More than just a title...
One of things, among so many others, that I appreciate about Simenon, is his style of writing his conciseness, his sentences simple, but filled with meaning and evoking an entire world. Is his sense of the formula that "hits the mark" due to his beginnings in journalism? I couldn't say. Whatever it is, his way of formulating a sentence, both concise and suggestive, is never better illustrated than in the chapter headings of his novels.
To illustrate, I'll present here a small survey of the chapter headings in the Maigret series, with a brief incursion into other novels.
As a first approach to the Maigret corpus, we can consider the varying number of chapters of the novels, and it seems interesting to analyze this variation chronologically, by the order in which they were written.
Here we can see the results summarized in a diagram:
Novels are numbered according to the chronological order of the corpus. Short stories are integrated in their chronological places.
We see from the very beginning that the average number of chapters for the series in the corpus is between 8 and 9. The extremes are, the longest, 19 chapters [18 in English] (for the very first novel (LET), Simenon's first try), and the shortest, 3 chapters (short stories). Texts which have no chapters (0 on the chart) are, of course, short stories.
We also note that in the first cycle (the Fayard period), Simenon is quite consistent in his chapter counts the majority of novels of this period have 11 chapters, with the exception of TET (12), POR (13) and MAI (10).
The novels of the Gallimard period (No. 41 to 46) range from 8 to 12 chapters.
Simenon inaugurates the third period (Presses de la Cité) with an "intermediate" work, in the sense that while pip is a short story in terms of length, it has a relatively high number of chapters (5); cf. noe, a similar case (see Lengths of the Maigrets, in Reference).
The first novel (FAC) in this third period has 8 chapters, the next (NEW) goes up to 10, then VAC (9), and MOR (10), the longest text. Simenon won't write another Maigret as long, and all the other novels will vary between 8 and 9 chapters (with the exception of FAN, with 7). This number of 8 or 9 is in a way the "ideal" number for Simenon in this period, and he gives us the impression of constructing these novels deliberately according to this number, as if it were fixed in advance. We can see, in this regard, his text "On the retirement of Commissioner Maigret":
"It was... the Maigret of the eighth or ninth chapter, when he only had 40 pages left to discover the guilty party."When Simenon wrote that (in 1937), he had just finished the first period of the Maigrets, where the commissioner needed 11 chapters to finish his investigation. After the intermediate period of the 2nd cycle, Simenon finds, in a sense, the "best rhythm" for his character condensing the action and making his style more concise, allowing him to tighten a story to 8 or 9 chapters.
Note that we find an epilogue after chapter 8 in DEF the only novel in the corpus to include one. More interesting about this is the fact that it permits Simenon to introduce, in a way, the next novel (PAT). In fact, these two are the only ones in the corpus to be linked by their contents, since PAT is the continuation of the story told in DEF. The last sentence of the epilogue in DEF is quite clear "He'd be making many more visits to the Rue des Acacias." (the street where Aline Bauche and Manual Palmari live, and where in fact Maigret will spend a lot of time in PAT, during his investigation of Palmari's murder).
In examining the corpus of the Maigrets, another interesting point appears the fact that Simenon didn't always give headings to his chapters. This second chart illustrates this point:
Note the following elements:
3. CEC is the only novel of the Gallimard period that doesn't have chapter headings. It is also the only novel of the corpus in which there is a subdivision into three parts, before the subdivision into chapters.
4. In the 3rd cycle we find a novel at the beginning with chapter headings (FAC), then 3 without (NEW, VAC, MOR). Followed by a series of novels with chapter headings (except PIC, TRO and TEM). After ASS, and until the end of the Maigret series, Simenon no longer uses any chapter headings in his novels (with the single exception of FAN, which only has 7 chapters). Once more, I think we can assign this fact to the author's striving for conciseness.
Now let's consider those novels which include chapter headings. On reading these headings, there's something striking throughout the corpus Simenon used two types of heading, short and long. What does that mean?
Short. I call those chapter headings which consist of three or four words, either a noun and an adjective, or a noun and its complement, "short". Here are some examples:
Long. The "long" forms consist of relatively long sentences, as for example,
As we can see, Simenon used two very distinct shapes. Below is their frequency of occurrence, shown in chronological position in the corpus:
We see immediately that Simenon used the long form infrequently only 7 times. Starting with MEM, the long sentence formula, a sort of summary of the chapter's action, apparently pleased Simenon, for he soon reused it in four novels (MEU, GRA, LOG and REV). He set it aside for a time, then took it up again in JEU and then VOY, before abandoning it forever, only briefly using the short form again before moving to chapters with no headings.
To be precise, we should note that some of the headings here classified as "short" are actually slightly more elaborate. For example,
Nevertheless, I've grouped this sort of heading with the short forms, because it is not actually a sentence like the long type, and when these "intermediate" headings appear, it is not for all the chapters, but rather most of the other chapter headings are short. This type occurs in mal, cho, obs, pau, ECH and the first chapter of FAN.
We also notice that outside of the Maigrets, Simenon uses chapter headings more often in police stories than in novels. We find the short type in, for example, [Seven Minutes]. The long form is found in the chapter headings of "The Little Doctor" and "[The Agency O Files]".
Here I would like to examine chapter headings according to their style and their relationship to the story. We'll start with the short headings.
We find several styles (and some headings can be in several categories).
a) a heading referring to a character, often to introduce him into the story
b) a heading that describes an object that is an important clue for the investigation
c) a heading that indicates a place where the investigation takes place
d) a heading that gives a temporal indication of the progress of the action
e) a heading about what Maigret is doing, or that mentions his name, or the word "commissioner, superintendent..."
f) a heading with a somewhat "strange" meaning, that doesn't directly give away part of the story, but which, because of its novelty, sends us quickly into the chapter "to find out something"
g) a heading which refers to some element in the chapter, but which is only a side issue in relation to the true flow of the story, as if the author wanted to lead us down a "false trail"
h) a heading that includes a humorous feature (a type in which Simenon excels)
i) the "phantom heading" (!)
j) my two favorite headings
"Long" chapter headings include, by definition, some elements of all the styles above (characters, places, objects, mention of Maigret, etc.), but especially Simenon's so characteristic subtle humor. Some examples:
And finally, to finish off, may I invite you to play a little unpretentious game?
The chapter headings and corresponding novels given in this chart have been scrambled. Can you link these headings to their proper novels?
translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, Aug. 2006