I'd like to take you along today, for an encounter with our Chief Inspector in one of his essential places... his office. The second pole of his activity (see MoM Nov. '07), his office plays an important role in the course of his investigations it's simultaneously his workplace, where he assembles the elements of a case (reading reports, using the phones and the centralizing information), a place of reunion, where he meets with his faithful collaborators, and a "confessional" where he pushes his "clients" to their final confession. We also remember that it was chronologically the first place described in the corpus, the setting for the opening scene of "Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett".
For this visit, I'll follow a route marked out in Simenon's text, "Police Judiciaire" (indicated here as "POL"), written in 1933 following his visit to the Quai at the invitation of Xavier Guichard. This was published by Omnibus in the volume "Mes apprentissages" [My Apprenticeship].
36, Quai des Orfèvres
"Police Judiciaire" is still repeated in all the detective stories. Now I've come to the realization that the general public either has no idea of what this famous judicial police is like, or has a mistaken one. Would you like to stroll along with me and find out? The P.J. (for that's how it's familiarly called) is found at the Quai des Orfèvres, embedded in the immense block of the Palais de Justice. The Seine flows beneath its windows. We can see a laundry barge, the arches of the Pont-Neuf, and, if we lean over, the statue of the Vert Galant. ...
We enter the great paved courtyard. ... The walls are dark, it's true, and there are no curtains on the windows. ... It's cool, in spite of the sun. ... let's take the great staircase with the iron banister up to the second floor, where the principal offices of the P.J. are."(POL)
"I decided that my real life would not begin until the day I would enter ... by the great staircase, the house of the Quai des Orfèvres" (MEM)
"He hurried under the arch of the P.J. where there was always a draft, made straight for the stairs, and then, suddenly, struck by the characteristic odor of the place, the pale green light of the still-lit lamps, he felt sad that in such a short while, he would no longer come there every morning." (TEM)
Following Simenon, it's Maigret who arrives at the Quai... he greets the orderly with a wave of his hand (VIE), passes the "glacial" porch (CEC), "always dark" (MAJ), surmounted by a "stone arch where it's always colder than elsewhere" (VOY), crosses the "glacial" courtyard (LET) and starts up the stairway.
This stairway holds a not insignificant place in the Maigret corpus. The Chief Inspector ascends and descends this staircase innumerable times in the course of his investigations, and almost every time Simenon describes it... First, Maigret has his way of taking the stairs most often, he climbs slowly (OMB; LOG, ECH, DEF), heavily (SIG), with slow steps (GRA, FAN), with his step heavy (FEL), both because he anticipates the difficulties of an investigation (see MME: "Maigret had a way of climbing the stairs to the second floor of the Quai des Orfèvres, seemingly indifferent at first, at the base of the stairway, where the outside light was fairly direct, then more preoccupied as he penetrated the gloom of the old building, as if the cares of the office enveloped him as he approached."), and because this "ascension" towards his office is like the beginning of an almost invariable ritual ceremony... after the staircase, there comes the length of the hallways, the greeting of the old orderly, the traditional showing his face in the inspectors' room, and finally entering his own office, with a new series of ritual gestures... events described below.
More prosaically, the climbing of these stairs is also slow for Maigret because he shows a certain weight, and not just psychological! And that's why he climbs the stairs "breathing heavily" (pip), arriving at the top "always slightly out of breath" (ECO), and in the end he's had enough of this climb, if we can believe his comment in his last case (following the chronology of the writing): "They've modernized the place," grumbled a breathless Maigret, "but they didn't come up with the idea of installing an elevator."(CHA) An elevator?! Heaven forbid! What would become of the poetry of the staircase, "with the slanted rays of the sun like you see in a church" (MEM)...
What is this stairway like? It's large (MEM; LOG, BAN, ECO; ECH, AMU, VOY, SCR, ASS, VIE, CLO, FAN, DEF, VOL, IND, CHA), vast (MAJ, CEC); wide (FEL, CLI, PAT, ENF, FOL), grayish (BAN, VOY, ASS, CLI, ENF ), drab (MAI, MOR), but above all dusty (OMB, CEC, SIG, FEL, pip, MEM, MEU, ECO, MIN, CLO, COL, DEF, VOL), with a very special dust, which is "like a fog of dust in the sun" (GRA). The stairway is also poorly lit (CEC; REV, VOY, CLI), with a weak bulb here and there (MAJ). And if the stairway manages "even in summer, on the brightest morning, to be sad and gloomy" (ASS), what can be said of its condition in fall and winter... "the wind which rushes through it" (LET), "winter, reigning always with its deadly drafts" (FEL), "shining with watery streaks" (CEC), "wet footsteps mottling the stairs" (BAN), "a damp draft ran through it and the wet footsteps on the stairs didn't dry" (ASS).
On these stairs, Maigret has unchanging gestures – and habits... that of sniffing "with pleasure, the familiar odor" (MEU), that of "looking deeply into the stairwell behind him" (FEL) and that of mechanically casting a glance into the glassed-in waiting room with the green velour armchairs. But for today, let's leave the waiting room aside (we've already visited it in MoM Sept. '07), and follow Maigret down the hallway...
"The immense corridor of many doors..." (MAJ)
"We'll take the great stairway with the iron railing which leads to the second floor, where the principal offices of the P.J are. Here there's a constant bustle. Above all the inspectors coming and going, meeting, shaking hands. ... Second floor. An immense corridor with many doors on both sides. Not very bright. ... We turn to the right. There is the great square anteroom. With its red velour bench and orderly in a glass booth. All around, each door is decorated with the name of a Chief Inspector. 9:00 am. They've just arrived, going through their mail. In the other offices, the inspectors still haven't taken off their hats and coats. They wait, chatting. A bell. That's morning report. And there the Chief Inspectors going into the office of the Chief, the Director of the PJ." (POL)
After pushing open the glass door (SCR, VOY), we discover a hallway, vast (MAI; bea, CEC, SIG; FEL, PIC, VOY, SCR, VIE, NAH) and long (LET, MAI, pip, eto, TRO, TEN, ECH, ASS, VOL, ENF, FOL, IND). For the rest, it is as dusty, as damp, and as poorly lit as the stairway, and Simenon uses similar terms to describe it...
"a single lamp was lit in the hallway" (MAJ)
"a single lamp served as a nightlight" (SIG)
"as within the Police Judiciaire, the light was meagerly distributed" (bea)
"the long dusty perspective [of the hallway]" (PIC)
"There was ... in the halls of the PJ ... the same damp, cold air" (BAN)
"this hallway, the grayest, the most drab on earth, was today touched by the sun, at least in the form of a sort of luminous dust." (COR)
"In the vast hallway of the PJ reigned the usual drafts" (NAH)
The hallway so animated during the day...
"From the first landing, you could notice, coming from the second floor, a light murmur, then voices, the comings and goings indicating that the press, alerted, was already there, along with photographers" (ASS)
"50 inspectors formed into groups, discussing loudly, exchanging information and files. Sometimes an office door opened. A name shouted out, and someone would go for orders" (MAI)
"And you could hear the inspectors coming and going ... doors slamming, telephones being used in all the offices"; "The halls were bustling. Inspectors calling out to each other. Doors opening and closing. People taking their places in the aquarium and the orderly coming in to call one or another of them."; "You could hear doors opening and closing, footsteps in the hall, the ringing of telephones, the clicking of typewriters." (CEC)
"The Quai was alive with an excitement he knew well, with interrogations going on in every corner" (FEL)
"the offices with doors slamming ceaselessly with the passage of inspectors, and where all the telephones were being used at the same time" (MME)
"...in the hallway of many doors, inspectors coming and going, files in hand, going into one office or another, leaving on some mission, or coming back. Sometimes they'd stop to exchange a few words on some affair in progress, or one would be bringing in a prisoner in handcuffs, or pushing ahead of him a woman in tears." (BAN)
"telephones were ringing throughout the offices, journalists and photographers growing impatient, Maigret going and coming to or from the various places of the PJ" (CON)
except when it's calm and deserted...
- during the mid-day break
"From noon to 2:00, indeed, most of the offices are empty, there's less coming and going, fewer phone calls. You have the impression, as it night, of being all alone in the place." (BAN)
"Between noon and 2:00 o'clock, the offices of the Quai des Orfèvres were calm, almost deserted."; "There was no sound coming from the offices, except the clicking of a typewriter somewhere." (TRO)
- at the end of the day:
"The hallway of the Police Judiciaire was empty, a long perspective both gray and sunny" (pip)
"The offices started to empty out, and the great hallway, always dust-filled, was deserted" (LOG)
- at night:
"The premises of the PJ were more or less deserted. ... the corridors lined with a multitude of empty offices." (LET)
"The great house was deserted, its lamps dimmed, corridors empty" (eto)
"The offices were emptied out. But a single lamp was kept lit in the vast dusty corridor, a guard at the telephone switchboard"(CEC)
"It was a little before midnight. The immense hallway of the PJ was empty, poorly lit, overcome, you might say, by a dusty cloud." (MAJ)
"Was it possible to be any more at home in the vast premises of the Police Judiciaire, than dead in the middle of the night?"; "he opened the door of his office and contemplated the long perspective of the corridor, where but two dim lamps were lit"; "the night drew on thus, in the intimate heat of these vast premises that the darkness seemed to shrink and where only five were working or moving about" (mal)
"The great house, the Quai des Orfèvres, was almost empty, with teams of sweepers in the halls and stairways still impregnated with the dampness of winter" (MOR)
"the vast hallway, onto which opened the doors of the various services, was empty, with only two lamps lit" (VOY)
- Saturday afternoon:
"most of the offices were empty and there was no movement in the vast corridor" (BRA)
"the wide hallways of the PJ with the doors opening on empty offices. ... Perhaps also, because it was Sunday, the doors were left open between the offices" (MME)
- in summer:
"Here too, it felt like vacation, and in the deserted hallways, where all the windows had been left open, the air had a taste which he knew well. Many empty offices."
- and at Christmas:
"The great hallways deserted, the doors open to empty offices" (noe)
Now that we are in the hallway, we can push open any of various doors, and we find ourselves, for example, in the office of the Director of the PJ, or in the Inspectors' office, or we can take the stairs once more up to the attic and enter the laboratories of Judicial Identity. If you don't mind, we'll save these visits for another article, and take ourselves today to the "holy of holies" Maigret's office...
"In the office which smells of springtime and tobacco"... (CON)
"My guest regarded my pipes, my ashtrays, the black marble clock on the mantle, the little enamel basin behind the door, the towel which always smelled like a wet dog", "And I can still see young Sim coming into my office in the morning, as if he'd become one of my inspectors, politely telling me "Don't trouble yourself..." and sitting himself down in a corner." (MEM)
So, shall we do as "young Sim", and push open the door to Maigret's office, found at the end of the corridor (CEC), the second door (bea), the next to the last on the left (MME). We turn the white porcelain knob (SCR)...
It's first of all a light and an odor which strikes us... "Pipe smoke floated in the air of the office where the rays of the sun shone in obliquely. The air began to smell of ham, beer, coffee." (VIE) There was always the odor of a cold pipe (amo), of tobacco (pip).
Behind the door there's a hook (LET) or a peg (CHA) where the Chief Inspector hangs his jacket. His overcoat is on a coat-hanger (LET). But most often, he keeps he hat and coat in the cupboard (see below). The floor is covered with a rug (pip, TEN, ENF, SCR) or a carpet (DEF). On the wall, behind the desk, a map of Europe (LET), of Paris (PIC), and, in a black and gold frame, a photo of the Association of Station Secretaries from when Maigret was 24 (MAJ).
We might expect "a desk covered with files, with two or three telephones ringing at once, inspectors coming in and out, witnesses or suspects slumped in chairs. " (SCR). But today, the morning is calm, and we find the Chief Inspector "seated at his desk, the stove humming at his back. On his left the window, which the fog covers like cheesecloth, before him on the mantle, the black marble Louis-Philippe clock, the hands stopped for 20 years at noon" (MAJ). That's a very nice description, in which are included the essential elements of the setting in which Maigret operates. We'll now take a detailed look at each of these elements...
On the desk, pipes, of course, and heaps of files and reports, through which Maigret must sometimes rummage, for "order wasn't Maigret's dominant characteristic" (sta). We also find a large glass ashtray (DEF, SCR), but since it's usually full of ashes (amo), Maigret has the habit of emptying his pipe into the coal scuttle (CEC, MAJ, JEU). Always on the desk, within arm's reach, Maigret has a telephone, a telephone directory, and a calendar. And there's also a lamp on the desk, with a green shade (CEC, MOR, BAN, MIN, AMU, VOY, SCR, CLI, PAR, VIN), which is very large and blocks the light (bea), and casts strange reflections on the faces (CEC) of "clients" seated opposite the Chief Inspector, "who was leaning towards the circle of light of his lamp which illuminated an annotated file" (PAR). The other offices at the Quai des Orfèvres have the same lamps (CLI), except in the chambers of Magistrate Bréjon (CAD), who was lucky enough to have a ribbed shade which Maigret envied! Maigret is usually satisfied with the "greenish light" diffused by his desk lamp, and doesn't bother with the ceiling lamp (MAJ, REV), "so that the edges of the room remained in shadow and only faces were illuminated" (VIN), and the bulb had no shade (TET), which gave a "harsh light, almost like a clinic" (TET). Greenish light, harsh light, like that of a lighthouse illuminating the windows of the PJ at night, a sign that interrogations were taking place, a battle between the man driven to the brink of a confession and the Chief Inspector seeking a truth...Finally, the man is sent to the Dépôt, the photographers jostling each other, the journalists rushing "towards Maigret's office, which resembled a battlefield. Glasses, cigarette butts, ashes, torn papers, the air smelling of tobacco already cold." (TEN)
Under his desk (TEN), Maigret has available an electric button (NUI, CEC, pip, BAN, VOY, CLI, ENF, SEU), allowing him to buzz for an orderly or an inspector.
Finally, the desk has drawers, in which Maigret keeps a rather sundry collection of objects... some telegrams (LET), papers on a suspect (LET, TET, MAJ), a cold pipe (NUI), some cigarettes (MAJ, BAN, IND), packets of drugs (MAJ), a revolver (MOR, LOG, IND), photographs of a crime scene (ENF), the key to the door between the PJ and the Palais de Justice (ENF), a list of the nightclubs and cabarets of Paris (CHA)...
the mantle and the clock...
of black marble (pip), the top decorated with a bust of the Republic (eto); and above all a black marble clock (MEM; LOG, REV) with bronze ornaments (CLI), flanked with candlesticks (CLI), whose hands had been stuck for 20 years at noon (MAJ); Maigret had often tried to adjust it, but he'd never had success (ENF) either it was 10 minutes fast (SCR), or 15 minutes slow (CLI). This clock had been made by a certain F. Ledent his signature was visible in beautiful script on the pale face (CLI) and supplied 50 or 100 years earlier (CLI) to all the administrations and ministries (ENF, CLI), and all the offices of the PJ (JEU, CLI). Whether fast or slow, the clock nonetheless marked the time in Maigret's office, and he refers to it when he remembers the time a visitor had come, or when he'd responded to a more or less disagreeable phone call, or to know that it's time to go home, or to call his wife to tell her that he'd get something to eat at the Brasserie Dauphine...
In spite of the fireplace (moreover, probably Maigret had never made a fire there, and it was rather just for show...), Maigret has in his office a stove, no doubt the accessory, besides his pipe and overcoat, the most indispensable for his character... We recall further that this stove was "born" at the same time (at least in the official version...) in the corpus...
"During the rest of the day, I added to my character certain accessories... a pipe, a bowler hat, a heavy overcoat with a velour collar. And, as there was a damp cold in my abandoned barge, I gave him, for his office, an old cast iron stove." (Simenon: The Birth of Maigret, foreword to the complete works from Éditions Rencontre)
Why did Simenon endow Maigret with this mythical stove? The answer given by Simenon is no doubt insufficient by itself. We can find other reasons... one could be that a good part of his investigations, especially at the beginning of the corpus, take place in the fall, and that the author wanted to give his Chief Inspector an instrument which would permit him to bring a little heat into his office invaded by damp and cold... Another is probably that Maigret doesn't use his stove only for the heat it gives off, but also because he likes to poke at it, either to compose himself during a difficult interrogation, or to occupy himself while he reflects on a difficult case (see the examples below). Still another reason can be sought in the childhood memories of the author he often brings up the picture of his mother tending a stove. Finally, let's have Maigret speak for himself to explain the presence of the stove in his office...
"Then he asked to see my office. Now it so happened that at that time workmen were busy redoing it. I was provisionally installed on the mezzanine, in an office in the oldest governmental style, thick with dust, with black wooden furniture and a coal-burning stove of the kind you still see in certain provincial railroad stations.
This was the office in which I had started my professional life, in which I had worked as inspector for some fifteen years, and I must admit that I harbored a certain fondness for that huge stove, whose iron bars I loved to see glowing red in winter, and which I used to stoke up to the brim. This was not so much an inveterate habit as a trick to keep my composure. In the middle of a difficult interrogation I would get up and poke the fire at length, then throw in noisy shovelfuls of coal, looking quite bland, while my client stared at me in bewilderment.
And the fact is that when at last I had a modern office at my disposal, equipped with central heating, I missed my old stove, but I would never have been allowed, nor did I ever make the request — which would not have been granted — to take it with me into my new premises." (MEM) Note the "denial" in this last part, in spite of the numerous examples in the corpus where Maigret is supposed to have been able to save his stove (see below)...
And in "Maigret's First Case"... "And above all, standing on a plate of sheet metal, there was a cast iron stove ... with its pipe rising first to the ceiling, then bending, crossing all the room before losing itself in the wall. ... the young station secretary rose to poke the stove, and it was for that very stove that he was nostalgic his whole life, it was the same one, or one just like it, that he found one day at the Quai des Orfèvres and that later, when central heating was installed in the premises of the Police Judiciaire, Divisional Chief Inspector Maigret, head of the Special Brigade, got to keep in his office."
So the stove appears from the beginning of the corpus, since the novel "Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett" opens with this sentence: "Chief Inspector Maigret, of the First Flying Squad, lifted his head, had the impression the roaring of the cast iron stove planted in the middle of his office and connected to the ceiling by a fat black pipe, was weakening. He ... got up heavily, adjusted the key, and tossed in three pieces of coal. After which, standing, his back to the fire, he filled a pipe". Chronologically the first object mentioned, the stove has from the beginning an important place in the investigations... not only does it allow the portrayal Maigret in one of his favorite attitudes, but its also an essential element of the environment in which the Chief Inspector operates.
This stove has a very important place in LET Maigret passes his time refilling it, warming himself at it, and it's the reason his office, in this case, strongly evokes the feeling of a sanctuary of well-being to which Maigret always returns after one of his excursions into the cold and damp of November. Thus, with the novel having opened in front of the stove, Maigret, before leaving his office, casts "one last look at the stove, which seemed on the verge of exploding". He goes out, reminding the office boy not to forget his fire, and winds up beneath the glass roof of the Gare du Nord. After stopping, in Ch. 2, at the Hotel Majestic, he returns to his office in Ch. 3, and his first action, after taking off his overcoat, is to put his back to the fire, letting "the heat penetrate". After partaking of some sandwiches, he goes "to his favorite place in front of the stove", whose buzzing blends with the noise of the storm shaking the quays, covering the silence of the reflections of the Chief Inspector... While pondering, he "stokes the stove, then stands up straight, his face red". Then, before leaving his office to go to Fécamp, he pokes his stove once more, "as if to break the grate". After a wet interlude in Fécamp, he returns once more to his office: "he leans towards his stove, cursing Jean [the office boy], who couldn't manage to get the iron red." So! He'll have to take matters into his own hand! And he "spends a few moments standing in front of his fire, which begins to roar, for he has a particular knack for bring the most stubborn coals to life." But then once more he has to part for the Majestic, after giving "an envious look at the fire which was going so well". From that point on, he won't have any more time to occupy himself with his stove, for the events will accelerate. He finds his inspector killed, gets shot at, arrests Anna Gorskine, and finally, before meeting up with Pietr again in Fécamp for the final confrontation, makes a brief stop in Coméliau's office, where he "has to, automatically, refill the stove" of the judge himself, clearly demonstrating the importance of this action in the psychology of the Chief Inspector...
We find the stove again in PHO: on his return from Germany, the first question Maigret has for the office boy is, "Did you light the stove?" Then, back from Rheims, Maigret returns to his office, "where his first concern is to stoke the fire in the stove." Then, receiving a witness come to him with information, "It seemed to him that this time, all of the mystery was going to be cleared up at a single blow... And he planted himself with his back to the fire in his customary pose". We'll find him in this same pose in OMB... "he planted himself with his back to the fire in his characteristic pose when he need to reflect."
Here in TET... Maigret, after having assisted in Heurtin's escape, returned to the Quai, consulted some documents, and "from time to time, rose to stoke the fire in the stove". The next morning, after having been at La Citanguette and La Coupole, he is at the Quai, where he "had hardly entered his office when he was stoking his stove". While waiting for news of Heurtin, he goes "to assure himself that there was enough coal in his fire", which he supplements to the extent that "it was stifling in the office, the stove heated white hot." Later, during Radek's visit to his office, Maigret listens to him while pacing the room, "only stopping to refill his stove". And finally, after Radek's execution, Maigret returns to the Quai and "fills the stove in his office to the top, stoking it fiercely."
We find the same sort of scenario in the Gallimard cycle. Thus, in CEC, Maigret arrives at his office and "regards the stove, thinking that the next day, if it were still as cool, he'd ask for a fire". After a long digression to Bourg-la-Reine, here he is on his return to the office, where he goes to "plant himself in front of his stove, which is lit", he "warms his back". Then, for the "final confrontation", he "refills his stove to the brim.
It's more or less the same in MAJ: at the beginning of the novel, Maigret operates in the Majestic, then at the Donges'. The first time in the novel that he sets foot in his office, he "begins by stoking the fire in his stove, and by warming his hands". On his return to the Quai after going to Nice, he summons Donge to his office, where he also stokes his stove. Simenon adds, "In all the other offices, there was central heating, which he hated, and he'd been able to keep the old cast iron stove dating from twenty years earlier." After a second interlude at the Majestic, Maigret is once more in his office, consulting some documents, and "he refilled the stove, sitting back down with a sigh of ease", and, wrapped in the warmth of his office, he dozes off. Later, after receiving information which he had to organize, deep in thought, his actions are revealing... "He was distant. ... He seemed to need to move things around, to stoke the fire, to come and go."
In the Presses de la Cité cycle, the first case unfolds in Paris (MOR) beginning with Maigret stoking the fire in "the last stove in the PJ, which he had struggled to keep during the installation of central heating at the Quai des Orfèvres." Waiting for the phone call from Albert, he's impatiently "talking, smoking his pipes, stoking, from time to time, the stove ", so full that you could see below "a little red disk". Later, he listens to the confidences of an informer... "Maigret waited, filling his stove".
In BAN, thinking about his case ("When Maigret had that heavy step, that look a little vague, ... everyone at the PJ knew what it meant"), Maigret uses his stove as an "outlet" "Maigret went to stoke the stove, fill a pipe, and, for almost an hour, threw himself into administrative work",
Until the end of his career, he used this "technique"... the last days before his retirement, during the interrogation of young Céline (eto), at the beginning of the interview: "she should have been seriously disconcerted, for the Chief Inspector started by filling a pipe... then he stoked the stove"; then further: "he stoked the fire in the stove for a while, then turned, suddenly calm". "Disconcert" the witness and "calm himself"... two functions assumed by the stoking of the fire...
The stove can also have the function of composing the Chief Inspector when he finds himself faced with difficulty. For example, in the short story The Man in the Street, when the suspect comes to Maigret because he believes that his wife – the actual culprit – is safe, and that he can speak without worrying about her, Maigret, who doesn't dare admit that she's actually been arrested, says nothing... "He seemed to suddenly need to tend to his stove".
At the end of 1957, the catastrophe Simenon definitively deprives his Chief Inspector of his beloved stove. From then on there will be but three allusions to it, when Maigret expresses his regrets at having lost it... So in SCR: "If Maigret still had his coal stove, which they'd allowed him for so long after the installation of central heating, but finally taken away, he would have stopped from time to time to fill it, to stoke it and make a rainfall of red cinders", in TEM: "the little cast iron stove of the Quai de la Gare made him nostalgic for the almost identical one he'd had so long in his office after the installation of central heating at the Quai des Orfèvres, but that the administration had finally removed. Over the years everyone had smiled at his mania of stoking the stove 20 times a day, for he loved to see the rain of incandescent cinders, as he loved the "boom" you heard with each burst of wind.", and in PAR: "Maigret had always loved stoves, and for a long time he had gotten the administration to let him have one in his office."
Henceforth, no more stoking, no more coal, no more roaring of the stove... Maigret would have to content himself with the "gurgling in the pipes" (TEM) the scalding radiators that the person in charge of heating hardly knew how to adjust correctly, "so that the heat was stifling" (ASS) in Maigret's office, and he could no longer doze tranquilly, numbed by the heat of his stove...
The window of Maigret's office is double, side-by-side, can be closed with curtains, or a linen shade, but it's rare that Maigret closes the curtains, because the importance of this window is not so much the light that it allows into the room, but rather because it's an opening onto the outside, a way for Maigret to regard the scenery of the Seine (IND: "He plants himself in front of the open window and sees "his" view of the Seine, with as much joy as if he hadn't seen it for weeks") and hears the sounds of his city. And further, it allows him to know the weather.
What does Maigret see from his window? Two essential elements... "From his window he can see a branch of the Seine, and the Place Saint-Michel" (LET). All the descriptions of the views from his office window revolve around these two elements. For example, in CLO, "He watched, dreamily, the Seine flowing beyond the trees, the passing boats, the bright spots of women's dresses on the Pont Saint-Michel", and in COL: "He remained standing, looking out the open window, the rustling foliage of the trees, the boats gliding on the Seine, and the passers-by moving like ants on the Pont Saint-Michel. On the Seine, the indispensible barges...
"The Seine was enveloped in mist. A last tug was passing, with green and red running lights, towing three barges." (NUI)
"you could sometimes hear the call of a tug passing under the arch of the bridge" (eto)
"In a kind of bluish-green dust, the Seine flowed, almost black, and a bargeman was hosing down the deck of his boat moored at the quay. A tug glided silently by with the current, going off to seek its string of barges. ... the tug from earlier was coming back upriver, whistling before passing under the bridge, followed by seven barges" (REV)
" he spent a quarter of an hour standing at the window watching the barges gliding on the gray water" (TRO)
" he went to open the window, and the sky started to lighten, you could hear the tugs which, upstream from the Île Saint-Louis, were calling their barges"(VOY)
"he started by opening the window as wide as it would go, and his eyes followed a train of barges coming downriver" (CLO)
"He opened the window ... standing, contemplating the Seine and its boats, while slowly filling a pipe"; "He didn't watch them leave, turned as he was towards the peaceful face of the Seine. ... A tug pulling four barges was coming upriver, tilting its stack to pass under the stone arch." (PAT)
"[you could hear] sometimes, the siren of a tug, which lowered its stack before passing under the arch" (ENF)
"Immediately on entering his office, he went to open the window, and the Seine had also changed color, the red lines on the tugboat stacks were more vibrant, the barges seemed new again." (HES)
"The lines of barges gliding slowly on the gray Seine, and the tugs lowering their stacks at the moment of passing under the Pont Saint-Michel." (TUE)
"He made his call standing up, looking out the window. A black and red tug pulling four barges had fascinated him." (SEU)
"From his office also he watched the boats pass, as he had for over thirty years. Even now, he never tired of it." (IND)
The scene from his window also gave Maigret indications of the weather...
"The curtains had not been drawn, so you could easily see the drops of rain roll down the black panes, starry in the reflections of the lamps of the quays" (bea)
"A ray of the sun, that sharp winter sun which accompanied severe cold, came through the glass" (hom)
"Maigret waited, standing near his office window, watching the fall of the snow" (PIC)
"The window was wide open, for it was June, and under the hot sun, Paris had taken on its odor of summer"
"the scene which, beyond the window, was little by little wrapped in fog" (TUE)
or the time of day...
"you could see the windowpanes progressively darken, the view dissolving into points of light which seemed as far away as the stars" (GRA)
"The Seine took on the aura of a milky fog which whitened and made the day, revealing the empty quays" (NUI)
"he glanced at the Seine, which a pale sun was beginning to turn golden" (MAJ)
"he began to light a pipe, all the while watching the Seine, which glistened in the morning sun" (TUE)
We note here too the poetic side of the Chief Inspector, describing the night... "a blue shade, through which one after another the gas lights twinkled on" (LET), "from the window you could see like garlands the pale lights marking the path of the Seine" (CEC) or the morning: "The window was open wide, and a light mist, of a blue mixed with gold, rose from the Seine" (ECO)
Visual poetry, but also the sensations of sound....
"the windows were wide open and the murmuring of Paris vibrated through the office" (GRA)
"from time to time he raised his head like a schoolboy, turning towards the unmoving foliage of the trees, listening to the rustling of Paris which took on a particular sonority on the hot days of summer" (COL)
"The windows in Maigret's office were once more open on the quivering of the outside air, and the noise of the cars and buses on the Pont Saint-Michel" (IND)
... and the trembling of the breeze which entered by the window, puffing up the curtains...
"The windows were open, and the papers on the desk rustled under the objects used to stop them from flying away." (GRA)
"he interrupted himself with a sigh to go and open the window. He'd hardly had time ... to return to his place and savor a spring breeze which gave a particular flavor to his pipe, when his papers started to rustle, rising to finally scatter throughout the room." (JEU)
"The windows were wide open ... and there were puffs of fresher air which lightly frolicked in the room" (SEU)
Finally, for Maigret, this window has another function... it's thanks to the window that he can take one of his favorite poses (ENF... "Maigret was standing in front of the open window, pipe in his mouth, hands in his pockets, in a characteristic pose") , "planted in front of the window" a position he adopts numerous times throughout the corpus, either for reflection, or to "change his thinking" (VOL: "The Chief Inspector went to stand for a moment in front of the open window, as if to take a bath of reality by regarding the passers-by and the cars on the Pont Saint-Michel, a tug with a large white cloverleaf on its stack.") , or yet to listen to the end of an interrogation. He also used it often when filling a new pipe. But this manner of planting himself so often at the window has perhaps also another meaning...
"In his office, as on the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, Maigret had the habit of walking up to the window and staying there, looking at nothing in particular, the windows across the way, the trees, the Seine or the passers-by. Was it perhaps a sign of claustrophobia? Everywhere, he instinctively seeks contact with the outside." (DEF)
"And where does it come from, his mania, in the office, of rising at any time to go and plant himself before the window? ... He liked his office, but he couldn't spend two hours there before he seemed to need to escape. In the course of an investigation, he wanted to be everywhere at once." (VOL)
Sorry, Chief Inspector, but we'll have to stay in your office a little longer, for we haven't finished with our explorations...
"Cupboard: recess, nook, recess in a wall, compartment, closed by a door and constituting a fixed wardrobe." (definition in Petit Robert)
In Maigret's office, this "recess in a wall" must have been all the same of a certain size, since the Chief Inspector can lean half-way into it (TEN), and it contains "an enamel basin, a hand-towel, a mirror and a suitcase" (TET), and "shaving materials" (TEN), "razor, shaving cream and towel" (SCR). Described from the beginning of the corpus, this cupboard holds a great importance throughout the investigations... we can often see Maigret washing his hands there (pip, GRA, TEN), hanging his coat and hat there (PIC, GRA, REV, JEU, SCR, TEM, ASS, CLI, CLO, FAN, COL), and above all taking out the famous bottle of brandy or cognac which he keeps "less for himself than for certain of his clients who sometimes have need of it" (SCR)... and if he serves a glass (or two!) to Ferdinand Voivin (bea), Ernestine (GRA), Helen Donahue (LOG), Jef Schrameck (BAN), Emile Lentin (ECH), Jenny (SCR), Adrien Josset (CON), Mme Josselin (BRA), Norris Jonker (FAN), Francis Ricain (VOL), or Louis Mahossier (SEU), it sometimes happens that he has need of one himself (REV, LOG, SCR, PAR, COL, ENF, VIN)...
chairs, armchairs and various accessories
To receive visitors, Maigret sets out chairs, some of green velour (which he supplements, when the visitors are numerous, with chairs borrowed from the inspectors' office), armchairs, of which some are also of green velour, but he prefers to have his clients installed directly in the light in front of him, in an uncomfortable chair, so that they feel somewhat discomfited, which "helps" them speak...
Maigret himself is in his armchair, where he happily seats himself, or sinks into for a nap, "leaning back in his armchair, his vest unbuttoned, a pipe gone out in his teeth"(MAJ) , adopting sometimes a pose which speaks volumes about his rapport with his client. Thus in TET, faced with Radek, "The Chief Inspector, feigning indifference, leaned back in his armchair, put his feet up on the desk and listened with the distracted air of sometime who has the time, but doesn't take great interest in the conversation", or in OMB, with Mme Martin: "He was leaning backwards, in a coarse enough pose, and he was smoking his pipe in delicious little puffs".
Finally, we find in the office various accessories, described here and there in the corpus... thus, we learn in NUI and mal that behind Maigret's office, there is a narrow storage room, where there is a camp bed, on which Maigret sometimes lies down, when an interrogation grows long. And in SCR, we learn that the office also has a bookcase of numerous shelves, on which must range the telephone books and law references.
beer and sandwiches
One last element forms an integral part of the decor of Maigret's office, and that's "the immense tray covered with demis, and piles of sandwiches" (MME) which the waiter from the Brasserie Dauphine would bring so many times during the course of his famous interrogations, where the office was the theater. Indeed it's hard to imagine those long nights at the PJ without the presence of the sandwiches and beers that Maigret and his men ingest, whether they're hungry or not, since this food forms an inevitable part of the ritual...
Beer and sandwiches are present from the beginning of the corpus... in LET, when Maigret returns to his office after his first visit to the Majestic, his first concern, after reassuring himself that his stove is going, is to have some demis and sandwiches brought in by the office boy. Sandwiches of crusty baguettes, no doubt, since Maigret makes it clear that he doesn't like soft bread. And to satisfy the hunger of the Chief Inspector, quantity as well as quality... "The waiter of the Brasserie Dauphine entered, placing on the table a tray holding six demis and four fat sandwiches. "Will that be enough?" he asked, realizing that Maigret wasn't alone. "It'll do," responded the Chief Inspector. But! After having eaten his sandwiches, offered Torrence two of the six demis, all the while discussing the case, he's about to go up to the laboratory, and is already saying to Torrence, "The Brasserie should still be open. When you go by, order me a demi..." "One...?" repeats Torrence, with an innocent air. "If you will, old man! The waiter is clever enough to understand three of four. And to add some sandwiches." Oh well! After that, it's not so surprising that the Chief Inspector's weight is over 200 pounds...
Beer and sandwiches are part of the "arsenal" necessary for interrogations (MOR: "'Who will sacrifice himself to order some beer at the Brasserie Dauphine? And some sandwiches!' It was a sign that one of the big nights at the PJ was beginning), used by the author to paint a tableau of the office at the end of one of these interrogations...
"On the table there were empty demis, the remains of sandwiches." (NUI)
"Maigret's office always displayed the same disorder, with, moreover, empty beer glasses on the table, the remains of sandwiches, pipe ash almost everywhere" (eto)
"Maigret's office, in the end, looked like a barracks, with empty glasses, plates of sandwiches on the table, pipe ash almost everywhere on the floor, and scattered papers" (mal)
"The office was filled with dirty glasses and half-eaten sandwiches, and the odor of tobacco stuck in your throat." (MOR)
- "Behind a lectern, you'll notice an old orderly with a chain around his neck..." (AMU)
A little riddle: do you know who is the first person, besides Maigret, to appear in the corpus? Well, it's the office boy, a secondary character in the novels, but all the same useful to the action... It's he who has the role of introducing Maigret's visitors, and he is, in a way, "a part of the furniture" of the PJ the old orderly in his glass booth at the head of the hallway is as necessary a part of the decor as the waiting room or the dusty staircase...
Simenon, who is not always consistent, even in his terminology, has given various names to this character he sometimes calls "office boy" and sometimes "orderly". If we follow the chronological order of the writing, we find that the office boy is first named "Jean" (LET, TET, GUI, OMB) in the Fayard cycle, then there was the orderly "Léopold" (CEC) or "François" (SIG) in the Gallimard cycle, then an "Emile" and a "Jérôme" in two stories (pip and mal), and we have to wait for the Presses de la Cité cycle to finally discover "Joseph" (named in MOR, MEU, GRA, ECH, SCR, TEM, ASS, VIE, PAR, CLI, CLO, DEF, VOL, ENF, TUE, VIN, FOL, SEU), the old orderly, the one most often met in the corpus. To be complete, we note that there's an orderly or office boy, without mention of name, in the following novels (and stories): PHO, NUI; ECL, MAI, err, eto, PIC, LOG, REV, BAN, ECO, HES, TEN, amo, MAJ, DAM, MIN, AMU.
The first character to appear at Maigret's side in the corpus, this office boy has for an essential function, besides receiving telephone calls, feeding the fire in Maigret's stove, which furthermore he's not very good at (see above in the section on the stove), and perhaps that explains why his name disappears so quickly from the corpus...
Remember however that he has already, since LET, the place that will be reserved for him henceforth, on the landing serving the anteroom, commanding the long hallway bordered with a multitude of offices (LET).
And we note that in PHO, Maigret, making a brief appearance at the Quai, greets the office boy with "Did you light the fire?" which might well indicate that it's Jean, even though his name isn't mentioned.
He appears with this name only once, in pip. We learn that he is old, that he occupies "his glass booth", that Maigret rings for him (probably using the electric button mentioned above in the section on the desk...), and that, unlike Jean, whom Maigret addresses with "tu", the Chief Inspector uses "vous" with him.
He makes but a brief and unique appearance in mal, in a long descriptive sentence, reminiscent of Balzac
"At the very end of the hallway, the old night office boy, Jérôme, who'd been in the house for more than 30 years, and who had hair as white as snow, was seated before his little table with its green-shaded lamp, steel-framed glasses on his nose, invariably reading a large treatise on medicine, the same one over the years. He read like a child, moving his lips, sounding out the syllables."
He appears in CEC, with the title "orderly", with the essential mission of announcing the visit –- and then the departure – of Cécile. He is also called "vous" by Maigret. Léopold is not his real name, but he's so nicknamed because he resembled the king of Belgium (see an image in the Maigret Encyclopedia on this site).
Met in SIG, we know of him that his is old, and that Maigret asks him to order demis from the Brasserie Dauphine.
After these transitory characters, we concern ourselves with old Joseph, to whom Simenon gives indifferently the title of office boy (MOR, MEU, GRA, ECH), night boy (MOR), orderly (GRA, SCR, ASS, PAR, DEF, VOL, ENF, TUE), and even porter (PAR, CLI, FOL, CHA). His name is mentioned for the first time in the first novel of the Presses de la Cité cycle, in which the action takes place in Paris, MOR. As he is present in so many of the novels of the cycle (18 of the 41 which occur in Paris), we can assume that he's the one in the other novels of the cycle where an orderly is mentioned but not named.
What do we know of him?
- that Maigret enjoys "finding his good face" when he comes to the office (MOR), and that he greets him with the traditional "Bonjour, Joseph." (MEU
- that he has white hair (GRA) very sparse, which haloes his bald pate (ECH)
- that he wears a heavy chain around his neck with an enormous medallion (GRA), and the chain is of silver (CLI, DEF)
- that Maigret, depending on the case, calls him "vous" or "tu"
- that he walks very quietly (ECH, SCR), that after knocking, always discretely, at the door, he has the habit of entering Maigret's office without waiting for a response (SCR, DEF, VOL, VIN, FOL
- that Maigret calls him by an electric buzzer (CLI) or button (ENF)
- that he's "the oldest one in the house" (DEF) and the "oldest of the orderlies" (VIN)
- and that "as he lives in an anteroom without any daylight, he's taken on the color of ivory" (DEF).
"Have I come back down?"
Here we are at the end of our visit to Maigret's office. The Chief Inspector's day is finished, we're going to let him "descend the stairs all alone, his back heavy," (TEN), "empty his pipe by striking a few taps on his heel" (VOL), then "stop on the first landing to slowly light the pipe that he's just filled." (TEN) "As always at that hour, there's a draft, and the stairway is damp and cold." (FAN). But no mater... Maigret, after having taken a last glass at the Brasserie Dauphine, will return to the warm atmosphere of his apartment on the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. Louise awaits him, with a nice little dish simmering. We'll leave him there for today, his silhouette disappearing into the fog at the end of the street...
translation: S. Trussel
illustration: Philippe Wurm, Maigret et son mort (Lefrancq/Le Rocher)
Honolulu, December 2007