The Snow Was Black

by Georges Simenon

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Characters Discussed

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Frank Friedmaier

Frank Friedmaier, an idler, robber, and killer. The son of a former prostitute (now a madam) and of an unknown father, Friedmaier is short and boyish. He is nineteen years old when the story begins. His outward lack of emotion, disconcerting to others and terrifying to his mother, conceals an intense desire to find a stable place in the chaos of Nazi-occupied Europe. Although he craves attention, he despises those who demonstrate affection for him. He bullies his mother, who fears him, even while he lives off of her earnings; he is contemptuous of the source of his money, of his mother’s pliable morality, and of himself for taking advantage of both. He kills a woman who had befriended him in his childhood; he assaults Sissy Holst, who adores him; and he loathes the prostitutes who satisfy his physical needs. Imitating his wealthy and obviously criminal friend, Fred Kromer, Friedmaier decides on murder as a method of self-assertion. Even as he kills, he realizes that what he is really trying to do is attract the attention of his respectable neighbor, Gerhardt Holst, who is, for Friedmaier, a father figure. In prison, Friedmaier finally finds the structured life he craves. When Holst and Sissy visit him, the former treats him with paternal affection despite his abuse of Sissy, and Sissy, despite his cruel tests of her, asserts her lasting love. Now fulfilled, Friedmaier is ready to die; he confesses his two murders and is shot.

Lotte Friedmaier

Lotte Friedmaier, Frank’s mother, a former prostitute, now a madam. A blowsy, reddish-blonde, overweight woman with a youthful face, Lotte runs a manicure parlor on the third floor of a boardinghouse; it actually is a brothel. She hires young girls, trains them to wait on her, and fires them rapidly, to be replaced by new excitements for jaded appetites. Her job provides the luxuries that others lack during the German occupation. Well fed, warm, and amply clothed, Lotte and Frank are hated by most of their neighbors except for the Holsts.

Gerhardt Holst

Gerhardt Holst, a former art critic forced under the occupation to be a streetcar conductor. Despite his quiet, colorless appearance, Holst possesses unmistakable integrity. Although he is thin, weak, and prematurely aged from hunger and cold, he neither hates Lotte and Frank nor envies them their comforts, although he lives across the hall from them and can smell them cooking food. After Friedmaier and Kromer assault his daughter, Sissy, Holst gives up his job to do bookkeeping at home and to nurse his daughter. Aware of Sissy’s love for Friedmaier, he takes the girl to visit Friedmaier in prison, where Holst admits that Friedmaier reminds him of his own lost son, who was first a thief and later a suicide.

Sissy Holst

Sissy Holst, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Gerhardt Holst. She adores Friedmaier despite his clear contempt for her efforts to attract him. She senses, or Friedmaier fears she does, the unhappiness he is unwilling to admit to anyone. As a result of her childish flirtatiousness, she is sexually assaulted by Kromer, with Friedmaier’s help. After this attack, she falls seriously ill but does not renounce her love for Friedmaier. When she visits him in prison, she voices this love, with her father’s consent.

Annie Loeb

Annie Loeb, an elegant prostitute. As lazy and insolent as Friedmaier himself is, Annie attracts him by the way she refuses to do Lotte’s housework. She demands service and reads and smokes her days away. Unknown to Friedmaier, she is waiting for death. The daughter of a captured Resistance worker, she is serving...

(This entire section contains 723 words.)

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as a prostitute to spy on German officers.

Fred Kromer

Fred Kromer, a twenty-two-year-old drug dealer, bull-like in his corrupt sensuality. Boasting a fur-lined coat and expensive cigars, Kromer is Friedmaier’s pipeline to occupation forces. Kromer enjoys pursuing the young, hungry, miserable girls made vulnerable by the occupation and thus is attracted by Sissy and cooperates in Friedmaier’s desire to contaminate her innocence.

The “Old Gentleman,”

The “Old Gentleman,” a professorial man in glasses who smokes constantly, carefully rolling his own cigarettes. Another father figure to Friedmaier, although he represents the occupying forces, he questions Friedmaier repeatedly in prison, moving him toward the confession and death that are precipitated by Holst and Sissy’s visit.

The Characters

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To Georges Simenon, the character of Frank Friedmaier is not representative of an ultimately guilty man, bent on self-destruction, but of a victim. Deprived during his childhood, never having known his father, farmed out to strangers, Frank appears at the beginning of the novel to be completely amoral, contemptuous of everyone; he hates both the world and himself. He kills without remorse. Yet even before his arrest, incarceration, and interrogation, there are signs of better emotions. He displays some semblance of compassion: He is concerned about Sissy’s physical well-being after her escape from the clutches of Kromer; he gives money to an acquaintance to pay for his sister’s eye operation; and he genuinely craves understanding from Holst, whom he regards as a father substitute.

The other characters in The Snow Was Black are not as well drawn. They are shadowy figures in a bleak landscape. Until the end, Holst is inscrutable. He lives next door, taking care of his daughter, keeping his own counsel;although he witnessed the murder of the German officer and knows that the young man who is taken into custody is innocent, and although Sissy has been attacked through Frank’s connivance, Holst does not inform the authorities. In the novel, he plays the role of the father who absolves Frank of his sins. By visiting him in prison, by placing his hand on Frank’s shoulder, “exactly as Frank always thought a father would do,” Holst brings Frank peace of mind and solicitude. Holst also tells Frank the sad story of his own son, who stole in order to finance his medical school education, and upon discovery, committed suicide. “He was,” says Holst, “twenty-one years old.”

Simenon gives the reader few clues to the backgrounds and personalities of the novel’s other main characters. Almost nothing is known about Frank’s mother except for her profession and that she dotes on her wayward son. Almost nothing is known about Sissy except that she makes a pathetic living by painting flowers on teacups and that she inexplicably worships Frank and is willing to sacrifice herself for him. Nothing is known about the “Old Gentleman” except that he chain-smokes. Like the unknown city in an anonymous country, occupied by an unidentified enemy nation, in the pall of a winter season during an unspecified year, The Snow Was Black is largely peopled by phantoms who lurk in the background and who have no voices.

Bibliography

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Becker, Lucille F. Georges Simenon, 1977.

Bresler, Fenton S. The Mystery of Georges Simenon: A Biography, 1983.

Raymond, John. Simenon in Court, 1968.

Rolo, Charles J. “Simenon and Spillane: The Metaphysics of Murder for the Millions,” in New World Writing, 1952.

Simenon, Georges. Intimate Memoirs: Including Marie-Joe’s Book, 1984.

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