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[original French]

Simenon and Maigret

In search of the Chief Inspector in Simenon's "intimate texts"

Murielle Wenger

  1. Introduction

    New study theme… In reading Simenon's "Dictations" and "Intimate Memoirs", I've found, here and there, the author's allusions to his character, various remarks and comments which elucidate the relationship between Simenon and Maigret... Leading to the idea of this study, in which I'd like to underscore the mutual influences between the author and the character…

    The texts, gathered under the heading "Memoirs" (volumes 26 and 27 of the Omnibus Tout Simenon edition), which I have considered, are of three types:

    1. the three notebooks written between 1960 and 1963 collected under the title "When I Was Old", published in 1970 by Presses de la Cité (abbreviated here QJV)

    2. the 21 texts dictated by Simenon into the tape recorder, published between 1975 and 1981 by Presses de la Cité, collected in the Omnibus edition under the title, "My Dictations" (abbreviated MD)

    3. the "Intimate Memoirs" written in 1980 and published in October, 1981 by Presses de la Cité (MI)

  2. The identification of an author with his character… or perhaps the reverse…

    If Simenon often denies being Maigret (for example, in MD: "I've created a great number of characters with whom I have no connection, even, despite the claims of some critics, Chief Inspector Maigret", or in MI: "But I am not Maigret, despite the claims"), that doesn't stop him from often making allusions, in his "intimate texts", to attitudes and feelings which he could share with his character. Thus, in his way of looking at the world:

    "Just like Maigret, I do not think." (QJV)

    "It has also been said that I was Chief Inspector Maigret. That's both true and false. In the beginning, Maigret, whom I'd only expected to use in one or two books, and who was not more than a rough sketch, took on certain of my characteristics, for example in having more faith in his intuition than in his intelligence, and also believing that a man, at his deepest level, is never guilty, but is the product of circumstances which befall him, and befall the human condition. … [I've always had the desire] to understand more or less the fate of those I rub shoulders with. In fact, that was perhaps also the principal passion of Maigret…. In the end, to understand people, to understand the why of their weaknesses, without ever judging them." (MD)

    "My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I've always conformed to it. It's the one I've given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points... "Understand and judge not." "(MD)

    "My motto has always been, like that of my friend Maigret, to try to understand, and not to judge." (MD)

    "I would have liked to learn everything at once, to go everywhere, to rummage everywhere, to know what was happening behind every wall, behind every door, within the mind of each passerby." (MD)

    And consider how Simenon describes himself as he discovers Paris...

    "pipe in his mouth, hands in the pockets of his raincoat, he stands on the platform of the Madeleine-Bastille bus, regarding with never satisfied curiosity the cafe terraces, the deluxe department stores of the Grand Boulevards, the crowd becoming denser with the approach to Boulevard Saint-Martin as they passed République"

    Doesn't that sound like a description of Maigret himself when he crosses his city?

    Or how about this passage regarding the Parisian buses:

    "I always rode on the platform. I had the illusion of being part of the scenery, and at the same time a part of the crowd bustling about the sidewalks. I didn't necessarily take the bus to go from one place to another, but for the pleasure of discovering new streets." (MD)

    We can also find similarities in their view of life...

    "the day that the doctor told me, at age 15, that my father had suffered a heart attack, I'd had to end my studies. … In my novels, Maigret had two years of medical school before his father was struck down with more or less the same ailment, and he chose to join the police. I understood the reason – he'd wanted, in one way or another, to enter into contact with people, and to truly understand them. I didn't dare say, when I entered the Gazette de Liège that I recognized this need. I wound up becoming a novelist. Like Maigret, I also, on another plane, sought to understand my contemporaries. " (MD)

    We further note the shared tastes, whether for the tranquility of fishing, or "substantial" foods, or long walks along the lengths of the quays...

    "If I've given Maigret a passion for fishing, it's because I feel it myself. … I continued to feel that the epitome of peacefulness was, seated in the shade of a tree, or in a little boat moving in slow motion, awaiting philosophically what we called "a touch". That dream, truly, I've passed on to Maigret" (MD)

    "Such dishes as I'd never eaten, and which I sampled avidly! Rillettes, for example, andouillettes, tripe à la mode de Caen…" (MD)

    "It's probably from those days that I acquired my taste for grilled andouillettes, beef stew and ragouts, fricandeau à l'oseille... almost all the dishes, in fact, which I afterwards gave to my good old Maigret" (MD)

    "We often went walking, Tigy and I, and we were particularly drawn to the Seine with its ever-changing aspects. Our great walk was along the quays as far as Charenton. We'd stop at Lock #1, where the Marne Canal begins, fascinated, taking in the unloading of the barges, the casks of wine which crowded the length of the banks. Everything was good. Everything was new. It was all magnificent." (MD)

    Finally, with the passing of time, Simenon not only instilled more and more of his own preoccupations into his character, but came to compare his own attitudes to Maigret's, as if the creator was little by little coming to resemble his creation…

    "Today … I feel a little as if I've found myself in Maigret's skin when he's got a bad cold or the flu, which happens to him often enough. Not too surprising given the hours he spends outdoors in all kinds of weather, often at night. He stays in bed and pampers himself. While his wife comes and goes in the apartment, he listens to all the little sounds which reach him and which tell him what she is doing. I'm not in bed. I'm sitting deep in my armchair and I'm intentionally wearing slippers, which is exceptional for me during the day. I'm also listening to all the sounds… For Maigret, it's an opportunity to spend the day at home, for generally he doesn't see his wife except for meals, if then! You might almost say that he savors his colds." (MD)

    We note the wealth of detail with regard to his character, almost the only one he mentions in his intimate texts, and the only one in which he sees himself!

    Sometimes the comparison goes even further, and Simenon compares his age with that of his character, as in these passages in QJV, written towards his 60s...

    "However, if I were a civil servant, if I were Maigret, I'd be retired."

    "Every time Maigret declares that he'll have to retire in three years – because he's 52 and retirement for a Chief Inspector is mandatory at 55 – every time, I say, I feel that me too, I want to retire. "

    "Retirement! I know that I will never retire, or rather, I hope not, for only some grave deficiency in my health would force me to. Accepting that, from time to time, alone in my corner, I grumble, like Maigret, and I find myself dreaming of my little house in Meung-sur-Loire, of its strawberry plants, its apple tree espaliers, chickens on piles of manure, and fishing with a fishing rod."

  3. Maigret and non-Maigret…

    Simenon also speaks of how he considers his Maigrets with regard to the rest of his production. If he tends to take the Maigrets as a "minor" work, a "relaxation"...

    "I hope to write a novel in January, perhaps a Maigret to get my hand back in. Certainly not a "fabricated" novel. (I must explain one day why I don't consider the Maigrets, which are minor works, like the fabricated ones)." (QJV)

    "I'm beginning to unwind, to think about my next novel. A Maigret? A non-Maigret? (NB: we note all the same this way of defining, by "subtraction", the literary production outside the Maigret cycle…) I like better the latter type, by I'll perhaps be prudent by producing a true novel in March. " (QJV)

    "I'm tempted, as always, to put it off for later, or to not write it at all, or to content myself with a restful Maigret" (QJV),

    It remains nonetheless that the Maigrets are another way of treating important subjects, "without seeming to", as it were...

    "It sometimes happens, in the Maigrets, that I touch on subjects more serious than in my other books. But in a light-hearted way, or, in any case, with the equilibrium of my Chief Inspector to serve as a balance." (QJV)

    And relaxation is not necessarily synonymous with ease, but rather with pleasure...

    "I refresh myself in writing a Maigret, as each time that, for one reason or another, I don't feel in the mood to attack a hard novel. That's the way it's been for all the Maigrets except the first 18, which I wrote at a rate of one per month. It's true that I wrote two chapters a day, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon, as a result some of the novels were finished in three days. It was a relaxation for me to seat myself in front of my typewriter, to find once more my good old Chief Inspector without knowing any better than he, before the last chapter, how his investigation would turn out." (MI)

  4. The relationship between an author and his character: cordial harmony

    The general impression we get from those texts in which Simenon made allusion to his Chief Inspector, is one of a sort of "complicity", almost a feeling of friendship that the author has ended up feeling for his character. This text, written October 2, 1973 in "Footsteps" (MD), is a beautiful illustration...

    "I feel remorseful over having completely dropped Maigret after my final novel, Maigret and M. Charles. It's a little like leaving a friend without shaking hands. There develop, between an author and his characters, emotional links, especially if their collaboration has lasted 50 years. I read in some magazines that I used myself as the model to create the character Maigret, that he's just a sort of copy. This I deny. When I wrote the first Maigrets, I didn't think that there would be others. In all the first ones, he was just an episodic character. Afterwards, he was above all an outline... large, fat and heavy, dominating mainly by his placidity. Neither physically nor psychologically does that description fit me. Later, Maigret became less synthetic. It's possible that I gave him, without realizing it, certain of my ideas, certain details of my comportment. But never was he me. I left him on the banks of the Loire where he should be in retirement, like myself. He tends his garden, plays cards with the villagers and goes fishing. As for me, I continue to exercise the only sport still permitted me... walking. I wish him a happy retirement, as mine is happy. We worked hard enough together for me to bid him a somewhat emotional adieu."

  5. Conclusion

    I'd like to finish this little study with this text taken from "A man like any other", dictated in 1973 (MD), in which we see that the connection between the author and his character is so strong, that Simenon will come to dream of Maigret, even after he's stopped writing novels, and will leave us a very pretty souvenir image of the Chief Inspector...

    "I had a curious dream. More precisely, it wasn't exactly a dream. I was still in a kind of voluptuous half-sleep and I was regarding with curiosity a man I could only see the back of. He was bigger, with broader shoulders, heavier than me. Though I could see but his back, I felt in him a certain calmness that I envied him. He was wearing blue linen trousers, a gardener's apron, and wore a beat-up straw hat. He was in a garden. Along the low wall which separated his garden from the neighboring one, had been planted all the aromatic herbs and he was busy hoeing them. It took me a while, in my half-sleep, to realize that he wasn't a real person but one come out of my imagination. It was Maigret, in his garden at Meung-sur-Loire, a Maigret in retirement, he too, but many years younger than I. It seemed that I knew the smallest corners of the red tile house where Mme Maigret was busy in front of her oven. It seemed to me also that I saw Maigret, in the afternoon, heading peacefully towards his usual cafe, where he found his partners for a game of belote. He no longer fished. He claimed the water was too polluted. He wasn't troubled. He kept busy all day, and often took long walks arm-in-arm with his wife. Now maybe I fell completely asleep, or suddenly awakened. The images disappeared. I keep them in my mind and they remain, for me, Maigret in retirement."

Murielle Wenger
 

translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, May 2007

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