Book and Magazine Collector
May 1992, No. 98, pp 4-12
and 'Maigret' By
Mention the words 'Inspector Maigret' to anyone over the age of fifty and the most likely reply will be: "Ah, yes: Rupert Davies! Now that was a good series!" More recently, of course, British television viewers have seen Michael Gambon in the rôle, and in the years since he made his first arrest in the novel Pietr-le-Letton, serialised in France in 1930, the pipe-smoking detective has inspired a total of 55 feature films and a staggering 279 T.V. adaptations! It is perhaps for this reason that Maigret is a familiar figure to thousands of people who have never read one of the 76 titles which he inspired. Indeed, I know one fanatical reader and collector of crime novels who has not read a single one of his adventures!
If Maigret is best-known in this country as a television character, then it is also true to say that he is one of the few really great fictional detectives whose fame is matched by that of his author. Many people who have never read a 'Maigret' adventure are familiar with at least some of the myths surrounding the life of the remarkable Belgian novelist who created him, George Simenon: his sexual excesses, the amazing speed with which he completed his (admittedly short) novels, the endless moving from house to house until his reclusive final years in a small cottage in Lausanne. Some of these myths have been explored in a fascinating new biography by the British journalist, Patrick Marnham. In this article, I will be considering Simenon's life in the new light of Marnham's findings, and looking at the genesis and development of his most famous creation.
AMBITIONGeorges Joseph Simenon was born ten minutes after twelve on the night of 12th February 1903 in the Belgian city of Liège. His early ambitions were towards the priesthood he was an altar boy at the chapel of the local hospital but this vocation did not survive the twin shocks of the First World War and Georges' discovery of women (the latter succeeding the other by only two years). In fact, the war years were so brutal in occupied Liège that they effectively put an end to the ordered, bourgeois world of his childhood: he became, like everybody else in the city, a small-time black marketeer, and very nearly turned to crime of a more serious sort.
In 1919, inspired by the 'Rouletabille' stories of Phantom of the Opera-author Gaston Leroux which described the adventures of a young reporter, he joined the Gazette de Liège, a right wing, Catholic newspaper. During his time with the newspaper, the young 'Georges Sim', as he called himself, interviewed Emperor Hirohito of Japan and Marshal Foch, but he made his greatest impact as a crime reporter.
It's curious that in 1963 Simenon should have claimed that "when I wrote the first six or seven 'Maigrets' . . . I knew absolutely nothing about police organisation" in the light of his work for the Gazette, which involved long hours in the press box of the Liège criminal courts. Indeed, it seems clear that Simenon was at the time already preparing himself for a career as a crime novelist: in 1920 he signed on for series of lectures on the newly-emerging subject of forensic science, which he attended into the following year.
Maigret in New York was written in 1947, but wasn't published in this country until 32 years later.
HUMOROUSIn 1973, Simenon told the French journalist Henri-Charles Tauxe that "at fifteen, I wanted to be a novelist". If this is true, then it only took him two years to achieve his ambition: in 1920 he wrote a humorous novel called Au Pont des Arches, which a local printers agreed to publish on the condition that he managed to obtain 300 subscribers. It was issued the following year. Encouraged by the success of this book he quickly wrote another, Jehan Pinaguet, a Rabelaisian tale about an alcoholic priest which the editor of the Gazette forbade him to publish.
On 28th November 1921, Simenon was devastated by the death of his father, to whom he'd always been very close. With his father went his main tie to Liège, and almost exactly a year later, on 14th December 1922, he said farewell to Belgium and boarded a train to Paris, returning only briefly three months later to marry his first wife, Tigy.
In the French capital, Simenon took a succession of jobs, and continued to write a large amount of journalism, but concentrated on fiction, selling stories to magazines with names like Frou-Frou and Paris Flirt, and writing pot-boiler novels (or 'romans alimentaires') for six different publishers under a total of 24 pseudonyms (including 'Christian Brullls' and 'George Sims')! He also sold some stories to the popular newspaper, Le Matin, which was edited by the formidable Colette.
His first true novel to be published in France was Le roman d'une dactylo, which was issued by J. Ferenczi as part of their 'pulp' series, 'Le Petit Livre', in 1924. Over the next nine years, Simenon wrote another 187 such books for the company, only stopping in 1933 when the success of 'Maigret' finally gave him the freedom to write only what he wanted. All of these 'pulps' were published under pseudonyms, the most common of which were 'Jean de Perry' and 'Georges Simm' (sic).
What brought Simenon or 'Georges Sim', as he was still known to the attention of the public was not so much his skill as his extraordinary energy as a writer. In 1924, he wrote three novels; in 1928 his peak as a 'pulp' author he wrote 44. So notorious did his speed of composition become, that on 14th January 1927 he signed a contract with publisher Eugène Merle undertaking to spend seven days in a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge nightclub, during which time he would write a novel which was subsequently to be serialised in Merle's newspaper, Paris-Matinal (Simenon actually published a novel called La Cage de Verre in 1971). As it happened, the paper folded before 'Sim' was able to fulfil the contract, but he was allowed to keep the 50,000-franc advance, and the media interest generated by the stunt brought him a considerable amount of publicity.
Maigret and Monsieur Charles (1973) was the last 'Maigret,' and the last novel Simenon ever wrote.
APPRENTICESHIPThe turning point in Simenon's career came in the spring of 1929 when, tired of the good life in Paris, he bought a fishing cutter, the Ostrogoth, and went on a year-long tour of the waterways of Belgium and Holland. After six years as a hack-novelist a period which he had always seen as his literary apprenticeship he had decided that the time had come for him to direct his energies towards the 'serious' novels which it had always been his intention to write.
He didn't rush into it, however. Travelling through the canals of the Low Countries, he continued to produce the roman populaires that provided him with the bulk of his income, and, although he was not quite so prolific as he had been the previous year, he was still able to complete 34 such novels in 1929. It was in the books he wrote during this period that Simenon developed the character of his most famous creation, Inspector Jules Amédée Maigret (named, according to his wife, after one of their fellow lodgers in Paris's Place des Vosges, although there was actually an 'Inspector Maigret' stationed in Liège whilst Simenon was a child).
Maigret first emerges in the figure of 'N.49', a bulky, pipe-smoking detective featured in L'amant sans nom by 'Christian Brull', published by Fayard in 1929. Later that same year, 'Commissaire Maigret' made an appearance in Train de nuit, also published by Fayard. He is much nearer to the finished character, showing some of the Inspector's calmness of manner and understanding for criminals, but unlike his successor he is stationed in Marseille rather than Paris.
Maigret next appeared in La femme rousse, written just after Train de nuit. In this book, however, he has taken a step backwards, and has to play second fiddle to his junior inspector, Torrence, a character who had made his own debut in L'inconnue, published shortly before. Fayard rejected La femme rousse, which wasn't published until 1933, and then by a different company (Tallendier).
Rô1es were reversed for La maison d'inquiétude, when Commissaire Maigret once again takes centre stage, Torrence serving as his assistant. In this story, the Commissaire has already accumulated many of the props which were to become part of his character the pipe, the heavy overcoat, the stove in his office and is already married and living in the boulevard Richard-Lenoir in Paris. Once again, this book was rejected by Fayard, and it was published in the magazine L'uvre as a serial, beginning on 1 March 1930 (so that it actually appeared in print before Train de nuit and La femme rousse).
It is important to understand that all of these books were 'pulp' novels, superior to anything that Simenon had written before, but still undoubtedly of the same genre (although sufficiently radical to be rejected by the editors at Fayard). The first true 'Maigret' that is, the first book to not only feature the character but to be written in Simenon's mature style was Pietr-le-Letton, written in Paris in the spring of 1930 and serialised in Ric et Rac, a magazine published by Fayard, between July and October of that year.
Simenon decided to "launch Maigret" in style, with a massive bal anthropométrique (named after the police department where suspects were stripped naked, measured and photographed), held in a Montparnasse nightclub, La Boule Blanche, on 20 February 1931. The invitations for this event were designed like a police record card, and all the guests who came dressed as policemen or criminals were fingerprinted at the door. The ball swallowed up Fayard's entire publicity budget for the year, but was a tremendous success. 'George Simenon' (as opposed to the better-known 'George Sim' or 'Christian Brulls') had arrived at last.
The ball was organised to launch the first two 'Maigret' novels published in book form: M. Gallet, décédé (published in English under the titles The Death of Monsieur Gallet and Maigret Stonewalled) and Le pendu de St. Pholien (published in English as The Crime of Inspector Maigret and Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets). These books were a great success, and over the next three years, Simenon wrote another seventeen novels featuring the inspector. However, he had always seen him as a transitional figure, and at the end of the last of these books, simply entitled Maigret (ironically published in Britain under the title Maigret Returns), he astonished his many readers by retiring him off.
By this time he had already completed a number of the roman littéraires or romans durs ('serious' novels) which it had always been his intention to write, and it is for this reason that he suddenly although temporarily abandoned the Inspector. In October 1933, four months after the publication of Maigret, he left Fayard and signed a contract with Gallimard, France's most prestigious publishing company, under the terms of which he agreed to produce six novels a year.
All of the one-volume Hamish Hamilton 'Maigerts,' like this one from 1973, can be bought for under £10.
REPUTATIONHowever, Simenon was not able to forget the character who had brought him a worldwide reputation. In late 1939, he began Cécile est morte (Maigret and the Spinster), which along with its two successors Les caves du Majestic (Maigret and the Hotel Majestic) and La maison du juge (Maigret in Exile) was published in one volume under the title Maigret revient by Gallimard in October 1942. The war years saw the publication of one more 'Maigret' omnibus, Signé Picpus (1944), containing three novels and five short stories, and one volume of stories, Les nouvelles enquêtes de Maigret (1944).
The years after the armistice where unsettled ones for Simenon. In 1945, he emigrated to America with his family, and in November of that same year met and fell in love with his second wife, Denyse Ouimet. They married in 1950. In 1955, he returned to Europe, living in a number of houses in France and Switzerland before settling in a cottage in Lausanne.
Despite this rather peripatetic lifestyle, Simenon remained as prolific as ever, writing a further 49 'Maigret' novels and three volumes of short stories, as well as over seventy romans durs, before his much-publicized retirement in 1973. In July of that year, his publisher, Les Presses de la Cité (who had handled all but a handful of his books since 1947), issued the last of his novels, Maigret et Monsieur Charles, and from then until his death on 4 September 1989 he wrote nothing but a series of wildly inaccurate (and still largely untranslated) memoirs. For the last forty years of his life he had been by general consent the best-selling novelist in the world, with global sales topping three million books a year.
But what of Simenon's reputation in Britain, and particularly with collectors? The first point to make is that all 75 of the 'Maigret' novels have been published in English, along with all but a handful of the short stories (there have been two collections issued in this country, both published by Hamish Hamilton: Maigret's Christmas from 1976, and Maigret's Pipe from the following year, which contain nine and eighteen stories respectively). However, because of the shortness of the novels, and Maigret's enforced retirement between 1934 and 1942, the books have had a rather complicated publishing history in this country.
The first nineteen 'Maigret' novels in other words, those written between 1930 and 1934 were all published in Great Britain between 1933 and 1941, before the character made a spectacular return in France with the publication of Maigret revient in October 1942. There were two important differences, however: they were not published in the same order as they had been in France, and unlike their continental counterparts, all the novels were published in pairs (the tenth and last volume, Maigret and M. L'abbe, included a non-'Maigret' novel, The Man from Everywhere / Le relais d'Alsace, as well as the 'Maigret' Death of a Harbour Master / Le port des brumes).
Of these ten volumes, by far the most sought-after now are the first three: Introducing Inspector Maigret (1933; containing The Crime of Inspector Maigret / Le pendu de Saint-Pholien and The Death of Monsieur Gallet / M. Gailet, décédé), Inspector Maigret Investigates (1933; containing The Crossroad Murders / La nuit du carrefour and Pietr-le-Letton), and The Triumph of Inspector Maigret (1934; containing The Crime at Lock 14 / Le Charretier de 'la Providence' and The Shadow in the Courtyard / L'ombre chinoise), all published by Hurst & Blackett. These attractive volumes each one bound in dark red cloth with black lettering, and featuring a pictorial dustjacket are by far the scarcest and most expensive of all the 'Maigret' books in English, with Very Good copies of the first selling for up to £150, and similar copies of the other two for as much as £125.
There was then a gap of over five years, before Maigret was taken up by Routledge, who between September 1939 and September 1941 published all the remaining novels in seven, two-novel volumes. Of these, the first four The Patience of Maigret (1939; containing A Battle of Nerves / La tête d'un homme and A Face for a Clue / Le chien jaune), Maigret Travels South (1940; containing Liberty Bar / 'Liberty bar' and The Madman of Bergerac / Le fou de Bergerac), Maigret Abroad (1940; containing A Crime in Holland / Un crime en Hollande and At the Gai-Moulin / La danseuse du Gai-Moulin) and Maigret to the Rescue (1940; containing The Flemish Shop / Chez les Flamands and The Guinguette by the Seine / La guinguette à deux sous) are the most collected, as they feature pictorial dustjackets by E. McKnight-Kauffer, the brilliant designer / artist famous for his classic posters for London Transport and Shell.
Routledge (or Routledge and Kegan Paul as they were known by then) published only two of the 'new' 'Maigrets' A Summer Holiday / Les vacances de Maigret and To Any Lengths / Signé Pricpus in Maigret on Holiday (1950) before Simenon signed a contract with Hamish Hamilton in 1951 which gave them exclusive rights to publish all of his books in the United Kingdom. They issued one two-novel 'Maigret' Maigret Right and Wrong (1954; containing Maigret in Montmartre / Maigret au 'Picratt's' and Maigret's Mistake / Maigret se trompe) thereafter publishing all his novels in one-volume editions.
The 'Maigret' titles appeared at the rate of two-a-year one in spring, one in autumn from 1955 to 1980, ending with Maigret and the Coroner, first published in France 31 years earlier under the title Maigret chez le coroner. This delay was by no means unusual: by the time Hamish Hamilton published their first 'Maigret' volume in November 1954, they already had a backlog of 25 books to catch up on. This they did gradually, not wanting to flood the market with books by Simenon, who up until 1972 produced at least two new novels a year. As a result, the order in which the 'Maigret' books were published in Britain often bears little relation to the order in which they were written and issued in France.
Apart from the three Hurst & Blackett volumes, most of the 'Maigret' novels can be picked up quite cheaply. None of the single-volume Hamish Hamilton titles sells for more than £10 today, whilst the eight two-novel editions issued by Routledge between 1939 and 1941 are much cheaper than their Hurst & Blackett predecessors, selling for between £30 and £40.
On top of the first editions of these books, there are also one Octopus and six Hamish Hamilton omnibus editions, as well as paperbacks from Ace, Arrow, Digit, Four Square, Pan, Panther, Peacock, Toucan, WDL and, of course, Penguin (including fourteen omnibuses). There are also hardback reprints by White Lion (twelve novels) and Severn House (two novels).
As well as the first editions, there are a number of reprints to be collected, like this one from 1980.
LISTAnyone who wants a complete list of French, British and American editions, including British and American paperbacks, need look no further than Peter Foord's Georges Simenon: A Bibliography, published in 1988 as number three in the Dragonby bibliography series in a limited edition of 300 copies. A few copies of this 84-page, A5 booklet are still available at £10.40 (including postage) C.W.O. from: Richard Williams, The Dragonby Press, 15 High Street, Dragonby, Scunthorpe, South Humberside, DN15 0BE.
Patrick Marnham's new biography, The Man Who Wasn't Maigret: A Portrait of Georges Simenon (Bloomsbury, £17.99) can be highly recommended to those who want a thorough but readable account of the author's extraordinary life. Marnham doesn't make too much of Simenon's well-known sexual excesses, concentrating instead on his difficult childhood in war-torn Belgium, the memory of which took him over fifty years and almost two hundred novels to exorcise.
For collectors, there is a selected (but very thorough) bibliography, which includes all the novels, his autobiographical writings and juvenilia, and a comprehensive list of secondary sources. The book is very well produced, and contains over forty photographs.
Let the last word on Simenon go to Ford Madox Ford. In his massive study, The March of Literature, he wrote of one of the early 'Maigret' books that: "It is Dostoevsky: ... Dostoevsky, corsé, constructed, economized and filled with the poetry of pity." Solemn words perhaps, but appropriate nevertheless, and equally applicable to any one of Simenon's 193 novels. In this article I have concentrated only on those that feature the kindly Inspector Maigret: there are over a hundred more, but, those will have to be dealt with in another feature!
PRICE GUIDE TO THE 'MAIGRET' BOOKS OF GEORGES SIMENON A guide to current values of first editions in Very Good condition with dustjackets. NOVELS INTRODUCING INSPECTOR MAIGRET (includes 'The Crime of Inspector Maigret' and 'The Death of Monsieur Gallet') (Hurst & Blackett, 1933) £125-£l50 INSPECTOR MAIGRET INVESTIGATES (includes 'The Strange Case of Peter the Lett' and 'The Crossroad Murders') (Hurst & Blackett, 1933) £100-£l25 THE TRIUMPH OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET (includes 'The Crime at Lock 14' and 'The Shadow on the Courtyard') (Hurst & Blackett, 1934) £100-£l25 THE PATIENCE OF MAIGRET (includes 'A Battle of Nerves' and 'A Face for a Clue') (Routledge, 1939) £30-£40 MAIGRET TRAVELS SOUTH (includes 'Liberty Bar' and 'The Madman of Bergerac') (Routledge, 1940) £25-£35 MAIGRET ABROAD, (includes 'A Crime in Holland' and 'At the Gai-Moulin') (Routledge, 1940) £25-£35 MAIGRET TO THE RESCUE (includes 'The Flemish Shop' and 'The Guinguette by the Seine') (Routledge, 1940) £25-£35 MAIGRET KEEPS A RENDEZ-VOUS (includes 'The Sailor's Rendez-vous' and 'The Saint-Fiacre Affair') (Routledge, 1940) £20-£30 MAIGRET SITS IT OUT (includes 'The Lock at Charentan' and 'Maigret Returns') (Routledge, 1941) £20-£30 MAIGRET AND M. L'ABBE (includes 'Death of a Harbourmaster' and 'The Man from Everywhere') (Routledge, 1941) £20-£30 MAIGRET ON HOLIDAY (includes 'A Summer Holiday' and 'To Any Lengths') (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950) £8-£10 MAIGRET RIGHT AND WRONG (includes 'Maigret in Montmartre' and 'Maigret's Mistake') (Hamish Hamilton, 1954) £5-£8 MAIGRET AND THE YOUNG GIRL (Hamish Hamilton, 1955) £5-£8 MAIGRET AND THE BURGLAR'S WIFE (Hamish Hamilton, 1955) £5-£8 MAIGRET'S REVOLVER (Hamish Hamilton, 1956) £5-£8 MY FRIEND MAIGRET (Hamish Hamilton, 1956) £5-£8 MAIGRET GOES TO SCHOOL (Hamish Hamilton, 1957) £5-£8 MAIGRET'S LITTLE JOKE (Hamish Hamilton, 1957) £5-£8 MAIGRET AND THE OLD LADY (Hamish Hamilton, 1958) £5-£8 MAIGRET'S FIRST CASE (Hamish Hamilton, 1958) £5-£8 MAIGRET HAS SCRUPLES (Hamish Hamilton, 1959) £5-£8 MAIGRET AND THE RELUCTANT WITNESSES (Hamish Hamilton, 1959) £5-£8 MADAME MAIGRET'S FRIEND (Hamish Hamilton, 1960) £5-£8 MAIGRET TAKES A ROOM (Hamish Hamilton, 1960) £4-£7 MAIGRET IN COURT (Hamish Hamilton, 1961) £4-£7 MAIGRET AFRAID (Hamish Hamilton, 1961) £4-£7 MAIGRET IN SOCIETY (Hamish Hamilton, 1962) £4-£7 MAIGRET'S FAILURE (Hamish Hamilton, 1962) £4-£7 MAIGRET'S MEMOIRS (Hamish Hamilton, 1963) £4-£7 MAIGRET AND THE LAZY BURGLAR (Hamish Hamilton, 1963) £4-£7 MAIGRET'S SPECIAL MURDER (Hamish Hamilton, 1964) £4-£7 MAIGRET AND THE SATURDAY CALLER (Hamish Hamilton, 1964) £4-£7 MAIGRET LOSES HIS TEMPER (Hamish Hamilton, 1965) £4-£7 MAIGRET SETS A TRAP (Hamish Hamilton, 1965) £4-£7 MAIGRET ON THE DEFENSIVE (Hamish Hamilton, 1966) £4-£7 THE PATIENCE OF MAIGRET (Hamish Hamilton, 1966) £4-£7 MAIGRET AND THE HEADLESS CORPSE (Hamish Hamilton, 1967) £4-£7 MAIGRET AND THE NAHOUR CASE (Hamish Hamilton, 1967) £4-£7 MAIGRET'S PICKPOCKET (Hamish Hamilton, 1968) £4-£7 MAIGRET HAS DOUBTS (Hamish Hamilton, 1968) £4-£7 MAIGRET TAKES THE WATERS (Hamish Hamilton, 1969) £4-£7 MAIGRET AND THE MINISTER (Hamish Hamilton, 1969) £4-£7 MAIGRET HESITATES (Hamish Hamilton, 1970 £3-£6 MAIGRET'S BOYHOOD FRIEND (Hamish Hamilton, 1970) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE WINE MERCHANT (Hamish Hamilton, 1971) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE KILLER (Hamish Hamilton, 1971) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE MADWOMAN (Hamish Hamilton, 1972) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE FLEA (Hamish Hamilton, 1972) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND MONSIEUR CHARLES (Hamish Hamilton, 1973) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE DOSSER (Hamish Hamilton, 1973) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE MILLIONAIRES (Hamish Hamilton, 1974) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE GANGSTERS (Hamish Hamilton, 1974) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE LONER (Hamish Hamilton, 1975) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE MAN ON THE BOULEVARD (Hamish Hamilton, 1975) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE BLACK SHEEP (Hamish Hamilton, 1976) £3-£6 MAIGRET AND THE GHOST (Hamish Hamilton, 1976) £3-£5 MAIGRET AND THE SPINSTER (Hamish Hamilton, 1977) £3-£5 MAIGRET AND THE HOTEL MAJESTIC (Hamish Hamilton, 1977) £3-£5 MAIGRET IN EXILE (Hamish Hamilton, 1978) £3-£5 MAIGRET AND THE TOY VILLAGE (Hamish Hamilton, 1978) £3-£5 MAIGRET'S RIVAL (Hamish Hamilton, 1979) £3-£5 MAIGRET IN NEW YORK (Hamish Hamilton, 1979) £3-£5 MAIGRET AND THE CORONER (Hamish Hamilton, 1980) £3-£5 SHORT STORIES MAIGRET'S CHRISTMAS: Complete Short Stories Volume I (nine stories) (Hamish Hamilton, 1976 £4-£7 MAIGRET'S PIPE: Complete Short Stories Volume 11 (eighteen stories) (Hamish Hamilton, 1977) £4-£7 ESSENTIAL READING THE MAN WHO WASN'T MAIGRET: A Portrait of Georges Simenon by Patrick Marnham (Bloomsbury, 1992) in print £17.99 THE MYSTERY OF GEORGES SIMENON: A Biography by Fenton Bresier (Heinemann, 1983) £4-£7 MAIGRET IN COURT by John Raymond (Hamish Hamilton, 1968) £4-£7
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