/40, 000 euros), a radiophonic novel divided into twelve episodes, and La Vérité sur bébé Donge, 1940 with a presentation copy signed by the author to Docteur Eriau (estimate 25, 000/35, 000 euros). Georges Simenon rarely signed his typescripts and this one is the oldest that we know of. Finally, one of the few copies that are left of Le Fils Cardinaud, written prior to WWII, is also on sale, estimated at 25, 000/35, 000 euros

The sale will also include the proofs of four of Simenon's novels, with corrections, many presentation copies (to Raymond Queneau, to Gilbert Sigaux, to his editor Sven Nielsen, to his doctor friend de Saint Mesmin, to doctor Eriau, etc.), a mimeographied edition, which is a kind of American auto-edition, of Le Corps sans tête (estimated 4, 000/6, 000 euros), etc., numerous first editions, some with photographic covers (with the works of gifted young photographers such as Germaine Krull, Man Ray, or Robert Doisneau) and others with beautiful illustrated dust-jackets. For example, the first edition of Le Relais d'Alsace has a photographic cover attributed to the young Robert Doisneau.

This collection brings the author back to life through his work, and is part of the many events organized around the centenary of Georges Simenon's birth. The works of this famous author will this year enter the famous Collection La Pléiade.

FIRST EDITIONS FROM THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES In the morning, the first part of the J.-M. B. Collection will be devoted to the first editions of the great literary texts of the 19th and 20th centuries :

One of the most sought-after novels, also one of the collector's favorite, is an extremely rare first edition of Adolphe by Benjamin Constant. Started in 1806, this novel would only be published in its final version in 1816, in London - right before two Parisian editions published the same year. Only three public libraries, all in England, own a true copy of this first version - even the Bibliothèque Nationale de France does not have a copy (estimate 8, 000/10, 000 euros).

A magnificent copy, bound by Georges Leroux, of L'Enchanteur pourrissant, the first book published by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1908 (estimated 30, 000/40, 000 euros).

Chagall's copy of the first edition, of La Fin du monde filmée par l'ange N.-D. by Blaise Cendrars, published in 1919. Cendrars met Chagall in 1912 at the painter's studio in La Ruche. A deep and lasting friendship would spring up between the two men. The writer had his right arm torn off by a shell during WWII ; the presentation copy to Chagall reminds him of the terrible memories of that period : "To Chagall who has known THE END OF THE WORLD and me too" (estimated 15, 000/20, 000 euros).

Three long unpublished autograph letters by Céline show the ordeals the author went through after WWII. Two letters written in May 1947 testify to Céline's extreme solitude when he was confined in Copenhagen.

Feeling more alone more than ever, Céline is irritated by Albert Camus' "calls for calm and silence", denies having collaborated with the Nazis, and draws up his own list of the "real collaborators" (estimate 7, 000/10, 000 euros). Céline also makes touching confessions to his friends, an example of which is this beautiful digression on the type of women he likes : "One has to chose between the drowned and the swimming champions. For me, it's the champion with her pink thighs. The drowned are for the aesthetes..." (estimate 5, 000/8, 000 euros). The third letter, dated 13 August 1951, reflects a less difficult period, when Céline had come back from exile. He had just signed his first contract with Gallimard and therefore has "the money needed to buy a home where I can die" (estimate 4, 000/6, 000 euros).

Friday, June 20 from 10am to 6pm
Saturday, June 21 from 12pm to 6pm
Monday, June 23 from 10am to 6pm

Diana Ridderikhoff

Press Office / Marketing
Sotheby's Amsterdam
De Boelelaan 30, 1083 HJ Amsterdam
T +31 20-550 2205 F +31 20-550 2310

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