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More than just a title...

Murielle Wenger

original French

A Note on the English chapter headings
Wherever possible, the English chapter headings used in published editions are shown. Headings in square brackets [like this] are not from published editions, either because no heading appears in the translation, or because the translation heading doesn't illustrate the example well, in which case the English translation heading is shown in curly brackets {like this}, after the bracketed heading.


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.

1. Number of Chapters

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).

2. Chapters with headings and chapters without

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:

1. In general, short stories don't include chapter headings, with the exception of pip, cho, obs, mal, and pau.

2. ECL and MAI have no chapter headings. This is at the end of the Fayard period, and the time when Simenon was thinking about "disposing of" his character.

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.

3. Lengths of the headings

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:

LET, Ch. 4:The Drunken Russian (Ch. 5 in French)
PRO; Ch. 6:The American Cap
POR, Ch. 9:A Conspiracy of Silence
FOU, Ch. 4:[The Meeting of the Madmen] {Maigret's Reception}
FEL, Ch. 3:[The Secrets in the Diary] {The Diary}
AMI, Ch. 6:[The Major's Horse]
BAN, Ch. 7:The Rainwear Shop

Long. The "long" forms consist of relatively long sentences, as for example,

MEU, Ch. 3:[Where the thought of a glass of cool beer plays an important role and where Maigret discovers one of Mlle Clément's tenants in an unexpected place]

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,

mal, Ch. 2:[The misfortunes and sensitivities of Inspector Lognon]
obs, Ch. 3:The Uncertain Identity of a Dead Woman
ECH, Ch. 6:The Man in the Lumber-Room and the Sums Borrowed from the Petty Cash

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.

In summary,

no heading292352
short heading39544
long heading707

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]".

4. Stylistic Analysis

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
GAL, Ch. 2:A Young Man in Spectacles (Henry Gallet, the son of the dead man)
JAU, Ch. 2:The Doctor in Slippers (Dr. Michoux)
OMB, Ch. 2:A Real Good Sort (Raymond Couchet)
JUG, Ch. 1:The Customs Officer's Wife (Didine Hulot)
DAM, Ch. 1:[The Chatelaine of "La Bicoque"] (Valentine Besson)
COR, Ch. 3:The Errand Boy (Antoine Cristin)

b) a heading that describes an object that is an important clue for the investigation
PRO, Ch. 7:The Pedal
HOL, Ch. 6:The Letters
MME, Ch. 5:Something about a Hat
BAN, Ch. 1:The Brown Shoes

c) a heading that indicates a place where the investigation takes place
PHO, Ch. 5:Breakdown at Luzancy
POR, Ch. 5:Notre-Dame-des-Dunes
MAJ, Ch. 11:Dinner at the Coupole
MIN, Ch. 8:[The Trip to Seineport]
SCR, Ch. 4:[The Restaurant in the Rue Coquillière]

d) a heading that gives a temporal indication of the progress of the action
LET, Ch. 6:Third Interval (Ch. 7 in French)
TET, Ch. 9:The Next Day
AMI, Ch. 5:The Night at the Arche

e) a heading about what Maigret is doing, or that mentions his name, or the word "commissioner, superintendent..."
LET, Ch. 8:Maigret Gives Up the Game (Ch. 9 in French)
FLA, Ch. 5:[Maigret's Evening] {At the "Café de la Mairie"}
SIG, Ch. 7:[The Commissioner's Silence]
CHE, Ch. 7:The Chief Superintendent's Questions

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"
GAL, Ch. 7:Joseph Moers' Ear
PHO, Ch. 1:Inspector Maigret Commits a Crime

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"
FOU, Ch. 9:The Kidnapping of an Old-Time Artiste
DAM; Ch. 7:[The Almanac's Predictions]
PEU, Ch. 2:[The Rabbit-Skin Merchant]

h) a heading that includes a humorous feature (a type in which Simenon excels)
GUI, Ch. 2: The Lady's Husband
MAJ, Ch. 2: Maigret Goes Bicycling
SIG, Ch. 9: [The Night of the Onion Soup]
FAC, Ch. 3: Family Group in a Drawing-Room
obs, Ch. 2: The Man Who Drank White Wine and the Lady Who Ate Snails
MIN, Ch. 4: [Lucas Isn't Happy]

i) the "phantom heading" (!)
In ECO; Ch. 6 has no heading, although all the others do

j) my two favorite headings
MAJ, Ch. 11: Gala Evening at Police Headquarters
TEN; Ch. 1: Commotion at the Quai des Orfèvres

"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:
MEM, Ch. 7:Of a triumphant morning like a cavalry trumpet, and a boy who was no longer skinny, but who was not yet quite fat
REV, Ch. 7: Where Maigret makes the sacrifice of wearing a carnation in his buttonhole, but doesn't succeed at it
VOY, Ch. 4: Where Maigret meets another multimillionaire, as naked as the colonel, but very much alive

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?

a) Mary's Necklace 1. A Crime in Holland (HOL)
b) A Lobster Dinner 2. The Saint-Fiacre Affair (FIA)
c) A Scene from Scott 3. Maigret Goes to School (ECO)
d) Léonie's Horseshoe 4. Maigret Meets a Milord (PRO)
e) A Pedigree Calf 5. Maigret and the Headless Corpse (COR)
f) Madame Calas's Cat   6. Maigret and the Toy Village (FEL)

(highlight box to view)
a) 4;   b) 6;   c) 2;   d) 3;   e) 1;   f) 5

translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, Aug. 2006

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