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Simenon, Maigret and Paris:

Two Recent Books

1. Michel Lemoine: Paris Chez Simenon (2000)

2. Michel Carly: Maigret traversées de Paris (2003)

Peter Foord
September, 2003


1. Michel Lemoine: Paris Chez Simenon

Michel Lemoine, Paris Chez Simenon. Collection Travaux N°. 37 Bibliothèque Simenon, 1. Amiens/Paris, Encrage, June 2000. ISBN 2-250-74106-2. 319 pages. 24×17 cms. Hardback published without a dust jacket.

This book is intended as a work of reference to be dipped into as a source of information.


Introduction (pages 7 to 14):

This outlines Simenon's interest in Paris from the age of nineteen and the various times that he lived in, or visited, the French capital. Simenon moved from Liège to Paris in December 1922, living there, except for a few visits elsewhere, with his first wife Tigy, until the spring of 1929. They returned at the end of the summer of 1936 to live in Neuilly-sur-Seine, which borders on the seventeenth arrondissement, until the spring of 1938. After that there were only short stays or visits, as at the end of the Second World War in 1945, and again in 1952 when he visited parts of Europe from his home in the United States.

Michel Lemoine also mentions his reference sources, which are principally from Simenon's own work, as well as acknowledging other experts for their help.

The Main Text (pages 15 to 252):

Michel Lemoine has taken the City of Paris, as far as its boundary, as his area of research. For administrative purposes, Paris is divided up into 20 arrondissements (corresponding to boroughs in some cities) and each of these is again divided into 4 quartiers (districts). With thorough and meticulous attention to detail, Michel Lemoine has researched all the works of Georges Simenon that have been set, wholly or partly, within the boundary of Paris. This amounts to some 250 works, Maigret and non-Maigret novels and short stories, as well as other appropriate items written under pseudonyms, autobiography and articles.

In reality, each arrondissement has a name, as have each of the quartiers. Using the number and name of each arrondissement as a kind of chapter heading, Michel Lemoine then uses its 4 quartiers as subheadings. Under each quartier there are listed the various streets, boulevards, squares etc. that are within it, and it is under each of these locations that Michel Lemoine enters the Simenon references, as in the following example:

Sub Heading: 1er : quartier Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois
Locations: Jardin des Tuileries — Les " jardins verts des Tuileries" 1, "le majestueux jardin" 2, "la paix repostante des Tuileries" 3, "l'harmonieux spectacle des Tuileries" 4, etc. etc.

(Each Simenon reference is numbered, with the work identified in the Notes section at the back of the book).

Rue de Rivoli — Simenon references
Place du Louvre — Simenon references
Place du Châtelet — Simenon references
Etc. etc.

Using this format, all 20 arrondissements are covered in numerical order, together with the 80 quartiers.

At the beginning of each chapter there is a plan of the appropriate arrondissement using the work of A.Dauzat & F.Bournon published in Paris in 1925 by the Librairie Larousse and entitled Paris et ses environs.

The reason for using a 1925 map of Paris is that Simenon lived in that city mainly in the 1920s and then in the later 1930s. During that time he knew many parts of the city very well and up to 1939 Paris changed little. Following the Second World War, many names of thoroughfares were changed. Many metro stations were closed during the Occupation of Paris (June 1940 to August 1944) and then only gradually reopened after the war, with some names changed and a few remaining closed permanently. After 1938 Simenon only returned to Paris for short visits and as Michel Lemoine states in his Introduction (page 9) '...when Simenon moved away from Paris in 1938, he took along with him, in the prodigious store of his memory, the essential of what the city brought him, a large supply of facts, experiences, sensations, impressions and images which will continue to sustain all his fiction just as if he hadn't ceased extracting from this vast reservoir of memories since he began to write. "I have never written about places that I don't know", declares the novelist, so that on this point one willingly believes him.'

Not that Simenon only relied on his memory, as he always had by him his reference sources — his maps, his telephone directories (for names of characters), his medical books and anything else that would help him.

What is remarkable is that he was able to set certain novels and short stories so convincingly in locations where he had not set foot for some years, while he was living and writing them in a very different environment. For example, one of the longer short stories entitled "A Matter of Life and Death" (Sept Petites Croix dans un Carnet), set at Christmas in Paris, was written in April at Carmel-by-the-Sea in California, whilst the novels "Maigret in Montmartre / Inspector Maigret and the Strangled Stripper" (Maigret au "Picratt's") and "Maigret and the Headless Corpse" (Maigret et le Corps Sans Tête), were written in 1950 and 1955, respectively, at Lakeville, Connecticut.

Notes (pages 253 to 297):

As indicated above, a number follows all Simenon references, which are listed in this section under the appropriate quartier. Against each number is the title of the work from which the reference is taken. For all the novels and many of the short stories published under the author's own name, Michel Lemoine has used the 72 volume "Oeuvres Completes" (Complete Works), edited by Gilbert Sigaux, and published in Switzerland by Éditions Rencontre, 1967-1973. Other works are to be found in the 27 volume "Tout Simenon" (All Simenon) published in Paris by Presses de la Cité, 1988-1993, or certain first editions or reprints. Whatever the source, the edition, volume (where appropriate) and page number is given. Details of these sources are indicated in the Introduction.

Index of Characters (pages 298 to 305):

This is an alphabetical list of fictional characters, as well as real people, referred to in The Main Text and the Introduction, each one followed by a page reference. The names of the real people are indicated in bold type.

Index of Places (pages 305 to 314):

This list is divided up into Two Parts. The First Part lists the thoroughfares and quartiers, and the Second Part the institutions, establishments and other buildings.

Index of works (pages 315 to 319):

The titles of the author's works are listed in alphabetical order. The novels and short stories written under the author's own name are in normal type, the short stories being underlined. Those works written under pseudonym are in italics with the short stories underlined, whilst works of autobiography and articles are in bold type, the latter in italics.

Illustrations are confined to the reproduction of eight French book covers, all Maigret texts, seven of them in black and white, throughout the book. The eighth, the first edition dust jacket of the short story collection entitled "le commissaire Maigret et I'inspecteur malchanceux" is reproduced on the front cover of the book in colour.

This is a reference book that might appeal more to the specialist reader and researcher of the works of Simenon as a whole than to the reader of specific items, but certain factors emerge that might be of general interest.

The number of locations used varies from one arrondissement to another, but the one most used by the author is the 8th arrondissement: L'Élyseé. This includes such thoroughfares as the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré that figure prominently in the reference sources. The next two are the 1st arrondissement: Le Louvre and 9th : L'Opéra. The former includes the Quai des Orfèvres, the Palais de Justice, the Rue de Rivoli and Les Halles (the then Central Market before it was moved in 1969), whilst the latter has the Pigalle area south of the Boulevards Clichy and Rochechouart, stretching to the Grands Boulevards.

There is a considerable drop in the number of locations used for the next two, the 4th arrondissement: L'Hôtel de Ville, which includes the Île Saint Louis, the Place des Vosges and the area known as the Marais, and the 18th arrondissement: La Butte Montmartre, which as the name indicates covers much of the Montmartre area, including both sides of the hill.

In these five arrondissement, the Maigret references range from about 35% of the whole in the 8th arrondissement, to about 55% in the 18th, but as much as 80% for the 1st, which does include the Quai des Orfèvres.


2. Michel Carly: Maigret traversées de Paris

Michel Carly, Maigret traversées de Paris. Les 120 lieux parisiens du commissaire. (Maigret across Paris. The Superintendent's 120 Parisian locations) Paris, Carnets Omnibus, March 2003. ISBN 2-258-06226-8. 191 pages. 20×13 cms. Paperback.

This book represents a different approach to Simenon's Paris to that of Michel Lemoine's. As the title indicates, its main emphasis is on le Commissaire Maigret. It is more of a reminiscence, backed up with facts and photographs of the Paris that Simenon and Maigret knew. On the back cover it states — "120 locations, 7 itineraries, this book is at the same time an invitation to reread Simenon, and to cover, stories in mind, a city completely revisited." And in the acknowledgements at the back of the book Michel Carly concludes with — "Above all without forgetting Michel Lemoine who, once again, replied to all my questions".


Introduction (pages 7 to 25).

This is entitled "Maigret, Simenon: Les Paris Mutuels" (Maigret, Simenon: Paris Shared). In his introduction to the book, Michel Carly describes the effect that Paris had on Simenon when he came to live there in the 1920s and later during part of the 1930s, and how this is reflected in the Maigret novels and short stories, as well as in some of the author's other works.

The Main Text (pages 26 to 181).

This is divided up into 7 chapters. Six of these are within the boundary of Paris, each covering an area, but not confined to one arrondissement. At the beginning of each chapter there is a modern map of the area taken from the Plan de Paris à vol d'oiseau (a bird's eye view of Paris) with certain locations numbered. The names of these locations are indicated on a small panel within the map. In each chapter Michel Carly describes these and their connections with Simenon and Maigret, the author's other works where pertinent, and real life personalities associated with them. Short quotations from Simenon's and other writers' work are inserted at appropriate places.

For the seventh chapter, Michel Carly goes beyond the boundary of Paris to the immediate south, to the Départements that include the rivers Seine and Marne. In good weather at weekends in the 1920s and 1930s, it was popular for people to leave the city by public transport and make for the riverside areas a few miles distant. Here they could find relaxation in swimming, fishing, boating and the many cafés along the river which had facilities for music and dancing — "les Guinguettes". Simenon experienced this sort of scene, at the time, whilst sailing his boat the Ginette and later his second one, the Ostrogoth, through the same area. From this experience came the Maigret novel, written in 1931, "La Guinguette à deux sous" (The Guinguette by the Seine / A Spot by the Seine / Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine / The Bar on the Seine), among others.

Table of Illustrations (pages 184 and 185).

This lists the titles and sources of the photographs used throughout the text by page number.

Index of Places (pages 186 to 189).

A list of locations referred to in the text, with certain establishments (mainly cafés, restaurants and hotels) indicated in italics.

Most of the Illustrations are photographs appearing throughout the book. Some are reproduced as double page spreads, others as a single page, with some, much smaller, inserted in the side margins of the text. Three of the small photographs are of French first edition book covers. On page 10 there is "Au Grand 13", a collection of short stories published in 1924 under one of the author's many early pseudonyms, Gom Gut, whilst page 73 shows the cover of the Maigret novel "La Tête d'un Homme" (A Battle of Nerves / A Man's Head / Maigret's War of Nerves) published in 1931, and on page 139 there is the photograph used for the cover of "Pietr-le-Letton" (The [Strange] Case of Peter the Lett / Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett) also of 1931. Page 75 has a still from the third part of the film "Brelan d'as" (1952), based on the Maigret short story "Le Témoignage de l'Enfant de Chœur" (The Evidence of the Altar-boy, etc.) with Michel Simon as Maigret.

These photographs, from the 1920s through to the 1950s, have been carefully chosen to reflect the day-to-day sights and the atmosphere that Simenon knew so well whilst he was living in, or visiting, Paris during this period and which he incorporated into many of his Maigret novels and short stories, as well as some of his other work. Several of them show the author at various times in Parisian locations.

Both books have much information covering the many Parisian locations that appear in the work of Georges Simenon, but neither is designed as a "walking" guide to specific sites. The author was always careful not to pinpoint an actual private address where a crime was likely to have been committed or where there were suspicious circumstances, as this may have had repercussions at a later date. He would indicate a street or other location by name, but give a building a non-existent number. Exceptions were usually official buildings such as the Police Judiciaire, or brasseries/restaurants such as La Coupole in Montparnasse or Fouquet's in the Champs-Élysées.

Having visited parts of Africa in the summer of 1932, Simenon wrote the novel "Tropic Moon" (Le Coup de Lune) soon after, only to be taken to court for slander by the owner of a hotel named in the novel. Inadvertently he had given the hotel, in which many of the events took place, the same name that it bore in reality. Simenon won the court case, but was wary not to let these circumstances occur again.

Perhaps the most perplexing address is Maigret's home in the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. Both authors are well aware of the descriptions concerning this location. In his book Michel Lemoine devotes four page columns to Simenon's references concerning this address, giving the reader plenty to think about, while Michel Carly sums it up thus (pages 155 and 156):

The façade of 132, Boulevard Richard-Lenoir is hardly talkative. One feels that it is here that the itinerary in Paris comes to an end. That it is on the third floor that perhaps hides the true Maigret.

This mythical address, it must be said, is only specified on one occasion in the whole of the œuvre. In "Maigret et Son Mort" (Maigret's Special Murder / Maigret's Dead Man), our Superintendent publishes an advertisement worded thus: "Albert's friends, for your safety's sake, urgently contact Maigret at home, 132 Boulevard Richard-Lenoir…"

Only one mention is enough to make it the Baker Street of the French police officer. Simenon, who knew the boulevard well, having cut across the district when he was living in the Place des Vosges, had, on his own admission, chosen this number at random. What does it matter, it is Maigret's home, the Maigrets' home, even if one wonders why Maigret doesn't take the metro from the nearest station, Oberkampf, even if one is surprised that Madame Maigret hurries so far in order to stock up when the market smells from the boulevard are beneath their windows.

Suddenly one no longer feels inclined to search for a house, a name of a boulevard mentioned one hundred and eighty seven times in the œuvre, a problematic number, for certainty a setting made of stone. Everything becomes a little obscure. Everything takes refuge in the character. In the couple. In the private life. It doesn't matter if the telephone from the Police Judiciaire rings in the middle of the night. It doesn't matter if certain investigations start here, ending on the staircase under Maigret's heavier tread. It doesn't matter if culprits hang about here, hesitating to ring the Superintendent's bell in order to find relief from the weight of helplessness.

Only the essential remains.

Peter Foord


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