The Snow Was Black

by Georges Simenon

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Themes and Meanings

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It is impossible to generalize about the great body of Simenon’s work or to place any one novel in a proper perspective. The statistics of Simenon’s production are staggering; the frequency of publication is almost incredible. From 1929 to 1973, when he decided to stop writing fiction, renowned for his detective stories and for his character Inspector Maigret, he published under his own name more than two hundred novels. More than fifty films have been made from the novels; it is estimated that there are fifty million copies of his books in print. By any measure, he is certainly one of the most popular and the most prolific of twentieth century writers.

There are, however, certain themes that critics have discerned throughout Simenon’s most significant works of fiction which make him one of the great writers of the post-World War II period in French literature. The Snow Was Black is regarded as one of Simenon’s most powerful evocations of life’s disappointments. Frank reflects an effort by man to affirm himself, to give himself an identity; he does it by the only method commonly available, according to Simenon: by violence and crime. In his novels, time and again, the protagonists are violence-prone, and the narratives end in a murder; there is often a rape or a suicide as well. In The Snow Was Black, there are murders, an attempted rape, a suicide; torture and executions are perpetrated by the invaders. The novel also portrays the solitude and the alienation of modern life, the inability to communicate, and the escape through sensuality and drunkenness.

The theme of salvation by paternity is also exemplified. To Simenon, the father is often the friend, the teacher, the protector, the exorcist of evil. The strength of paternal love may save Simenon’s male characters from debauchery and vice or finally exculpate them from their sins. In Pedigree (1948; English translation, 1963), one of Simenon’s more autobiographical novels, it is the father’s illness that saves Roger Mamelin from moral ruination; in The Snow Was Black, it is the father figure who puts Frank at peace.

Finally, in The Snow Was Black, as in many other novels by Simenon, there is a jaundiced portrait of women. All the female characters, except Sissy and Vilmos’ sister, are prostitutes. Yet even Sissy is like all other women, willing to give up her virginity too easily in return for Frank’s attentiveness. Women are enemies and sex objects, to be used, debased, and humiliated. Craving love and affection, they are often servile, treated with indifference, scorned, and rejected. The more soiled they become, the more attractive they appear; Frank, who is bored by Sissy, is more interested in her after the seduction scene with Kromer than he was before it.

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