Penguin Maigret - The Madman of Bergerac|
By the end of the first chapter of The Madman of Bergerac, Inspector Maigret has already spent a sleepless night on a crowded train, jumped off in pursuit of his nervous cabinmate, received a gunshot wound in the left shoulder, and lost consciousness in a forest outside town. He has wakened to find himself in a hospital bed, surrounded by hostile interrogators and mistaken for a murderer. It will take some time before the skeptical prosecutor will admit “that Maigret was indeed Maigret and not the madman of Bergerac!”
Despite these dramatic beginnings, the rest of the novel is marked by near-stasis, an immobility caused by both Maigret’s confinement and the provinciality of life in Bergerac. Yet Simenon manages to energize the plot anyway. How? Through what one might call a structuralist motor, one that works by setting two opposing principles in simultaneous motion.
The first principle is Anti-Enlightenment – a worldview that emphasizes irrationality, uncertainty, and disorder. The Madman of Bergerac replaces the typical mystery’s stable core with a narrative in which (to repurpose both Marx and Marshall Berman) all that is solid melts into air. Instead of formal investigation, we get accident: “It all came about by pure chance!” Instead of comprehensible motives, we get behavior that baffles even the actor, with the Inspector as perplexed as we are about “what instinct had prompted him to jump off the train while his luggage continued on its way to Villefranche-en-Dordogne.” Instead of evidence, we get unbridgeable gaps in knowledge – signs that lie just outside the “halo of moonlight,” memories that collapse into one another. Every detail – bushy eyebrows, a pair of socks, a particular hat – could point to Maigret’s assailant, or to someone glimpsed during his delirium, or to nothing at all. The clues, in other words, seem to be originating within the seeker – a situation that raises the possibility, fatal to the Enlightenment myth, that we are not so much discerning patterns in the world as imposing patterns on the world. (For more on the mystery as the embodiment of the Enlightenment ethos, see my review of The Two-Penny Bar.)
A case so resistant to comprehension inevitably acquires a “nightmare” quality, which may explain why Simenon uses the word three times in the first chapter. The atmosphere of irreality grows especially dense in a strange, striking passage in which Maigret dreams he is a “gleaming black animal,” fat as a seal and awkward as a beached whale, sinking second by second into wet sand. The dream obviously refers to the Inspector’s physical condition – “Why was he so stiff? Had he been wounded by a hunter?” – but also seems to me a figure for a detective out of his depth, mired in a world in which reason and observation no longer take him where he wants to go...
re: Penguin Maigret - The Madman of Bergerac|
1/1/18 Thanks, Andrew!
Just for fun, I tried "Bergerac" in the Search form at the top of the page - and got 122 results! The Maigret-of-the-Month was #1, of course, but also this interesting #2 from 14 years ago (Dec. 29, 2003):
Maurice Piron's L'Univers de Simenon
Letter to The Times|
1/7/18 A comment I had in the TV pages of the Sunday Times Culture section (January 7th 2018):
re: Letter to The Times|
1/18/18 It is becoming more and more probable that BBC does not have Maigret with Rupert Davies any longer.
More on La Nuit du carrefour|
I can add some infomation to supplement Murielle's text, Maigret and the mysteries of the crossroads...
In Pierre Assouline's biography of Simenon, we find this about Jean Renoir's film, La nuit du carrefour:
"The interiors were shot in a studio in Billancourt, outside Paris, the exteriors at the intersection of Routes 1 and 309, in La Croix-Verte, [by Bouffémont]. Simenon was careful to show personal interest in the proceedings, visiting the set many times between January and March 1932. Marcel Lucien, the director of photography, submerged the images in a thick fog. The atomosphere was truly sinister, and the overall effect had a rare poetry.And, at the site of the online archives of the Bibliothèque nationale française, we can find an article about it written by Simenon for the newspaper Paris-Soir, April 16, 1932, p.6...
Quai des Orfèvres at high water|
The Quai des Orfèvres with the Seine very high...
La maison du juge|
I wonder what Lise's madness could be, in La Maison du Juge?
Penguin Maigret - Liberty Bar|
The pace at which Simenon wrote his novels – particularly the early Maigrets – insures that themes in them will emerge as much from unconscious processes as from intention and craft. This is why interpretations of the books must content themselves with strands that do not tie neatly into an overall pattern, and that sometimes trail off into inconsistency or inconsequence. Yet it would be a mistake to think of the novels as slipshod. They are better understood as a variety of realism, one that coherently develops the idea that reality can never be shapely or self-consistent.
I am keeping this willful inconsistency in mind when I call Liberty Bar a rumination about selves – about the way the passage of time changes one self into another, and the way potential selves exist within each person, and die off, one by one, when the conditions for their emergence no longer exist.
In the early chapters of Liberty Bar, Maigret is sent to Antibes to solve the murder of William Brown – and to solve it, his superiors say, with “no drama.” The refrain returns to Maigret’s mind again and again throughout the book, like an insipid pop hook that has taken one’s consciousness captive. After interrogating two of the suspects, he is surprised to find himself somewhat disheartened – almost personally affronted – by how the victim spent his final years.
Why should that matter to Maigret? The answer is obvious. Looking at a portrait of Brown, at the “exaggeratedly calm gaze” and “good natured but ironic curl of the lips,” Maigret has to admit: “[T]here was something about his general bearing, his expression, that reminded Maigret of himself.” The narrative reinforces this sense of identification, telling us that Maigret enters the dead man’s villa like “an owner returning home,” sits in his favorite armchair, and receives a box of his cigars as a gift. On his way out of the villa, he even grabs Brown’s raincoat by mistake. At the eponymous bar, Jaja, the owner, says:
“You remind me of William... That’s where he sat... He too put his pipe down next to his plate when he ate... He had your shoulders... Do you know you look like him?”
Thus, Maigret sees Brown as a second self – or, better yet, as one of those potential selves, somehow released from his interior into the visible world. This is why he is so disturbed by the dreary domesticity into which the dead man seems to have retired: “ʻHow on Earth did a fellow like Brown spend ten years with these two women?’” Could such a dismal fate await Inspector Maigret? ...
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