Part II: Some Endnotes for Maigret's Memoirs
Throughout the novel we find references to other novels, though this is not something limited to the Memoirs, for Simenon likes to recall the same events from one novel to another. It's also what gives a certain depth or weight (no pun intended) to the character of Maigret, for these memories across novels render him more alive, more real, as if the Chief Inspector's memories become a little like our own…
2. Xavier Guichard
See the article on this site. Guichard's "large work" spoken of by Simenon is this:
- The Poles mentioned in Ch. 1 and Ch. 6. See with regard to this the heading (Poles, etc.) in the Maigret Encyclopedia, and this article in the Forum archives on this site…
- the arrest of the pickpocket, described in PRE and REV.
- Maigret's beginnings as secretary to the Chief Inspector in the St-Georges district (where he investigates his first case in PRE), also mentioned in JEU and DEF.
- the description of the premises of the PJ: (I won't touch on this point now, for it will perhaps soon be the subject of another article…)
- the different branches where Maigret served his apprenticeship in the police, described also in particular in DEF: public roads, department stores, vice squad (morals), hotels and accommodations, and stations.
- his entry into the "Chief's Squad", told a little differently in PRE, but with one constant: Maigret celebrates his promotion with a little too much to drink (no surprise here?!)
- the cases in those places where "you expect them least", where "there is everywhere a veneer of respectability to crack". Which we can consider the cases of the Gendreau-Balthazars in PRE, the Lachaumes in TEM, the Parendons in HES, the Nauds in CAD, and the Serres in GRA.
- Mme Maigret's scrapbooks, where she pastes the newspaper articles about her husband: they are mentioned in MME: "So she preserved, in her scrapbooks, the newspaper articles about me and she did it even more scrupulously after a former director of the PJ published his Memoirs. "You might write yours one day, when you're retired and we live in the country," she'd respond when I'd make fun of her hobby." Well, Madame Maigret wasn't wrong!
A Study of the Origins
of European Civilization
Paris, April 27, 1936
This study, begun in 1911 and pursued with the joy of unexpected discovery, has for 22 years been the most constant and vibrant element of my internal life, whereas externally, the daily work with which I was charged, and whose obligations I loved, seemed my sole reason for being.
It was known by a limited number of my confidants, but the flight of the years left me only an uncertain hope of being able to submit my results to the inspection of all the friends of History.
I therefore address to subscribers, whose benevolent cooperation has rendered possible the publication of this book, my very affectionate thanks.
3. A literary postulate
In Simenon's visit to the Quai des Orfèvres described in Ch. 1, the author takes the occasion to elucidate a little his vision of "semi-literature": "it was less the workings of the police that he wanted to see detailed… than the ambiance in which the operations took place." While in Maigret's investigations there are sometimes described certain forensic techniques (fingerprints, autopsy results, etc.), and the machinations of the police, it remains the ambiance felt by the Chief Inspector that has much more importance. It is rather by immersing himself in the atmosphere, than in analyzing clues, that Maigret solves his cases. Note on this subject the very interesting study by Els Wouters, from Editions du Céfal : Maigret: "I never deduce", The abductive method of Simenon.
With regard to "semi-literature", consider what Simenon said here in the interview which he granted to Bernard Pivot :
Why do you classify on one side the Maigrets and on the other the novels you call your "hard" novels?
G.S. The police novel has rules. And these rules are like handrails, like the handrails of a staircase. Which is to say there's a victim, one or more investigators, and a murderer, which make up a puzzle. You have to follow these well-determined rules. If by the second chapter, your reader finds the going a bit slow, he will read to the end anyway, because he wants to know who the killer was. I call this "semi-literature". That's the word which bothered Jacques-Emile Blanche when we met at Nouvelles Littéraires. Because at that time, it was in all the papers. When I spoke of "semi-literature", he asked me what it meant. I responded: a kind of manufacturing. It could be deluxe or 3rd class, as a cabinetmaker can make his furnishings cheap or splendid. But it's still manufacture. With regard to what I call the "hard novels" and besides it's not me who first used this expression these are simply novels where there are no handrails. When I felt that I was able to write a novel with no handrails, without established rules, I wrote my "hard novels".
By "hard novels" do you mean hard to write?
G.S. No, "hard", because I allow myself to tell the truth about my characters. At first, I didn't call them "hard novels", but rather "novel-novels". Which is to say, true novels.
Whereas the Maigrets, you type directly on the machine?
G.S. Yes, and I wrote them while whistling, or nearly so, because they were that easy. I played. It became more difficult later, because I wound up confusing the Maigrets with the others. I made the characters more complex. For the first 30, they were an amusement. Later, I only wrote a Maigret when I was tired, when I needed to write, but didn't have the physical force to do a novel. To write a 20-page chapter on a typewriter in two and a half hours is tiring.
4. The policeman hero: from Arsène Lupin to Montalbano
"Up to this point, in France, in novels, with just a few rare exceptions, the sympathetic role had always been given to the malefactor, while the police were ridiculed" MEM; Ch. 1
Simenon is probably one of the first authors to set on stage a French hero who was both a "solver" of the enigma and a policeman. If, by the 1920s, "cerebral detectives" (like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot) were already known, they were generally the issue of Anglo-Saxon literature. The "police" literature of the time sometimes featured detectives, but they were not policemen in the civil service sense of the term; they were journalists (Rouletabille), or even "gentlemen burglars" (Arsène Lupin), and often in these novels the police were ridiculed by the detective hero (like Chief Inspector Ganimard in Arsène Lupin). Simenon himself had started with "detective-adventurers", such as Jarry, or Sancette, who, it is true, is a police inspector, but whose charms are more those of a journalist-adventurer like Rouletabille than a civil servant.
Which shows that to introduce a hero who was a simple police functionary in his 50s, living in a bourgeois setting with a homemaker wife with simple tastes, was a risky bet. A risky bet, but a successful one, since "It will therefore be the public who between the red-headed investigator, version neo-Rouletabille, and the hard-working civil servant, massive, pensive, slow, hardly attractive, even surly will choose the latter by a landslide" (source: nocesdencre.ch ).
And Maigret will inaugurate a long series of Chief Inspectors of Police, who will have fine roles: consider, for example, Chief Inspector Montalbano, created by Andrea Camilleri.
For more detail on police literature, see the sites here and here.
5. A famous ball…
Here is how Lacassin, in this section of his "Maigret entre en scène [Maigret comes on stage]" (Omnibus, 1999), describes the Anthropometric Ball which launched the Maigrets:
"February 20, 1931, the onlookers of Montparnasse, however much they were used to local eccentricities, were treated to a strange spectacle. A few steps from the Vavin intersection, at the dance hall "La Boule blanche", usually frequented by West Indian lovers of the beguine, gathered this evening a clientele of dazzling bourgeoisies on the arms of pre-war (that of 1914) toughs… or rather young men trying to pass themselves off as such with the great support of scarves, moustaches, sideburns, bowler hats, caps with a roguish tilt. …
All this beautiful crowd … waited joyfully to be sent to jail: at least, almost. After having presented a strictly personal invitation, reproducing the anthropometric card of the bandit Jules Bonnot, the invitees had their fingerprints taken. … the operation sometimes complicated by supplementary measures of identification: inspection of undergarments (for the ladies) and the taking of lip prints (for the singer, Damia).
In this joyous crowd, quick to mix with the riffraff, we note some writers... Francis Carco, Colette, Marcel Achard … painters... Kisling… humorists; legislators; socialites…
While the West Indian band lets loose, events telescope. Three artists dressed as house painters decorate the white walls with silhouettes of toughs and guillotines; guests who don't find enough room to dance take part in a competition of anthropometric heads. Everyone drinks and has a grand time. The party ends very late, or rather very early: at 7:00 a.m. It is replayed in detail at the top of all the gossip columns in all the day's papers, and will be commented on later by all the periodicals of the capital."
6. Policemen's Memoirs
Simenon mentions in Ch. 2 the Memoirs written by former policemen. Here is some information I've been able to find regarding these.
Gustave Macé, former head of the Sûreté, wrote numerous books on his trade: (I haven't read them, don't worry!):
- The Parisian Police. Unpunished Murders, Paris, E. Fasquelle, 1897
- The Parisian Police. Gibier of Saint-Lazare, Paris, G. Charpentier, 1888
- The Parisian Police. Women Criminals, Paris, E. Fasquelle, 1904
- The Parisian Police. My Mondays in Prison, Paris, G. Charpentier, 1888
- The Parisian Police. My Criminal Museum, Paris, G. Charpentier, 1890
- The Parisian Police. My First Murder, Paris, G. Charpentier, 1885
- The Parisian Police. A Fine World, Paris, G. Charpentier, 1887
- The Service of the Sûreté by its former Chief, Paris, Charpentier, 1885,
Marie-François Goron: born in Rennes in 1847, died at Sannois in 1933. He entered the police as secretary in 1881, became Chief Inspector of Police in 1885. Head of the Sûreté from 1887 to 1894, he retired in 1895 and founded the first "Private Police" agency, which exists to this day (GORON S.A). He wrote his Memoirs from 1900 to 1912.
Eugène-François Vidocq: born July 24, 1775 in Arras, died May 11, 1857 in Paris. Son of a baker, François Vidocq was a petty thief in his youth, and at the age of 16, joined the revolutionary army. He fought at Valmy and Jemappes, then deserted. He was dismissed in 1793, then followed an adventurous life as a thief and swindler between Paris and the north of France. He was sentenced in 1797 to eight years of hard labor for forgery. At Bicêtre, he was put in the chain gang for Brest, a group of convicts destined for the penal colony from this port. The particularly rough voyage lasted 24 days. He attempted many escapes. Arrested again in 1799, he was sent this time to the penal colony at Toulon, from which he escaped once more, in 1800. In this way he acquired among those of his milieu, an unparalleled respect and notoriety. In 1806 he offered his services as an informer to the police of Paris. In 1811 the prefect put him at the head of the Brigade de Sûreté, a police service whose members were ex-convicts and whose role was to infiltrate the milieu. His numerous successes and his unorthodox methods won him as many admirers as detractors. His enemies were numbered both in the underworld and among those in power. In 1827, Vidocq resigned definitively from his functions as Chief of the Sûreté. In 1828 he published his Memoirs which achieved great success, and which formed the inspiration for Honoré de Balzac's character, Vautrin. In 1833 he founded the Bureau of Information for Business, the first private detective agency, which furnished to businessmen, in return for a fee, information services and surveillance.
I've also found other policemen who have written their Memoirs: M. Claude, Chief of Police of the Sûreté from 1859 to 1875, M. Canler, former Chief of the service of the Sûreté (1797-1865). And let's not forget the Memoirs of Chief Inspector Guillaume, also described here.
7. Mestorino & Co…
Here is some information on some of the criminal cases mentioned by Maigret:
- Concerning Mestorino, his interrogation is described here as well as here
- About Bonnot, there is information at this site
- For Landru, see this site and this one ; Charles Trenet has written a song about him, the lyrics to which can be found here
- With regard to Sarret:
The Sarret Affair: On April 10, 1934 in Aix-en-Provence, the last public execution of the city took place. On that day, Georges Sarrejani, called Sarret, was guillotined before the doors of the Aix prison. This barrister-counsel had committed, between 1925 and 1931 numerous particularly sordid murders and swindles, with the complicity of his mistress, Catherine Schmidt, and her sister, Philomène. Sarret sought out weak people, without family or close friends, whose disappearance would pass unnoticed. Thus, in 1925, he killed, in an isolated house of Aix-en-Provence, a couple he had met some time before, M. Chambon and his companion. After disposing of their bodies by placing them in a bathtub filled with sulfuric acid, he had appropriated their money with a false power of attorney. Some years later, in 1931, he poisoned a tubercular young woman without a family, Magali Herbin, then passed off Catherine Schmidt, on whom he had taken out life insurance, as the dead woman. Arrested in 1931, Sarret was condemned to death and the Schmidt sisters received 10-year prison terms. The proceedings consecrated the celebrity of the little Landru from Aix, enough so that the film-maker Francis Girod produced, decades later, a film with Michel Piccoli, Romy Schneider and Andréa Ferréol, Le Trio infernal. See this site.
8. Portrait of a policeman
It is by little touches, in the course of a sentence put in the mouth of his character, that Simenon paints the portrait of that which is Maigret:
"I've made of you a man of the Quai. I've tried to make you the very embodiment of it."
"For me, a man without a past is not exactly a man. Over the course of certain cases, I've come to value more the time with the family and circle of associates of a suspect than that with the suspect himself."
"As a choice, however, I'd much rather go tomorrow and retake my position standing guard at the entrance to the quays, than from a more elegant station, embark for some sunny little corner of the Côte d'Azur."
"That's why I insist on the word "civil servant" which others find demeaning. … With the same concern for knowing everything about my métier and accomplishing a task conscientiously."
"I'm a part [of the milieu] of what's called honest men. But I know the others also, I know them well enough so that a certain contact is established between us. … And all those others that I meet, that I meet everyday in their most secret private lives. … It's a question of seeing them … with a knowing look."
9. History of a friendship
Maigret's Memoirs is not only an original in that it's a character who gives his point of view about his author, but further because the novel evokes a particular link between the author and the character, which is not simply the relationship between a character and his creator, but that of a friendship between them. It's as if Simenon had made of Maigret his double, who both resembles him and is different enough from him to become almost the author's confidant, or at the very least someone whom he can talk with outside of the novel in which he appears. We recall here the famous letter to Maigret from Simenon.
In the Memoirs, Simenon strongly emphasizes this idea of friendship between him and his character. He describes his visit to the Maigret's apartment on the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, to their house at Meung-sur-Loire (which pleased him so much that he put his Chief Inspector into retirement!), Maigret's choice of vacations depending on Simenon's various domiciles, even justifying Chief Inspector's the trans-Atlantic trips by the fact Maigret would accept going to America on the chance that he might meet Simenon! Without forgetting that if the Maigrets had lived for a while in the Place des Vosges, it was because Simenon had lent them his apartment…
In short, Simenon had become "a friend of the family", in particular of Louise, who was "enchanted by the image Simenon had portrayed of her".
And this friendship became so deep that it was Simenon himself who came to "seek the approval" of his character, to the extent that, "Little by little, we wound up resembling each other somewhat. I wouldn't be able to say if it was he who had become more like me, or I like him. There's no doubt that I took on some of his quirks and that he took on some of mine. … This is one of the rare, if not the only one of my characters who has features in common with me." (extract from an interview with Francis Lacassin in 1975).
10. Which treats something of a hodge-podge of hob-nailed boots, Hans Gross, etc.…
Some information on diverse subjects mentioned in the novel:
Gross, Hans [Sim asks Maigret mid Ch. 1, "Have you read Hans Gross?"]: born in 1847 in Graz, died in 1915 in the same area. Judge in criminal law, then professor at the Universities of Prague and Graz. Founder of the Institute of Crime Detection at the University of Graz and a (criminal museum) in Graz. Author of innovative works on the combat of crime, founder of the "Archives of Criminology".
Hob-nailed boots [Ch. 5]: let us note that Boris Vian is the author of a song with this title, the lyrics of which can be found here.
February 6, 1934 [mentioned at the top of Ch. 6]: Bloody rioting in Paris as a result of demonstrations by extreme right groups against the government, following the Stavisky affair.
In the course of the financial scandal of false cash vouchers from the Crédit Municipal of Bayonne, the crook arrested in 1926 and released on bail in 1928, found on the ground with a revolver beside him on January 8, 1934. Public opinion didn't hold to the theory of suicide but accused the police of having killed him in order to protect high-level persons. The extreme right exploited the affair using its traditional themes: anti-Semitism, xenophobia (Alexandre Stavisky was a naturalized Ukrainian Jew).
February 6, 1934, thousands of demonstrators assembled in Paris, converging on the Place de la Concorde, separated from the Chamber of Deputies by the Seine. Policemen and guards were able to defend the Concorde bridge, in spite of the hurling of projectiles of all sorts. Some demonstrators were armed, and the forces of order fired on the crowd. The tally of victims was 16 dead and nearly 2,000 wounded. In the Chamber of Deputies, the right attempted to profit from the rioting to compel the government to resign. But the left formed a bloc behind Daladier. The session was finally closed after an exchange of blows took place in the assembly, between deputies of the right and left. During the night, Daladier took the first measures to obtain the reestablishment of public order. But the next day, his orders were little followed, and it became the first time that a government was forced to resign by pressure from the street.
February 7, in the morning, the battle resumed. The clash with the forces of order was short but violent (they lamented three killed, 75 wounded). The crisis was finally resolved with the formation of a new government under the presidency of the former president of the Republic, Gaston Doumergue. Qualified by a government of "national union", he gathered above all the principal figures of the parliamentary right. The left interpreted the events of February 6 as proof of a fascist plot. The Socialists and Communists counter-demonstrated February 9. These incidents opposed by the forces of order took nine victims. On February 12, the CGT (Socialists) and the CGTU (Communists) decided on a day of general strike. That day marked a first rapprochement between Socialists and Communists, and carried the germ of an anti-fascist union between the two parties, which resulted in 1936 in the government of the Popular Front, composed of radicals and Socialists with Communist support.
Quai des Orfèvres Prize: a literary prize; see this site.
Maigret in the movies: see in particular this site.