Maigret of the Month: Maigret s'amuse (Maigret's Little Joke, None of Maigret's Business)
1. Time and length of an investigation
The action of the novel begins on a Tuesday morning, based on a number of clues that we find in the text. Other clues scattered through the text permit us to learn the duration of the action it lasts six days. If we consider the whole of the novels in the corpus, we realize that the author often supplies sufficient points in his text to establish the length of a case.
The above graph gives the duration of the investigation for each of the 74 novels considered. We can note the following points:
the average duration of a case (i.e. average for the 74 novels) is 5 days
it is 5 days whichever cycle is considered (i.e. 5 for Fayard, 5 for Gallimard, 5 for Presses de la Cité)
if we consider the percentage of cases with lengths varying from 1 to 5 days, we get the following results:
For the Fayard cycle, 13 cases out of 19, 68% taking between 1 and 5 days; for Gallimard, the ratio is 3 out of 6, 50%; and for Presses de la Cité, it grows to 73%, 36 cases out of 49. So the Chief Inspector has rather a tendency to favor short investigations, probably both because results should be obtained in the shortest time, the principle of efficiency (cf. COL: "he hated to interrupt an investigation, believing that one of the best chances for success was speed. As days pass it becomes more and more difficult to obtain accurate witnesses... He himself needed to keep forging ahead, to stick with the little world in which he found himself plunged."), and because Simenon's method of writing required this "condensation" of the narrative.
Another interesting aspect from the "chronological" point of view of the investigations, is that of the temporal markers given by the author. We already know that the season – and most of the time the month - plays an important role in the novels (I permit myself to remind you of my own study on this subject). But it can also be interesting to learn whether Simenon gives us the precise day or time that a case begins. My first analysis is of the date of the beginning of an investigation. While the author always gives us the season in which a case occurs, and almost always the month, he is less often precise with regard to the day of the month. There are only 28 novels out of 74 (38%) where this is given, either directly, in the introduction of the novel, or where it can be deduced from clues present in the text. In these 28 cases, there seems to be a slight indication that giving the date may be more important for the author depending on the month, in particular for March. Consider the graph below:
We recall the importance of the month of March as a symbol of the beginning of spring for Maigret. And it's probably for this reason that the date is often mentioned for this month, for the date indicates the debut of the spring season... that's the case in COR: "It was March 23. Spring had officially begun the day before yesterday, and ... you felt it in the air"; in CLO: "Although it was already March 25, it was the first true day of spring"; in HES: "although it was only March 4, you got to thinking of spring".
Let's concern ourselves for the present with the day of the week on which an investigation begins. This day is sometimes mentioned, and sometimes it must be deduced from clues in the text, which is not always easy. Working through the corpus, I've succeeded in identifying the day in 58 novels out of 74, 78% of the cases.
Here are the results of my analysis:
Investigations often start at the beginning of the week, either Monday, or more frequently, Tuesday, since Monday is considered a kind of "slack day", a day when, in principle, there shouldn't be a murder (cf. BAN: "it's generally accepted at the Quai des Orfèvres that people are rarely killed on Monday"). Thus Maigret often starts his work week with the opening of a new case. Similarly, it's fairly logical that few investigations begin on the weekend. Of these, we have two novels which begin on Saturday... one is TEN (it isn't, however, expressly mentioned as Saturday, but I've deduced it from clues in the text), and the other is CLI, in which case it's explicit ("Maigret and the Saturday Caller"). We have three novels which open on Sunday... actually for two of them (PRO and ECL), the story begins on Sunday, but Maigret doesn't start his investigation until the next day, Monday. The third is FIA, which opens on the mass of All Soul's Day (November 2).
While we may not have a systematic indication of the day of the week, in contrast, Simenon always gives us an indication of the time of day that a novel begins. Given very precisely by clock time in 50 of the 74 novels (68%), this information can be a mention, implicit or explicit, of a moment in the day (i.e. morning, afternoon, evening, night). At what time of day does Maigret begin an investigation? Below, some points of response:
To create this graph, I divided the indications of time and moments of the day into four groups: morning (5:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.), afternoon (12:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.), evening (6:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.), night (10:30 p.m. - 4:30 a.m.). We can make the following observations: Maigret starts his investigations by preference in the morning (32 cases out of 74, 43%), and he is less often awakened in the middle of the night than you might imagine... this situation occurs 14 times, hardly more often than beginning a case in the evening (11 cases), and much less often than those starting in the afternoon (17 cases). Is Maigret, a "day person"? Perhaps, though we note that if the story begins in the daytime, Maigret often continues his investigation until well into the night.
2. "At Joinville-le-Pont tra-la"...
At the beginning of Chapter 2, the Maigrets dine with the Pardons at Joinville, and Maigret says, "There are things that we always speak of, that we even hum songs about, but we never do... for example, to eat a friture in a bistro on the banks of the Marne." The "things we hum songs about" brought to my mind two songs, one "At Joinville-le-Pont" sung by Bourvil, and "When we walk by the seaside" sung by Jean Gabin. Through a little research on the Net, my intuition was confirmed... indeed, I've found this text:
Songs : the three mythical airs of the banks of the Marne are known throughout the whole of France, in Europe and other parts of the world. "When we walk by the seaside" sung by Jean Gabin in "The Great Team" (They Were Five), "Ah! The Local White Wine" the anthem of Nogent-sur-Marne, and "At Joinville-le-Pont tra-la". But here it's all a tradition of French songs which finds its heart in history. Artists like Francis Lemarque or Michel Jonasz are often inspired by the Marne. Charles Trenet lived a long time at La Varenne, and died at Nogent-sur-Marne, adding to the list a couplet from one of his most beatiful songs - "To See Paris Again" - in which he speaks of "all the good people of La Varenne and Nogent".
The complete article, devoted to the banks of the Marne, can be found here. Would you like to know the words of the three songs cited? You'll find them here (Joinville), here (Le petit vin blanc) and here (Quand on s'promène...).
And, since I'm mentioning links, let me remind you of this one (I don't know if it's already been mentioned on this site) about Paray-le-Frésil (see Ch. 4 of the novel).
3. A physical presence...
"Were his shoulders really quite broad enough for the role he was about to play? In the language of the cinema, they'd call it 'presence'" It was Maigret who asked this question about Janvier, about to lead the final interrogation of Dr. Jave. I think that this question raised by Maigret – and Simenon - is an essential question which must be asked by a director who has to choose an actor to incarnate the role of the Chief Inspector. This "presence", if it's also psychological, is no less embodied by his "physical presence": Maigret's psychological "weight" would not be what it is without the physical weight of the Chief Inspector... the heaviness, the broad shoulders, the massive silhouette, are integral – and essential – parts of his character. We can't imagine a slender Maigret, small or skinny. The Chief Inspector, in the novels, more than once uses his physical aspect to drive a culprit to confession, or to impose his placid mass on a recalcitrant suspect. If the author has not provided a detailed physical portrait of his character, he has, however, strewn his novels with little descriptive phrases which sketch out for us well the silhouette of the Chief Inspector, and which allow us, if not a complete image, at least an idea. It's the mark of Simenon's genius to have left of his character a silhouette rather than a detailed portrait, giving the freedom to each reader to "make his own movie"... for each of us to design our own Maigret...
Nonetheless, for enjoyment, I'd like to share with you my search through the corpus (another one!): I've gone through it to extract the allusions to Maigret's physical aspect, and I here present you a small sampling...
A broad and heavy mass
From the first novel of the corpus, Simenon describes his character in terms which draw a silhouette in broad outline, but these terms are well enough chosen to give a well-rendered description, such that the physical aspect of the character is fixed in the memory of the reader. And further let's not forget that the character first appeared to the author as a characteristic silhouette (at least that's what he claims in the foreword to the Editions Rencontre edition: "I began to see drawing itself the powerful and impassive mass of a gentleman who, it seemed me, would make an acceptable Chief Inspector". Thus, at the beginning of Ch. 1 of LET, here's how Maigret appears: "Maigret planted himself, broad and heavy, his two hands in his pockets, pipe in the corner of his mouth."
"Planted himself", "broad", "heavy", "hands in his pockets"... these are terms which will reappear throughout the length of the corpus to describe the Chief Inspector. Maigret's way of standing, as he does before a window (for example in BAN: "A good moment, Maigret stayed planted before the window, regarding the rain which drew rivulets on the panes"), in front of his stove, back to the fire, or in front of a suspect (for example in SIG:"planted before Mme Le Cloaguen, terribly massive"), we can imagine him easily with this verb "planted himself", which gives an idea of solidity and placidity. In LET, we find this sentence, "Above all he had a way of planting himself somewhere which did not bring pleasure to many of his colleagues themselves." Physical solidity, but also psychological, which he "imposed" on others, and which permitted Maigret to give "an impression of tranquil power" (GAL).
"Broad and heavy", these terms will also be repeated numerous times, sometimes with variations... the "girth" of the Chief Inspector is given him by his "plebeian build" (LET), he is "huge and bony" (ibid.), but his corpulence is all muscle ("hard muscles" LET), and does not stop him from being agile, having "a large man's dexterity" (NEW) and "an unexpected lightness" (MOR). Other terms evoke the same feeling: "massive" (JUG, CAD), "large and heavy" (PHO,
FLA, HES), "broad and powerful" (GAI), " large and powerful" (POR), "large and strong" (MEU, AMU),"large, heavy, thick" (GAI), "large and broad, broad especially, thick, solid" (PHO), "powerful and broad like a strong man of Les Halles" (TET), "broad and heavy" (MAI, TET), "much broader and thicker than the average" (POR), "broad and comfortable" (FIA), "large and strong, solid in appearance like a rock" (CEC), "heavy and placid" (JUG),
"heavy and slow" (HOL), he has a "broad build" (FAC), a body "weighty" (HOL), "heavy" (VOL), "massive" (PAT, NAH), a "thick size" (AMI), "a big belly" (FAC), and when he is standing, he appears "enormous" (LET, GAI, OMB, REN, JUG, SIG, FAC, AMI, MEU, VIN).... in short, in a word, he is "broad and thick like a clothes cabinet" (man)!
He is described by other characters who deal with him as "a big man" (GAL, pig), "a big, placid man" (NUI), a "thick Chief Inspector" (OMB), a "big Chief Inspector" (FAC, NEW), with "strong corpulence" (GAI), and that can go as far as caricature: "He thus resembled certain characters in a child's nightmare, those monstrously fat expressionless characters who advance on the sleeper as if to crush him. Something implacable, inhuman, evoking an elephant heading for a goal from which nothing will deter him." (PHO). We note however, that with time, Simenon will diminish some of this "elephantine" aspect (CAD) of Maigret, especially in the Presses de la Cité period, where the author hardly describes the physical aspect of his character, no doubt because he has sketched out the essential points in the first cycle, and also because, as Gilles Henry has written in "The True History of Chief Inspector Maigret": "Afterwards, Simenon will slim him down considerably, conserving his size, suppressing the heaviness, the weight and the "bovine" side of his beginnings. Maigret will become more of an outline, much more internalized."
Weights and measures
To attain this high and weighty mass, it's evident that Maigret's measurements should be at the height, if I can say so... he is 5'11" (TET, FLA), weighs 200 lbs. (TET, GAL), and his weight makes chairs creak beneath him (TET; FLA, MAI, AMU), as well as armchairs (GUI, OMB, CEC, men,
REV, HES), and steps of stairs (HOL, COL); and gives him a "weighty walk" (JUG). It's not just his walk which is weighty, and the adverb "heavily" (pesamment) is often used by Simenon to describe Maigret's gestures: he climbs or descends the stairs "heavily " (LET, CEC), sits "heavily" (GUI,
FEL, pau), gets up "heavily" (LET, SCR, PAT), turns "heavily" in his bed (MOR), and falls asleep "heavily" (MEU)! Another French adverb for "heavily" (lourdement) and its adjective "heavy" (lourd) are also frequently employed: Maigret had a "heavy step" (LET, TET, JAU, FEL, FAC, MOR, MEU, PAT), he came and went "heavily" (LET, REN, POR, FLA, not, MAJ, FEL, AMI, DAM, MME, BRA, PAT),
climbs and descends the stairs "heavily" (GUI, POR, SIG, FEL, FAC, MME, ECH, BRA); sits down "heavily" (eto, man, CEC, REV, BRA), gets up "heavily" (NEW, VAC, ECO, DEF, VOL, ENF), goes to bed "heavily" (JEU), and turns "heavily" in his bed (AMI, VOY). Once more, let's not forget, as said above, that this heaviness becomes more and more an internal and psychological heaviness.
But the Chief Inspector doesn't have only girth, we must also think in terms of build, that is to say that he is not only stout, but his broad shoulders, his "broad back" (PHO, OMB, pip, VIN), also give him his characteristic silhouette... we recall that it was as a silhouette that Simenon first saw him: see MEM: "The public must get used to you, to your silhouette, your walk. I'll eventually find the words, no doubt. For the moment, you're still but a silhouette, a back, a pipe, a way of walking, of grumbling." This silhouette, which is qualified with heavy (GAL, SIG, cho, VAC, TUE), comfortable (PHO), thick (REN, FLA, lar, not, JUG, ECO), tall (OMB, CEC), enormous (OMB, MAI), massive (MAJ, TRO, ECO, VIE), imposing (JEU), it is often of his back, or like a great shadow, "a somber silhouette" (LET): "He remained there, enormous, with his impressive shoulders creating a great shadow." (LET), "Maigret was preceded by his gigantic shadow" (MME), particularly when Maigret is back-lit before a window: "his silhouette against the luminous rectangle was enormous" (GAL), "the broad black silhouette of the Chief Inspector, which he saw from the back" (FAC).
Shoulders, hands and face
Also contributing to the silhouette of Maigret are his broad shoulders (PHO, JAU, man, VAC, CLO). We recall that that was how he appeared in GAI until Ch. VI, he is designated by the words "the man with the broad shoulders".
From his shoulders let's move to his hands: like all the rest, they are big (LET, GAL, TET, JAU, BAN), broad (LET), fat (GAI), thick (JUG); rough (MAI), they are heavy paws (TET, CEC, NEW), big paws (JAU, REV), broad paws (VAC), with big fingers (JAU, REN, FLA, amo, CAD, FAC),even enormous (PHO,
POR), which sometimes closed into big fists (err) in a burst of anger. Maigret's hands form part of two characteristic poses... he plants himself, and walks, hands in his pockets, or thrust into his overcoat, his jacket or his pants. Sometimes, but more rarely, he plants himself or walks with his hands behind his back.
Finally, let's speak of his face. It's fleshy (PHO), heavy (PHO), thick (POR, SIG), it's a thick face (TET), broad (TET, AMI), even coarse (GAI). Maigret's hair is thick, of a dark chestnut brown, in which you can hardly make out a few white strands around the temples (LET), and his large eyebrows (CEC, VAC) thick (LET, SCR) surmounting his large eyes (JAU, GAI, JUG, CAD, FAC, NEW, MOR, AMI, MME, MEU, BAN, PEU, TRO, ECO, JEU, TEN, SCR, VIE) with heavy lids (GAL). The color of his eyes must be light, of a greenish gray, after a sleepless night (LIB).
And here, to finish, our traditional little game of "the hunt for reminiscences", which consists of finding in the novel allusions to other novels. And for once, I propose that you discover the answers yourselves (the solution is given below). To which novel is the allusion made in each of these extracts?
in Ch. 6, with regard to Concarneau: "the little group had invaded the Hotel de l'Amiral, Quai Carnot, that Maigret knew from having led an investigation there in the past, which had achieved a certain fame."
in Ch. 7, Maigret and his wife stroll the quays of Bercy and Charenton: "You see that house they're tearing down? That's where a young man lived who came to see me in my office one day with his mother, and who swiped one of my pipes."
again in Ch. 7: "Wasn't it also here that you passed three days and nights, in I don't know which restaurant, when an unidentified man was found killed in the Place de la Concorde?"
also in Ch. 7: "One other time, he had covered these quays on foot, from the lock at Charenton, to the Ile Saint-Louis, on the heels of a tug-boat owner he had ended up sending to prison."
finally, in this same Ch. 7, an allusion less evident: Maigret and his wife enter a bar kept by a woman "blonde and thin", and "to complete the picture, an orange cat purring on a chair with a straw seat."
a) "The Yellow Dog"
b) "Maigret's Pipe"
c) "Maigret's Special Murder"
d) "The Lock at Charenton"
e) although Mme Calas's hair was "dark brown", she too was "thin", and had a fat orange cat... which is why this reminded me of "Maigret and the Headless Corpse"
translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, March 2008