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Foreword to the Complete Works, 1966

 

Maigret before Maigret

Gilbert Sigaux

translated by Stephen Trussel

 

The life of Commissioner Maigret in the novels of Georges Simenon has not been constructed with any concern for ordering its events chronologically, but rather is about particular investigations or facts. Nonetheless, La Première Enquête de Maigret [Maigret's First Case] and Les Mémoires de Maigret [Maigret's Memoirs] permit us to organize the progress of a career that is, in the order of the imaginary, one of the most strongly "existing" there is. Lovers of puzzles can follow Maigret from the year 1913, that of his beginnings, and attempt, from then, to date each of his investigations, the last being theoretically the one in L'Écluse N° 1 [The Lock at Charenton] or better, after the commissioner's retirement that is evoked in this novel, that in Maigret [Maigret Returns].

Maigret is, as we know, the nineteenth and last novel of the first "cycle"; in the two following cycles, the commissioner is recalled to life and dives into new adventures, naturally previous to his retirement, but situated in fact in a chronology that is impossible to connect logically to the one that governs the novels of the first cycle. Maigret is then, if one can put it so, contemporary not of himself, but of his creator, and the duration of his life. There is no way to situate each of the investigations into a coherent continuity from 1913. Such an attempt, even for most passionate of admirers of Maigret (and of Simenon), would not have any interest, since it is, from the outset, impossible. It is different for research into the appearances of Maigret in novels preceding Pietr-the-Letton [The Strange Case of Peter the Lett], because we can see how the commissioner's character is little by little developed.

He is put on stage for the first time in Train de Nuit [Night Train], a novel published in 1930 by Arthème Fayard (in the series Masters of the popular Novel) under the name Christian Brulls; we meet him again in La Maison de l'Inquiétude [The House of Anxiety], a novel signed Georges Sim, and published at Tallandier in 1932, in La Figurante [The Extra] by Christian Brulls (Fayard 1932) and, finally, in La Femme rousse [The Redhead] by Georges Sim (Tallandier 1933).

But whatever the date of publication, this is about novels written before Pietr-le-Letton. One could consider them as sketches or preparations, the Maigrets put forward in these books, and suppose that Georges Simenon has little by little freed his character from a primitive mass, like a sculptor working his clay (or stone). This view would be incorrect. The name Maigret serves different characters. The Maigrets of the above-quoted novels don't look alike among themselves, and no one is superimposable on the Maigret whose personality will develop itself from Pietr-le-Letton.

In fact, the first Maigrets look like other characters imagined by Simenon in the twenties and which, adventurers or investigators, have some common features. There is the Maigret in Jarry1, and even in the Torrence of some popular novels: Simenon will take the name of Torrence, who will become one of Maigret's deputies at the PJ thereafter; but some of features of the first Torrence will be transferred to the definitive Maigret.

Definitive? It is probably preferable to say the second-state Maigret, and to avoid fixing the commissioner's type after Pietr-le-Letton. Indeed, over the years, through the nineteen novels of the first period, he will evolve, will receive nuances, will enrich himself. On the other hand he will hardly change in the second period, the one that corresponds to the Nouvelles Enquêtes de Maigret [New Investigations of Maigret], to Maigret revient [Maigret and the Spinster, Maigret and the Hotel Majestic, Maigret in Exile] and to Signé Picpus [Maigret and the Fortuneteller]. But, in the third, we will see him detaching himself from the chronology (sometimes implicit) of the first two, and evolving into a time that is, as we noted, that of his creator.

By a parallel evolution, it seems that, over the years, Maigret comes closer to Simenon, more often appearing — which doesn't mean continually — like a duplicate, or even his creator's spokesman, even as he denies it.

It is interesting to consider an imaginary character as if he had really lived and to examine him objectively, historically, from the outside. Yet it is a game. Because the life of Maigret is nothing outside of the novels of Georges Simenon. It is necessary in the end to accept the fiction, to recover, from novel to novel, a creation through a created.

GILBERT SIGAUX


NOTES
1. Jarry has been situated by Simenon himself in the genesis of Maigret: "When I was writing popular novels, towards the end I had begun to shape a character named Jarry who especially intrigued me. His chief ambition was to live numerous lives: A refined Parisian, a fisherman in sabots in Brittany, a peasant here, a petit bourgeois there... And then Maigret came along and supplanted him, and I noticed that Maigret was a transposition of Jarry: he also lives a large number of lives. But they are the lives of others, for whom, for a certain time, he substitutes himself." — Jarry appears in several novels, notably in Chair de Beauté [The Beautiful Flesh] (1928) and La Femme qui tue [The Woman who kills] (1929), both signed Georges Sim.

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