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"Hello, is that you, Madame Maigret?"

"He called her to say that he wouldn't be back for lunch or dinner,
sometimes that he'd spend part of the night in his office or elsewhere...
" (CLO)

by Murielle Wenger

original French

1. Introduction

It was while concocting a column for Jacques-Yves Depoix's site that I came up with the idea of this mini-study on the forms of exchange between the Chief Inspector and his wife. When Jules and Louise aren't actually with each other, when they're not, for example, at their apartment on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, or spending their vacation together (see VAC, VIC), their communication is fairly often by telephone. It seemed interesting to examine these telephone exchanges, because they provide a good reflection of the quality of the rapport which exists at the heart of the Maigret couple.

2. Frequency of telephone calls in the corpus

In this chart, only novels are considered. (We can find mention of a phone call in four stories (amo, eto, mal and pau), and an allusion in MEM ("For example, up until now, you still don't have a family life, although the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir and Mme Maigret constitute a good half of your existence. You have thus far only telephoned, but we will see you there..."), but these are not indicated on this chart.)

Two elements can be emphasized. First, these phone calls occur fairly frequently in the corpus, in 42 novels out of 74, some 57%. And second, more interesting, is the significant increase in these calls in step with the years of writing. In the Fayard cycle, phone calls are found in only 4 novels out of 19, 21%; in the Gallimard cycle, 3 novels out of 6, 50%; and finally, in the Presses de la Cité cycle, there are calls in 35 novels out of 49, 71%. The more years of writing that pass, the more Simenon describes in depth the relationship of the Maigret couple. As a consequence, their phone calls, symbolizing the link between Jules and Louise, are more frequently used to illustrate this connection.

3. Contents of the calls

  1. To analyze the contents, I've categorized the calls into four groups, according to the purpose of the call, which seemed to me most meaningful in light of the calls collected:

    Group 1: calls from Mme Maigret to her husband

    Group 2: calls from Maigret to give news (in general, these are cases when Maigret is away from Paris)

    Group 3: calls from Maigret to notify his wife that he won't be back (for lunch, dinner, or even to sleep)

    Group 4: various calls, not covered by the above three

    Here is a chart showing the results:

    The chart only includes novels in which phone calls occurred, and I've included the four stories mentioned above.

    We note the following points:

    1. The most frequent reason for telephone calls from Maigret to his wife is, without question, to notify her that he won't be returning home. Calculating the total number of calls (there are 90 examples in the whole of the corpus, some novels containing up to four separate examples), we find 50 calls of the Group 3 type (55% of the total calls counted); 18 calls were made by Mme Maigret (20%), 14 for various reasons (16%) and 8 by Maigret to give his news (9%); this last is naturally the least common, since for most of the corpus, Maigret leads his investigations in Paris, and when he does investigate outside Paris (fairly frequently in the Fayard cycle), he rarely calls his wife.

    2. The calls from Mme Maigret are essentially a factor of novels in the first half of the corpus (Fayard, Gallimard, and the beginning of the Presses de la Cité period). She's the one calling her husband, who had often forgotten to tell her he wouldn't get home. As since then it's Maigret himself who calls, his wife no longer has to.

    3. As a result, the relatively numerous calls from Maigret to his wife in the second half of the corpus, are essentially calls to inform her that he won't be back.

  2. If we now consider each group of calls, we can extract the following:

    1. The reasons for Mme Maigret's calls are primarily the following:

      To find out where her husband is (LET) or when he'll be back (FLA, REV, CEC, SIG, mal, GRA)

      To ask his help with some day-to-day problem, for example, to solve a problem about household furnishings (FLA, ECL, eto), or to buy something (ECL, MOR)

      To get news from him (PEU, MOR, MEU)

    2. As mentioned above, when Maigret calls to give news, it's when his investigation leads him away from Paris (PEU, ECO, VOY), or, rarely, when it's Mme Maigret who is absent (MEU)

    3. When Maigret says he won't be coming home, it's most often that he won't be home for lunch (25 out of 50 calls, 50%), but also that he won't be home for dinner (8 calls, 16%), and even that he won't be back that night (11, 22%)

    4. When he calls for other purposes, they are as follows:

      To invite her to spend the weekend in the country (SIG, COL, TUE).

      To ask for her help (FAC).

      To invite her to join him for a drink (GRA) or dinner (FAN).

      Or to tell her that he'll be back anyway - lunch or dinner! (NAH, ENF, TUE).

4. Form of the calls

  1. If we consider now the form in which Simenon describes these calls, we can regroup them into four categories:

    1. Simenon writes that Maigret is going to call his wife ("indirect discourse") (ex.: "Then he lifted the receiver and called his wife to tell her than he wouldn't be home for dinner." VOL).

    2. The call is described in the form of a dialogue ("direct discourse").

    3. Maigret asks one of his inspectors to call his wife.

    4. Simenon writes that Maigret thinks of calling his wife, says that he will, or that he has forgotten to, and the call is not described in the text.

    The chart above speaks for itself. The dialogue form is most often used by Simenon to describe the Maigret couple's phone calls: 57 out of 90 calls (63%) consist of dialogue. We also note that it's rare that Maigret entrusts someone else with calling his wife: only 5 cases. When it occurs, it's either because Maigret hasn't time (VOY) or that he doesn't want to talk because he's working on a problem (DEF, VOL). Another interesting element – when it's Mme Maigret who calls, it's almost invariably in the form of a dialogue.

  2. Let's examine for a moment the telephone dialogues of the Maigrets, noting several significant points:

    Maigret, who is not very outgoing, only uses a few words of affection when he speaks with his wife. The rare times when he calls her "Dear", are on the phone (FLA and eto)

    When Maigret picks up the phone to call his wife, he often opens by saying, "Hello, is that you?" (VOL, PEU, VOY, COL) or "Is that you?" (FEL, ECO, COR, ENF, VIN), as a sort of "odd habit, as he had certainly recognized his wife's voice" (ENF), "as if he didn't know that it couldn't be anyone else, and as if he didn't recognize her voice!" (COL). Sometimes he says, "It's you, Madame Maigret?" (SIG, MOR, COR, FAC), a little phrase filled with tenderness and affection...

    The contents of the conversation between Louise and Jules revolves most often around the same subjects, from "I won't be back for lunch"(BAN, COR, ECH) and its variations, to "What are we having to eat?" and other versions. Maigret hardly mentions his cases to his wife, who sometimes risks a timid, "Something wrong?" (LOG), or "There's nothing bad?" (ECH), questions to which she furthermore receives no answers...

5. Conclusion

Contact instrument par excellence, the telephone allows Maigret to keep the link with his wife, to connect his life in the office with that of his home. And even if this link is light and often "mundane" in its expression, it is nonetheless real. Mme Maigret knows well that she shouldn't expect great discourse from her husband when he calls... his calls are more often "functional", from the first call appearing in the corpus...

"My wife hasn't called?"

"This morning. We told her that you were on a case..."

She was used to it. He knew that he could return home and she'd welcome him warmly, setting her pots upon the stove and filling him a plate of some aromatic ragout." (LET),

to the last...

"The first thing Maigret did on entering the Brasserie Dauphine, was to head for the phone and call his apartment.

"I know," said Mme Maigret before he'd opened his mouth. "You won't be home for lunch. I was expecting it..." (CHA),

The phone call to his wife is above all to reassure her: The Chief Inspector is thinking of her and the delicious meal she'd prepared for him, but his investigation comes first...

And so, she contents herself with keeping his meal warm, and waiting for the next phone call, hoping to hear these little words so tender...

"Hello, is that you, Madame Maigret?" ...


translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, September 2008

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