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Book and Magazine Collector
October 1984, No. 8, pp 4-12

Georges Simenon's

Maigret Books

By

Helen MacLeod

If Agatha Christie holds the title of Queen of Crime, its male counterpart belongs indisputably to Georges Simenon. This prolific writer has produced so many books that even he does not know the exact number. Because he wrote under so many pseudonyms in his early life, it is almost impossible to give an accurate figure, but perhaps four or five hundred would be a rough estimate. In this article, however, we are only concerned with the celebrated 'Maigret' series, which produced 102 titles, 100 of which have been translated and published in the U.K. [note: The 103rd Maigret, the short story translated here as "Death Threats" was not included. The other two previously untranslated stories are translated here as "The Unlikely Mr. Owen" and "The Group at the Grand-Café" -ST]

Chief Inspector Jules Maigret — complete with belted raincoat, trilby and pipe — is still an instantly recognisable figure to most of us, although the TV series in which he starred first appeared on our screens almost a quarter of a century ago. This is surely a tribute not only to Simenon's ability to produce a seemingly endless supply of gripping stories, but also to his skill in creating believable, empathetic human beings. Maigret is a solid, reliable, thoughtful man, of "plodding energy and endless patience" (J. Symons). He has, says Simenon himself, "a calmness I envy". Most 'Maigret' experts (of whom there are many) agree that he is Georges Simenon's 'alter ego'; and he does, indeed, possess certain qualities of steadfastness and loyalty often missing from Simenon's personal life.

Maigret has admirers all over the world, among all kinds of people. In his book "The Art of Simenon" (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952), Thomas Narcejac lists his idea of some 'Maigret types': there are the 'intellectuals', who only admit to liking very early 'Maigrets'; the 'rubbernecks', who claim "I have read more than 80"; and the 'wiseguys', who say "I'm making an investment. The complete collection will be worth a fortune." He adds "But how many are there who read Simenon for himself, who admire and respect the writer?'

He has always, in fact, had many admirers, among them such diverse figures as Andre Gide ("He makes one reflect, and this is close to being the height of art"), Francois Mauriac, Charlie Chaplin, and those doyens of detective fiction, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Film director Jean Renoir was another ardent admirer and was responsible for transferring to the screen some of the best Maigret stories. "La Nuit du Carrefour", which he directed in 1932, has become a cult film, still showing in cinema clubs all over the world.

The original dust wrapper for the first edition of Simenon's "Maigret In Society," published by Hamish Hamilton in 1962, and now worth between £3 and £5 in Very Good condition.

ENIGMA

Yet Simenon the man has remained something of an enigma. He has always maintained that critics have read much more into his books than he ever intended, and he apparently thought of the 'Maigret' books as the 'wage-earners' that enabled him to write his 'serious' novels. He had, too, a very pragmatic approach to writing. "If it rains," he said in an interview, "I write 'It rains': you will not find in my books drops of water that transform themselves into pearls ... I want nothing that resembles literature ... For me Literature with a capital 'L' is rubbish." He gave up writing novels completely in 1972; and in 1977 he startled the world by proclaiming in an interview that, in the course of a lifetime, he had made love to 10,000 women. (Fenton Bresler, in his recent Simenon biography, has estimated that this feat is, in theory at least, just within the realms of possibility!)

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that his domestic life has had its fair share of crises, not to say tragedies. He has been married twice: his second wife, Denise, was eventually admitted to a psychiatric clinic; and his daughter of this marriage, Marie-Jo, killed herself in 1978, when she was 26 years old. It is not my intention to dwell on these personal misfortunes; I mention them merely to the extent that they throw light on Simenon the human being and thus inevitably on Simenon the writer. Sex appears to have been the driving force of his life and is the very stuff of his novels. "Few writers' work is as saturated with sexual feeling as the fiction of Simenon", wrote John, Raymond in his 1968 Simenon study, ("Simenon in Court"), "Sex is the capsule in which most of Simenon's fiction is embedded". He undoubtedly caught the essence of man in the raw — "naked man", to use his own phraseology.

When I first picked up a Maigret novel at the age of thirteen, however, I believe what struck me first and foremost was Simenon's masterly evocation of atmosphere. I had never visited Paris then; when I eventually crossed the Channel, it was as though I knew intimately every dusty cobbled street and every seedy bistro; most of all, he captured the smell of Paris, that smell which is "the very quintessence of a Parisian morning; the smell of café creme and hot croissants, with a slight dash of rum." (Simenon's words). I believe novelist and critic Julian Symons summed up the essential Simenon novel when he wrote: "The weather is described with such vigour and pleasure that it is as though the writer was actually soaking up the rain or the sun he is writing about. (The characters) take colour and conviction from their surroundings and there seems to be absolutely no limit to the kinds of people Simenon knows and into whose personalities he can enter..."

My first Maigret, by chance, happened to be one of the best — "The Crossroads Murders" ("La Nuit du Carrefour"). This book was published in England in the volume "Inspector Maigret Investigates", in 1933. (A first edition today is extremely rare and you would probably pay £150 for a VG copy with dust-wrapper.) Since this first taste of Maigret, I have read many others — good and not-so-good, but I believe I have got something out of all of them. They are all compulsively readable.

Georges Simenon, that most famous of Frenchmen, was actually born a Belgian in the city of Liège, in 1903, as the elder son of Henriette and Desiré Simenon. Georges was convinced that his mother preferred her second son, Christian (who was eventually to die in the service of the French Foreign Legion), so his relationship with her was highly ambivalent: Fenton Bresler ("The Mystery of Georges Simenon", Heinemann, 1983) lays the responsibility for Simenon's later excessive sexuality fairly and squarely at the feet of his mother (an explanation I think too facile by half).

AMBITION

Georges' first ambition was to be a doctor, but he was forced to leave school early when he learnt that his father was seriously ill. After several short-lived jobs, he found his feet in 1919, when he was offered a post as 'cub' reporter on the Gazette de Liège. He proved to be a natural journalist and soon he had his own gossip column. The 3½ years he spent on this newspaper proved to be the ideal training ground for the future novelist — in fact, he wrote his first novel before he had completed a year on the paper. He polished off "Au Pont des Arches" (as it was called) in just 10 days (an intimation of his later prolificacy). The book was privately published and has never been translated; it was supposed to be a humorous book, a fact that Simenon readers might find surprising, in view of the emphasis of his later work on the darker side of the human psyche! The two 'comic' novels which followed were not rapturously received, and Simenon gave up writing for the time being.

MECCA

In 1922 he moved to Paris, possibly because he felt that this was the place where a young writer should be; and post-Great War Paris was indeed an artistic mecca. He was accompanied by Regine Renchon, the woman who was to become his first wife, and together they embarked on a bohemian existence which they seem to have enjoyed immensely. During this time he wrote scores of 'potboilers' under different pseudonyms; many of these books were written on his boat the 'Ostrogoth', on which he travelled through the rivers and canals of France and Holland. It was the Dutch town of Delfzijl, in fact, which saw the genesis of Maigret. His first book in the genre was "Pietr-le-Letton" (translated variously as "The Strange Case of Peter the Lett" and "Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett"), written in 1929. "When I wrote "Pietr-le-Letton," Simenon has admitted in conversation, "1 did not think of doing a series. I had used the name of a policeman called 'Maigret' in 'Train de Nuit' and I picked up the name again because it crossed my mind. I did not think of doing any other books at all along the same lines. That idea came from Fayard."

In Jean Renoir's 1932 film adaptation of Simenon's "La Nuit du Carrefour," Pierre Renoir played the famous detective, in a performance which Simenon considered the finest depiction of the role. (Photo: BFI)

MAIGRET

Artheme Fayard, his publisher, gave Simenon a contract for five Maigret novels, and by the summer of 1930 he had produced "The Death of M. Gallet", "The Crossroads Murders", "The Crime at Lock 14" and "The Crime of Inspector Maigret" — all before the first had been published. Those chosen for the initial launch were "The Death of M. Gallet" (published later by Penguin as "Maigret Stonewalled") and "The Crime of Inspector Maigret" (also known in England as "Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets").

Simenon himself organised a ball to launch the books. It was held in Montparnasse and attended by the 'literati' and 'glitterati' of all Paris. It was apparently an outrageous affair, for which the invitations came in the form of police summonses and all guests were fingerprinted on arrival! It was an outstanding success and the character of Inspector Maigret was famous before anyone had read a word of the novels. The fame of this new fictional detective spread fast, and by the end of 1930, 'Maigret' had become a household word throughout Europe, and the books had been translated into eight languages. Simenon, in later years, has admitted that this 'instant' success went to his head. He became quite rich in a comparatively short time and began to lead a life of conspicuous consumption. However, he continued working (as well as playing) hard.

Throughout the early Thirties, he wrote some 14 more Maigrets, before taking a break in 1934; he did not write any more Maigiets until 1942, although he continued with his other novels. This collection of about 20 pre-war stories is usually referred to as 'the early Maigrets'; critics and collectors alike generally regard them as the cream of the Maigret crop (except Thomas Narcejac, who considered that Simenon's best work appeared after 1942!). I certainly prefer the early ones, as do most readers I've asked; the story and characterisation in these books take first place, and we perceive (and share) Maigret's reaction to them; in the later books, the character of Maigret takes over more and more and, according to Julian Symons, the stories become "ramblingly philosophical".

UPROOTED

After many vicissitudes during the war in Occupied France, Simenon (with what some have termed unseemly haste) uprooted his family to start a new life in the U.S.A. Here, later the same year, he met Denise Ouimet, the French-Canadian who later became the second Madame Simenon. During his 'American period' (10 years in all, and the most productive decade in his career) Simenon wrote some 26 'Maigrets', although only two of them use America as a setting, "Maigret Afraid" (1961) and "Maigret and the Headless Corpse" (1967). [note: This was an error. The two set in the U.S.A. are "Maigret in New York" (1946) and "Maigret at the Coroner's" (1949) -ST] Most of them are set in France, and his evocation of the country and its people suffers not one jot from having been written some four thousand miles away.

By 1955, he was back in France, with his new wife and family. They settled in the South, where Simenon only managed to produce two 'Maigrets' in as many years. Indeed, this period marks the beginning of a depressing time for Simenon — some admirers believe that he began to 'run out of steam' when he was in his late fifties. He was certainly beginning to feel his age, and his second marriage was running into serious trouble. Much has been written about this marriage (which produced three children), most of it weighted against: Denise. Suffice it to say that (possibly due to their bizarre lifestyle), Denise underwent psychiatric treatment in the Sixties, and they now live apart. Simenon also began to develop health problems — bouts of giddiness which afflicted him most of all whenever lie started to write. Although other books were to follow, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Simenon was, indeed, on a downward slide. This fact is perhaps not readily apparent because of the inevitable time-lapse between publication dates here and in France (a matter of years in some cases).

CLOCKWORK

The last novels are, according to Bresler, "clockwork, automatic things", in which Simenon's weariness and disenchantment is reflected in the character of Maigret. Professor Jean Fabre of Montpellier University believes that this ennui is even mirrored in some of the titles of the later books — "Maigret Hesitates", "Maigret Has Doubts", "Maigret's Failure". This may be valid criticism but I believe that, even at their weakest, they are still eminently more readable than most of their rivals. His very last novel was a 'Maigret' ("Maigret and M. Charles").

One day in 1972, after finishing this book, he told his companion Teresa, "I am not going to write any more. I have written my last novel". And he was as good as his word, at least as far as novel-writing is concerned. Since this time, however, he has produced another volume of memoirs. A massive book, "Memoires Intimes" was published in France towards the end of 1981. The French literary review 'Lire' called it "an extraordinary document on the last 'monstre sacre' of French literature". (Its English translation "Intimate Memoirs", was published in the U.K. by Hamish Hamilton in August, 1984). The 'sacred monster' now lives quietly in Switzerland with his companion of twenty years, Teresa.

The 'Maigret' books have an interesting publishing history. The first novels were translated into English and published by Hurst and Blackett (a former imprint of Hutchinson) in 1933/34. They published only three books before Routledge succeeded them just before the war. The books contained two novels each, and these three particular volumes ("Introducing Inspector Maigret"; "Inspector Maigret Investigates" and "The Triumph of Inspector Maigret") are highly sought after by collectors. (A dealer I know says that wherever Maigret enthusiasts are gathered together, you can hear the cry "Have you got the Hurst and Blacketts?"). "Introducing Inspector Maigret", the very first to be published in England, would cost you around £200 (VG, with d/w), at present, and could take some searching out. The remaining two of the trio sell for not much less £150 each.

When George Routledge and Sons took over publication, they had to contend with the paper shortages brought about by the war, so the seven books (14 novels) published by them suffered somewhat in quality; they were also produced in smaller numbers and consequently are quite scarce, although "The Patience of Maigret" (1939, containing "A Battle of Nerves" and "A Face for a Clue") is the most accessible of the set. With d/w and in VG condition, you are likely to pay between £20 and £35 for any of the seven. Incidentally, the last book from this period, "Maigret and Monsieur L'Abbe", contains only one Maigret story ("Death of a Harbourmaster") — Maigret does not appear in the accompanying tale "The Man from Everywhere".

The dust wrapper for the first edition of the last of the Maigret novels to be published in Britain.

HOLIDAY

In 1950, by which time Routledge had become Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, they published one further volume, "Maigret on Holiday" (containing "A Summer Holiday" and "To Any Lengths"), before Hamish Hamilton, Simenon's present publisher, took over. I was told by Routledge & Kegan Paul that they parted company with Simenon partly because the second Madame Simenon did not like the translations, but also because Simenon's popularity was on the wane at the time (the mid-Fifties). A few years after Hamilton succeeded came the Maigret television series, which must have boosted sales considerably! Hamilton's first publication, "Maigret Right and Wrong" contained two novels ("Maigret in Montmatre" and "Maigret's Mistake"), but thereafter they appeared as single titles, except for two volumes of short stories (1976 and 1977) which contain 9 and 18 stories respectively. All the Hamilton books are quite easy to find, and most can be had for less than £5. In fact, most published since the early Seventies can be picked up for a couple of pounds each.

Maigret books have always maintained a steady appeal but, in the past year or two, their popularity in terms of collecting has taken an upswing. The trend started in the U.S.A. a couple of years ago, where Simenon literature in general now commands very high prices — prices which are now beginning to be reflected in this country. But values here (especially of those titles published by Hamilton) are still reasonable enough to warrant collecting all 65 books (100 titles). Whether "a complete collection will be worth a fortune" (as Narcejac's 'wiseguy' believes) is anybody's guess, but I can guarantee years of good reading ahead.

I am indebted to Peter Waymark and Peter Foord for their great help with the bibliography, and to specialist dealer James Lay of Blackbird Books (24, Grampian Gardens, NW2) for the Maigret books used in the illustrations.


COMPLETE UK BIBLIOGRAPHY OF

GEORGES SIMENON'S MAIGRET BOOKS

All values refer to books in Very Good condition

 

WORKS PUBLISHED BY HURST AND BLACKETT LTD

 
INTRODUCING INSPECTOR MAIGRET (1933, The Crime of Inspector Maigret and The Death of Monsieur Gallet)£200
INSPECTOR MAIGRET INVESTIGATES (1933; The Strange Case of Peter the Lett and The Crossroads Murders)£150
THE TRIUMPH OF INSPECTOR MAIGRET (1934; The Crime at Lock 14 and The Shadow on the Courtyard)£150

 
WORKS PUBLISHED BY GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS LTD

 
THE PATIENCE OF MAIGRET (1939; A Battle of Nerves and A Face for a Clue)£20-£35
MAIGRET TRAVELS SOUTH (1940; Liberty Bar and The Madman of Bergerac)£20-£35
MAIGRET ABROAD (1940; A Crime in Holland and At the Gai Moulin)£20-£35
MAIGRET TO THE RESCUE (1940; The Flemish Shop and The Guinguette by the Seine)£20-£35
MAIGRET KEEPS A RENDEZ-VOUS (1940; The Sailor's Rendez-vous and The Saint-Fiacre Affair)£20-£35
MAIGRET SITS IT OUT (1941; The Lock at Charenton and Maigret Returns)£20-£35
MAIGRET AND MONSIEUR L'ABBE (1941; Death of a Harbourmaster and The Man From Everywhere)£20-£35

 
WORKS PUBLISHED BY ROUTLEDGE AND KEGAN PAUL LTD

 
MAIGRET ON HOLIDAY (1950; A Summer Holiday and To Any Lengths)£6-£8

 
WORKS PUBLISHED BY HAMISH HAMILTON LTD

 
MAIGRET RIGHT AND WRONG (1954; Maigret in Montmartre and Maigret's Mistake)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE YOUNG GIRL (1955)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE BURGLAR'S WIFE (1955)£3-£5
MAIGRET'S REVOLVER (1956)£3-£5
MY FRIEND MAIGRET (1956)£3-£5
MAIGRET GOES TO SCHOOL (1957)£3-£5
MAIGRET'S LITTLE JOKE (1957)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE OLD LADY (1958)£3-£5
MAIGRET'S FIRST CASE (1958)£3-£5
MAIGRET HAS SCRUPLES (1959)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND TILE RELUCTANT WITNESSES (1959)£3-£5
MADAME MAIGRET'S FRIEND (1960)£3-£5
MAIGRET TAKES A ROOM (1960)£3-£5
MAIGRET IN COURT (1961)£3-£5
MAIGRET AFRAID (1961)£3-£5
MAIGRET IN SOCIETY (1962)£3-£5
MAIGRET'S FAILURE (1962)£3-£5
MAIGRET'S MEMOIRS (1963)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE LAZY BURGLAR (1963)£3-£5
MAIGRET'S SPECIAL MURDER (1964)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE SATURDAY CALLER (1964)£3-£5
MAIGRET LOSES HIS TEMPER (1965)£3-£5
MAIGRET SETS A TRAP (1965)£3-£5
MAMAIGRET ON THE DEFENSIVE (1966)£3-£5
THE PATIENCE OF MAIGRET (1966)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE HEADLESS CORPSE (1967)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE NAHOUR CASE (1967)£3-£5
MAIGRET'S PICKPOCKET (1968)£3-£5
MAIGRET HAS DOUBTS (1968)£3-£5
MAIGRET TAKES THE WATERS (1969)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE MINISTER (1969)£3-£5
MAIGRET HESITATES (1970)£3-£5
MAIGRET'S BOYHOOD FRIEND (1970)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE WINE MERCHANT (1971)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE KILLER (1971)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE MADWOMAN (1972)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE FLEA (1972)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND MONSIEUR CHARLES (1973)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE DOSSER (1973)£3-£5
MAIGRET AND THE MILLIONAIRES (1974)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE GANGSTERS (1974)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE LONER (1975)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE MAN ON THE BOULEVARD (1975)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE BLACK SHEEP (1976)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE GHOST (1976)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE. SPINSTER (1977)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE HOTEL MAJESTIC (1977)£2-£4
MAIGRET IN EXILE (1978)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE TOY VILLAGE (1978)£2-£4
MAIGRET'S RIVAL (1979)£2-£4
MAIGRET IN NEW YORK (1979)£2-£4
MAIGRET AND THE CORONER (1980)£2-£4

 
SHORT STORIES

 
MAIGRET'S CHRISTMAS (1976; Vol 1, 9 stories)£2-£4
MAIGRET'S PIPE (1977; Vol 2, 18 stories) £2-£4

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Georges Simenon, the creator of 'Maigret', who devoted no less than 102 stories to his celebrated fictional detective, the last appearing in 1972.