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Xavier Guichard

[1870 - 1947]


Xavier Guichard, Maigret's first Chief, was a real person, born in Pesmes, Haute-Saône, in 1870. He was actually Director of the Police at Paris, and an acquaintance of Simenon's. Vice-President of the Prehistoric Society of France, in 1936 he published "Enquête sur les origines de la civilisation européenne" [Investigation of the origins of European Civilization] (Editions Fayard).

Maigret might also have telephoned through to the big chief, or gone to see him. For he knew Xavier Guichard personally. The Chief of the Sûreté had often spent his holidays near his family home in the Allier, and at one time had been a friend of his father's.
Strictly speaking, he was not his protector, but he watched his progress from afar, or rather from above, and no doubt it was he who, for the past four years, had sent Maigret continually from one branch to the other in order to give him experience as quickly as possible of all parts of the workings of the police.

[Ch. 2, p. 29]

After the second glass, he was on the point of going to see his 'protector', the big chief, Xavier Guichard, and getting everything off his chest.

[Ch. 8, p. 139]

Were Le Bret and the big chief, Xavier Guichard, old friends? ... What did Le Bret say to him in that vast office, which Maigret had twice been into, and which impressed him more than any other place in the world? ... Le Bret was above all things a man of the world. ... But Xavier Guichard? He was a friend of Maigret's father and came from their sort of people. He didn't live in the Plaine Monceau, but in a little flat in the Latin Quarter, spending more time amongst old books than with the lovely ladies of the town. No, he would never be capable of a dirty trick, nor a compromise!

[Ch. 9, p. 151]

The next day he was summoned to the Quai.
"Still angry, my boy?" the big chief asked him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
The lesson he learned that day, given in a fatherly tone, didn't figure in the official police manual.
"Do you follow? Cause as little trouble as possible. What good would have come of it?"
"The truth."
"Which truth?"
And the big chief finished up by saying:
"You can light up your pipe again. On Monday you'll join Chief-Inspector Barodet's squad as an inspector."

[Ch. 9, p. 169]
[Maigret's First Case, Penguin Books]

Maigret and his creator quickly became known also to the real French Police Judiciaire, whose director, Xavier Guichard, who had gained fame by arresting the famous "Bonnot gang," contacted Simenon and said to him something along the lines of: "Look, you write detective stories, but they're crammed with mistakes. I'd like to have you take a tour of the P.J." He did, and registered a large quantity of technical details on police methods and organization. In time, the P.J. was to issue an official badge in Maigret's name.

[p. 94]
[Samuel G. Eskin: Simenon, A Critical Biography]

I had just returned to my office, where I had begun to draw up a report, when the house telephone rang. 'Is that you, Maigret? Will you come to my room for a moment?'
Nothing surprising about that. Every day, or almost every day, the Big Chief used to send for me at least once to his office, apart from the conference; I had known him since my childhood, he had often spent his holidays close to our home in the Allier, and he had been a friend of my father's.
And this particular Chief was, in my eyes, the real Chief in the fullest sense of the word, the Chief under whom I had served my first term at Police Headquarters, who, without actually protecting me, had kept a discreet eye on me from above, and whom I had watched, in his black coat and bowler hat, walking alone under fire towards the door of the house in which Bonnot and his gang had for two days been resisting police and gendarmes.
I am referring to Xavier Guichard, with his mischievous eyes and his white hair, as long as a poet's.
[Ch. 1, p. 11]

The Chief, apart from his profession, had one passion: archaeology. He belonged to several learned societies and had written a fat book about the remote origins of Paris and its surroundings.

[Ch. 1, p. 13]

A window was open behind Xavier Guichard, who had plumes of sunlight in his silky white hair.
He did not hold out his hand to me. He seldom did so in the office. And yet we had become friends, or, more precisely, he had been good enough to honour my wife and me with his friendship. On one occasion, the first, he had invited me alone to his flat in the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Not the wealthy, fashionable part of the Boulevard. He lived, on the contrary, right opposite the Place Maubert, in a big new block that rose amidst rickety houses and squalid hotels. ...
He was a confirmed bachelor. Apart from his brother, who was Chief of the Municipal Police, he had no relatives in Paris.

[Ch. 7, p. 121]

'Young Lesueur will take your place in the Hotels Squad, from now on, and you shall put yourself at Inspector Guillaume's disposal.'
He deliberately said this in an unemphatic tone, as if it were something quite trivial, knowing that my heart was going to leap in my breast and that, as I stood before him there, I could hear triumphant clarion calls ringing in my ears.
Suddenly, on a morning that seemed to have been chosen on purpose — and I'm not sure that Guichard hadn't done so — the dream of my life was being realized.
At last I was to enter the Special Squad.

[Ch. 7, p. 122-123]
[Maigret's Memoirs, Penguin Books]

The question of whether or not there was an original model for Commissaire Maigret has received several answers. ... The policemen who were generally given the credit for a resemblance were Parisian, in particular there was Commissaire Guillaume, head of the brigade spéciale of the Parisian police judiciaire. Although the character of Maigret came from Simenon's imagination, and from his past, many of Maigret's methods seem to have been based on the techniques of Commissaire Guillaume.
The early 'Maigrets' were apparently such a success that they were read by the head of the Paris CID, Xavier Guichard. He later summoned Simenon and told him that a writer who was going to such lengths to make his books realistic should be told how to avoid so many fundamental errors. Simenon was then introduced to M. Guillaume and was allowed to roam behind the scenes at the Quai des Orfevres and even to be present during the questioning of witnesses. He watched witnesses being broken down over a period of twenty-four or forty-eight hours during a questioning marathon conducted by a team of six or seven policemen, and he said that in his belief a man like Guillaume would never have used violence during an interrogation simply because he had no need to. He also watched while a witness was stripped naked and questioned in front of a room packed with fully clothed police officers. 'I assure you that nothing disconcerts a man like being stripped naked, without pockets, without anything at all. It's very difficult to tell lies for long in that costume,' he said.

[p. 142-143]
[Patrick Marnham, The Man Who Wasn't Maigret: Portrait of Georges Simenon]

Maigret was far away from the present, back in the days of the Bonnot case, when he had been thin and had sported a waxed mustache and a little pointed beard, and worn four-inch high starched collars and a top hat.
"You can take it from me, young fellow," his boss, Chief Superintendent Xavier Guichard, later to become Chief Commissioner of the Police Judiciaire, had said to him. "All this talk of flair" — the newspapers at that time were full of stories of his remarkable flair — "is just a publicity stunt."
"In any criminal investigation, what really matters is evidence, the collection of well-substantiated facts on which a case can be built, and which will stand up, come what may."
From then on, it's simply a matter of plodding on, slowly but surely, like a man with a wheelbarrow. It's a question of professional competence, and when people talk of flair, all they really mean is luck...."
[Ch. 8, p. 107]
[Maigret in Exile, Harvest/HBJ]

...Only the Christian name, Xavier, stuck in his memory, because it was that of his first chief at the Quai des Orfèvres, old Xavier Guichard.
[Ch. 1, p. 8]
[Maigret Has Scruples, Penguin Books

If you have any more information about Xavier Guichard, please let me know.

(photo by Roger-Viollet, Lacassin: Simenon 1931, La naissance de Maigret, p. 21)

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