The soberness of the descriptions of the urban setting, as well as their number, always minimal, seem to validate one of the rules of detective novel writing that S.S. Van Dine formulated in his "Twenty rules for Writing Detective Stories" (1928). While today it seems rather a set of norms concerning the manner of how not to write a detective novel, this sort of "poetics" of police literature, reflects, to a large extent, Simenon's choice of composition:
STREETS, ALLEYS, DEAD ENDS AND BOULEVARDS:
MAIGRET AND THE PARISIAN SPACE
Marco Modenesitranslated by Stephen Trussel
Place de la République, Place de la Bastille, Avenue Carnot, Rue Riquet, Place Clichy, Rue de Caulaincourt, Rue Lepic, Boulevard de Rochechouart, Rue Sainte-Catherine, Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, Place de la Concorde, Avenue Georges V, Rue Royale, Quai de la Gare, Rue du Sentier, Rue Lhomond, Rue Saint-Jacques, Place de l'Etoile, Place des Vosges, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Boulevard Saint-Michel, Quai du Louvre, Rue Poissonnière, Rue Blanche, Rue des Saints-Pères...
Just a small sample of the list of Parisian street names which are scattered throughout over fifty investigations considering novels and short stories of Commissioner Maigret.
Needless to say, as faithful readers are well aware, at the top of the list are the Quai des Orfèvres, where, at number 36, Jules Maigret has his office, and 132 Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, where he and his wife reside.
The setting of so much of the action as to be considered "Simenon's second character, after the commissioner"1, Maigret's Paris, not surprisingly, has often attracted analysts' attention. But they seem to be most frequently satisfied with drawing more or less exhaustive maps of the streets, districts, and arrondissements that the commissioner traverses, even reproducing them at the iconographic level, by slanting the drawing or photograph, to render, by an image, the urban dimension in which Maigret operates.2
Far from wanting to deliver a detailed picture of the urban space haunted by Maigret, nor to offer a complete list of the streets he encounters, the remarks which follow are intended rather as an appreciation and analysis of the roles and functions the Parisian topography exercises in the economy of the narrative, using a set of examples selected from the mare magnuma of the texts of the Maigret cycle. My attention will be therefore focus mainly on the streets, boulevards, alleys and districts which display the geography of Paris within the fabric of the stories, to assess their dynamic impact on the narrative structures of the text.
Open any Maigret novel at random, and the odds are good that your glance will fall on the name of a Paris street:They had to walk as far as the Rue Gay-Lussac before they found a cab. 3In these examples, the narrator indicates the streets that Maigret uses during his movement through the French capital. At other times, the name of the street signals a character's domicile:
He was going along the Rue de Maubeuge, about half an hour ago, when a man came out of the darkness and brandished a large gun under his nose... 4
I went back to Boulevard Saint Germain with the idea of looking in at the Three Ministries.5
Fortunately the Vieux Calvados had just opened. It was the only place in the street where he could take refuge, at the corner of the Rue Henner.6
Maigret thanked him and left. Back on Boulevard Rochechouart, he strolled along at a leisurely pace, as if he were on home ground.7
That meant that in less than three minutes policemen would be on the spot, for the Rue Damrémont is quite close to the Rue Caulaincourt.8
It was not far to the police station of the First Arrondissement, on Rue des Prouvaires.9
Parting company with Superintendent Ascan, he turned into the Rue de la Grande-Truanderie and in the direction of the market.10
Instead, he made his way to the police station on Rue Lambert.11He didn't live far from here, on Rue Caulaincourt. I don't the number, but it's next to a cleaners.12Often, the name of a street or boulevard serves to define the coordinates of the setting of the crime:
Her address is still registered as sixty-seven, Rue Caulaincourt.13
"Where do you live?"
"On the Quai de Jemmapes, just opposite the Saint-Martin Lock.14
Olga-Jeanne-Marie Poissonneau, twenty-nine years of age, born at Saint-Joris-sur-Isère, unemployed, residing at Hôtel Beauséjour, Rue Lepic, Paris XVIIIe.15
Guillaume Serre, residing at 43b Rue de la Ferme16
I live in the Rue d'Enghien just opposite the Petit Parisien17
She lives at number twelve, Rue Mercadet18The incident had inevitably occured in a small hotel at the corner of the Rue de Birague and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, where a dangerous Polish criminal, who had attacked a number of farms in the north of France, had taken refuge.19And one could multiply such examples endlessly. The narrator, indeed, evokes without relaxation the streets and boulevards of the French capital; he imposes them on the reader, who is thus taken inside this road network, this urban fabric which place names, toponyms, outline from one page to another.
"Your husband died from a bullet wound in the head, at exactly 10:15 p.m., in front of the emergency call-box at the corner of the Rue Caulaincourt.20
I happened to glance outside and I saw another car leaving Rue Fléchier and disappearing down Rue Notre Dame de Lorette.21
In the evocation of places, Simenon also tends to use toponyms in a metonymic, or symbolic way. So the "Quai des Orfèvres" indicates Maigret's office, the seat of the Judicial Police, and the Judicial Police itself. In the same way, the name of a street makes itself the synonym for the place where a crime has been discovered (and often perpetrated), a true spatial core around which the investigation revolves.
We see that Maigret "telephoned the Quai des Orfèvres"22; "the apartment on Avenue Carnot," the setting of Louise Filon's murder in Maigret se trompe [Maigret's Mistake], is, time and again, indicated simply as "Avenue Carnot"23; "the Vieux-Four Passage" stands for the apartment situated in an abandoned house scheduled to be demolished, where the body of Marcel Vivien is discovered (Maigret et l'homme tout seul [Maigret and the Loner]); "Rue Chaptal" is the synonym for the mansion that the young Maigret watches, convinced, with reason, that a murder has been committed there (La première enquête de Maigret [Maigret's First Case]). When the worried commissioner knows that "the Rue de Saussaies" should have been informed24, it is an allusion to the location of the seat of the police agency which is responsible for the zone in which, outside of all legality, he is operating during the "affair in the Rue Richer"25 in Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters [Maigret and the Killers].
As can be noted from even this quick jotting, the evocation of a site is accomplished by the simple mention of its name; "the geography of Paris, when the action is concentrated there, is evoked by the name of its districts or its streets".26
Essentially, the narrator recreates the urban space on the page with rapid and essential strokes, by short descriptions. This is particularly the case when he provides the internal coordinates through which Maigret and his men move. It is through their eyes during their dispersement, their examinations of the places, and while they stand watch, that this spatial dimension is revealed:And whenever he walked along the Avenue de l'Opéra, at a certain point, next door to a gunsmith's, he never failed to sniff at the good smell of coffee being roasted in the window of the Balthazar shop.27
He took the métro, got off at the Place Blanche, went into the vast main room of the brasserie.28
Sleet was falling, and Jussiaume had stepped into a doorway at the corner of Rue Fontaine and the Rue Pigalle. (...)
A figure it looked like a small boy slipped out of the door and glided off down the Rue Pigalle, towards the Rue Blanche, keeping close to the wall. Then two men, one of them with a saxophone case under his arm; they turned in the direction of the Place Clichy.
Almost immediately afterwards another man came out, and set off down the Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette; the collar of his coat was turned up.29
The Chief Superintendent peered at the numbers on the houses. The one he was looking for was a seed and bulb shop. To the left of the shopwindow was a passage leading into a courtyard. A flight of steps jutted out into it, next to which, fixed to the wall, were two enamel plaques that had once been green but by now had faded to an indeterminate gray.30
A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no "atmospheric" preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. 31
However, as Jacques Dubois, among others, emphasizes, "the major tendency is for the detective story to be written mostly in realistic speech."32 And Simenon's writing, including his use of urban space, fits prefectly into this realistic matrix setting which characterizes the detective novel in general.
As noted above, the main function of mentioning the names of streets and districts is to evoke the place where the action occurs. Furthermore, the presence of the name of a boulevard or quay, within a sentence or paragraph, tends to give a greater consistency to events, and especially to situate the facts in a concrete space, known to the reader, while satisfying, from a certain point of view, a "profession of truth", as Jean-Nöel Blanc emphasizes: "you see the story as believable, since the name of this place or that hotel is true."33
Indeed the presence of such an element in the text is sufficient to trigger a way of verifying truthfulness, and therefore, the credibility of the narration: "in the realistic text (...)," Klinkenberg remarks, "known details give back the believable whole, the authentic object renders all the space authentic, the captured moment makes all the time real."34
The main, if not the essential function of street names then, as one can easily deduce from remarks made up to this point, is to represent and provide a set of information which increases the illusion of reality, which renders the narrative plausible.
Put another way, these are what Roland Barthes defines as informants, "pure data, immediately signifiant," that have the goal of bringing "a fully formed recognition".35 Their functionality, pursues Barthes, "is therefore weak, but still exists: (...) the informant serves to authenticate the reality of the referent, to root the fiction in the real".36
Simenon chose Paris. Perhaps not so much because "Paris remains the linguistic and imaginary reference of the French-speaking world"37, but rather because, on the one hand, Simenon considers his ideal reader as the holder, for geographical or cultural reasons, of the Parisian reality or the Parisian encyclopedia, and on the other, because the dimensions of a metropolis are more suitable to containing the world of crime than any other.
We find ourselves, in any case, faced with an effort which, at the narrative level, many writers of the realistic school accomplish: the attempt "to eliminate the difference between the text and the pre-text"38; with the goal of intensifying the degree of rapport with the reader, increasing the possibility of the reader's involvement in the story. Paris, in Simenon's projects, should dissolve more comfortably "quel senso di perplesso distacco che subentra [nel lettore] quando una pagina manca di verosimiglianza".39 [that sense of perplexed separation that takes over [in the reader] when a page lacks verisimilitude]
Therefore, descriptive passages of places having no direct function in the narrative action prove to be relatively rare.40 Simenon tends to place these passages in the opening of the novel which rarely begins in medias resb almost to sketch a sort of general setting of the action, or in moments during which the commissioner isn't thinking about the business at hand:
Maigret had taken the bus and was standing on the platform, vaguely watching the early-morning life of Paris, the dustbins in the slanting rain, the workers streaming like ants towards offices and shops.41It is especially in these types of passages that a feature not necessarily specific to this genre appears in the novel: attention to the psychological nuances of the hero. Maigret, for example, unveils, in this manner, his sensitivity as well as the affection that binds him to certain places in Paris, and, though rarer, his antipathy to sections of the city devoid of dynamism and vitality, which the commissioner considers positive features:
A broad embankment, beside which several rows of barges lay idle. An embankment that had a provincial flavour about it, with one-storey houses overlooking the Seine, a few blocks of flats, and bistros into which nobody seemed to go, and courtyards where, surprisingly, hens were scratching about on dunghills.42
It was a few minutes past twelve. It was not much more than half an hour's walk from the Rue d'Enghien to Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. Maigret, in good spirits, enjoyed looking at the people, the tour buses, and the goods displayed in the shopwindows. Two or three buses were parked near the Place de la Bastille, and cameras clicked as the tourists snapped it, to take its place alongside the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré-Cur, and the Tour Eiffel.43
[T]he Paris streets had such a wonderful atmosphere that [Maigret] had walked home and had been tempted to go a long way round, by Les Halles, to enjoy the smell of the spring fruits and vegetables in the market.44
The little black car drove him to the Place Saint-Sulpice, which for some reason was the Paris square he disliked most. There he always felt as if he were in some place in the provinces. To his eyes, even the shops appeared different from elsewhere, and the passers-by seemed more sluggish and depressed.45What Marc Lits affirms about Simenon's writing in general is therefore valid for these cases: "the presentation of mystery isn't simply a transcription of reality, a precise description of surroundings or customs. When Simenon uses this type of narrative, he leaves the mystery novel for the "psychological novel" or "moral study."46
There exists, all the same, a second aspect of the writing of the urban space. It is an aspect that returns to the realist camp, and which presides in the novels of the Maigret cycle. A textual element not so much concerned with the spatial setting to which it anchors the intrigue, but which affects rather another narrative structure: the character.
It concerns the use of space that partially reveals his vision of the world that Simenon allows to appear in his novels, sometimes presenting it to the reader, but especially to the commissioner.
Jacques Dubois demonstrated that "above all, for Simenon, social classes exist. They are a reassuring given of reality, to which Maigret pays full attention and which he considers eminent signs of sociality. The commissioner is so accustomed to recognizing, to "detecting" them, that he is at sea without them."47
Indeed, Maigret is very attentive to this distinction which, moreover, is often overtly revealed by a character's domicile. According to the commissioner, there exists a necessary correspondence between the district, and therefore the street, where a character lives, and his social status. If, in Maigret et l'homme tout seul [Maigret and the Loner], we are content that "one would hardly expect to find anything on a grand scale in the neighborhood of the central market [Les Halles]"48, in other novels, there is an even greater insistence on the structured compartments which shape society.
"The city for Simenon is divided socially in zones, and this division imposes itself on his characters. The series of Parisian Maigrets is well enough known and sufficiently rich in the full range of agreement between the social level of the protagonists and their urban space"49:
[Maigret] himself turned to Rue Saint-Denis. It was a narrow street, crowded and noisy even at vacation time. For this little community, seaside holidays were a rarity.50The allusion to the domicile of Commissioner Le Bret, young Inspector Maigret's superior, proves to be a clear sign of the social layer to which he belongs, and thus and that he protects:
At the Manhattan too the walls were decorated of photos of boxers and actors. But it wasn't the same clientele as at Rue des Acacias.51
Maxime Le Bret was probably the only superintendent in Paris to keep a carriage and live on the Plain Monceau, in one of the new houses in the Boulevard de Courcelles.52And where the relationship doesn't hold, Maigret doesn't hide his surprise. That is the case, for example, of his shock when he sees, in the Rue Batignolles, the house of Baron, who associated with the extremely distinguished and nearly aristocratic:
It was one of these apartment house where several families lived on each floor, working-class families for the most part, and even at that early hour there were lights in many of them. The contrast was striking between this modest house and the aristocratic airs Baron tried to emulate.53In the same way, regarding the "white cardboard shoe-box"54 which Lucas passed him, and in which was the treasure old photos, a birth certificate, various objects won at carnivals, a china dog, a spun glass elephant and some paper flowers of poor Louise Filon, killed in an apartment in the well-off district of the Avenue Carnot, Maigret's reflections validate our hypothesis:
It would have been quite natural to have unearthed such petty treasures in the Barbès district or around the Boulevard de la Chapelle. Here in an Avenue Carnot flat the cardboard box became almost tragic.55This choice of composition can be read, rightfully, as another demonstration of the desire to suggest an "effect of reality". In making recourse to that which affirms, in its conception of the world, the structure of the society and while reproducing in a mimetic manner the symbolic universe of Maigret, Simenon delivers to the prudent reader (who shares, with the narrator and the author, the Parisian encyclopedia already mentioned) the character's constituent feature: like the streets, to such an urban unit corresponds such a social class.56
Although my reflections to this point only underline how Simenon is, in part and on various levels, "a champion of the effect of real, that is, of the realistic touches which authenticate a situation, a character, a place"57, one can certainly ignore, as Marc Lits notes, "the space in the mystery narrative which answers less, as one could believe, to realistic aesthetics than to theatrical convention"58; where "theatrical convention" is an allusion to the classic rule of the three Aristotelian unitsc.
The relationship with the forms of the classical theater assuredly less narrow than is continually said, with a little too much superficiality, in the domain of the critique of the detective novel was time and again emphasized59, while raising, for example, the simplicity and the homogeneity of the intrigue (which cuts solely to the primary narrative core: the quest for the solution to the affair) as the equivalent of the unit of action.
One cannot, here, offer a theoretical reflection on these aspects of the detective novel. In the setting of this survey, it seems equally important to me to show how the detective novel that sees Maigret as hero, is characterized by a forced and limited space which60 by the bias of urban toponyms circumscribes the action in the way of a place unit.
If one made recourse to a plan of the city of Paris to draw the perimeter inside of which streets mentioned localize the action, it would be obvious that the space corresponds systematically to an appreciably limited number of urban arteries, very close to each other, which cut up a limited and restrained section of space.
It is about a choice of writing directly relevant to the narrative style that Simenon frequents: the mystery novel doesn't foresee actions that imply appreciable displacements inside the spatial dimension. On the contrary, nothing must disturb the very heart of the intrigue: the reconstruction, entirely mental, of the events which led to the murder.
For that, "to avoid a dismemberment or a partition of the space, caused by the actor's displacement when he goes from one place to the other, and to assure the spatial unit of the narration, the author draws or chooses an easy-to-schematize space ".61
It is easy to believe Hendrik Veldman when he affirms that "before beginning the composition of a novel, [Simenon] designs on yellow envelopes the place where the action will unfold: a house, street, crossroads, district, channel, stream, sluice, beach..."62
For this, it would not even be necessary to make recourse to signposts. Indeed, this particular situation concerning the urban space cannot only be deduced by the toponyms in the text, but the commissioner sometimes reveals it himself:
He kept going back to the beginning. Rue des Dames.63The Maigret detective novels possess then, what Roger Caillois considers the distinctive features of the "narrative of deduction": "The detective novel happens in an enclosed universe (...). The units of place and time come back in favor."68
And then hed remembered that Francine, the daughter, whom he had scarcely seen, had been working for the past year in a Prisunic in the Rue Réaumur. The Rue Réaumur is next to Rue de Sentier, on the same métro line.64
It all centered around the same neighborhood: Rue Brey, Hotel Wagram, Pozzo's restaurant, Rue des Acacias, the garage where the automobile had been rented.65
He had done nothing for hours but tramp round a narrow area, bordered by the Étoile, the Place des Ternes, and the Porte Maillot.66
"It's quite near here. The whole business is happening in this district." For Picratt's, in the Rue Pigalle, was scarcely five hundred yards from Arlette's flat, and about the same distance from the Rue Victor-Massé.67
It is obvious, on the other hand, that Simenon possessed lucidly, before his eyes, the geography of Paris, the plan of its streets within every district. But Maigret in his turn, as demonstrated in the last quotes, testifies to an extraordinary familiarity, not only with the city of Paris, but with its topography in particular.
The rapport that has Maigret with the road geography of Paris is undoubtedly the rapport of a ruler. The mastery and the knowledge of the plan of the city which he demonstrates is extraordinary.
If, indeed, we don't forget that "so many years in Criminal Police not to mention those earlier years of pounding the beat and policing the railroad stations"69 assured to Maigret a remarkable direct experience of the city, that is still not enough to explain his mastery of the boulevards, streets, dead ends and avenues which riddle many passages of his investigations.
So that we can observe, as an example, when he arranges his men for a stake-out:
"Write this down: Avenue Trudaine, near the Lycée Rollin. I want the warehouses and the workshops of the firm Louis Mahossier, Painting and Decorating, watched. I haven't the least idea what, if anything, is likely to happen there, but I'd be easier in my mind if I knew that the premises were under surveillance. Next, I want someone posted on Rue de Turbigo to watch the residence of Mahossier..."70Of course, this detailed knowledge of the road network of the capital is within the limits of normality. As well as when Maigret testifies to knowing the subdivisions of the city distinctly with regard to different zones of jurisdictione:
First of all, he had no right to be operating around Maisons-Laffitte, which was outside his jurisdiction. According to regulations, he should have referred the case to Rue des Saussaies, who would have sent men of the Surete, or he'd have had to obtain letters rogatory for the police of Seine-et-Oise, which would have taken hours.71It is in Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters [Inspector Maigret and the Killers], however, that one meets what I would not hesitate to define as one of the disconcerting passages on this subject. The commissioner, who perceived that he was being followed in the night by a gangster who wanted to lure him into an ambush, makes arrangements with Inspector Bonfils, on the phone, to prepare an action to rescue him and to catch the criminal:
I'd rather manage this operation on a deserted street. Rue Grange-Batelière would be the place. It isn't long and it won't be difficult to shut off both ends. You'll send two or three men in uniform to Rue Drouot (...).One would say that Maigret has the plan of the city engraved in his head; the maze of Parisian streets, including the minuscule passages, is printed in the commissioner's memory. If sometimes the commissioner resorts to a map of the city, it is not that he has need of it, but rather his men, for by default the total mastery of the disposition of streets is the exclusive appendage of the commissioner:
Nicolas and Davers are to station themselves on the steps of Passage Jouffroy. I suppose by this time the gates of the passage are closed? (...) As for you, Bonfils, you'll take several uniformed men and cut off Rue du Faubourg Montmartre.72
[Maigret] called the four men into his office, spread out a plan of Montmartre, and explained what they were to do.73Otherwise, this expertise seems to limit itself only to the urban dimension of Paris. Maigret also, once outside of the capital, can easily get lost. And it occurs where the setting of roads of the city is no longer able to help him, where the plan of Paris is no longer in play.
For example, during the search for the gangsters, Maigret had to come out of his jurisdiction and leave Paris; at that moment, the disposition of streets abandons its role as an impeccable aid to the commissioner's movements and becomes a nearly inescapable obstacle:
There followed endless explanations. Maigret lost track of all the crossroads, the turns on the right, and the turns to the left, and had to call in the driver.74Such situations let us sense that the restraint which Maigret normally displays is the result of a privileged rapport that institutes itself between the commissioner and Paris or, more correctly, between the commissioner and the geographical map of the city.
To the support of this hypothesis, I will mention a passage from Maigret et l'inspecteur malgracieux [Maigret and the Surly Inspector], where the commissioner goes to the vast Emergencies room to see his nephew who was working at the telephone switchboard.
This room is at the other end of the street in relation to the seat of the Judicial Police. "Unknown to most Parisians, although it is the very core of the city"75, it is the room of predilection for Maigret. That which he appreciates there further, is the plan of the city attached to the wall, and which replicates all places where there are devices for emergency calls: "the huge map of Paris that stretched over half a wall."76
The attitude of Maigret facing the plan of the blinking light city table setting betrays a real respect:
Maigret always argued that young detectives should be obliged to spend a year at least in this room so as to learn the geography of crime in the capital, and he himself, when he had time to spare, liked to spend an hour or two there.77"To learn the criminal geography of the capital": that is one of reasons that pushes Maigret toward the Police Emergencies room to pass there gladly an hour or two. This frequentation explains, at least in part, the extraordinary familiarity with the road network of Paris that characterizes Maigret, but it especially illuminates the nature of the tie that unites him to the urban space: for Maigret, this enormous plan attached to the wall of Police Emergencies is the heart of Paris. The vital core of the city is a plan that replicates its streets, its alleys, its dead ends and its boulevards...
In order to propose a hypothesis of interpretation of this feature being a matter for the rapport between Maigret and the road geography of Paris, it is indispensable to introduce a brief general reflection on one of fundamental aspects of the detective novel.
One of strategies that one meets as the basis of the "classic" detective novel is the representation of the effort whose success proves to be very reassuring for the reader what one accomplishes in order to reestablish an order (the one that assures the socially accepted norms) that has been compromised by the criminal act. The malefactor is assured of Justice, which suggests a way of repair that reestablishes and confirms, at the social level, the state of things prior to the crime.
It is especially in the mystery novel that "the material investigation turns into an adventure of the logical and deductive thought that looks less to capture the criminal physically that to understand an inexplicable phenomenon mentally"78.
From the inexplicable to the comprehensible, from confusion to linearity, from chaos to the cosmos.
Said otherwise, "the mystery novel grants the sacred mission to restore the legibility of the world. For the term of the investigation, society will recover its social order and its judicial balance miraculously".79
The actor who operates the conversion which brings chaos back to order, is the police agent or the investigator. This is also valid for commissioner Maigret. In La première enquête de Maigret [Maigret's First Case], the reader learns of a deep requirement that haunts the soul of the young Jules absorbed in a meditation on choices that should operate in his professional life once he has reached adulthood:
To tell the truth, the profession that he had always wanted to practice did not exist. Even when quite young, he had always felt that lots of people in his village were not in their right niche, were treading paths which were not theirs, solely because they were not aware.This same requirement is put forth again on the occasion of another moment of reflection, in Maigret et le corps sans tête [Maigret and the Headless Corpse], this time, it is the psychoanalyst's face and no longer that of the police agent that appears as the realization, although possibly imperfect, of this phantom profession:
And he used to imagine a very intelligent man, above all a very understanding man, doctor and priest at once, as it were, a man who would at first glance understand the destinies of others (...)
People would have come to consult this man, just as they consulted a doctor. In a manner of speaking he would have been a repairer of destinies. Not only because he was intelligent. Maybe he wouldn't have needed to be exceptionally intelligent? But because he was able to live the lives of every sort of man, to put himself inside everybody's mind. (...)
And are not policemen actually repairers of destinies?80
Repairer of destinies, repairer of destinies: this singular expression signals, in an implicit manner, a process that pushes to repair, to try to carry remedy to a pain, while suppressing (within the limits of the possible) its negative effects. A process that has the tendency to reestablish a positive initial state that, for some reason, has been lost.
Had he not in his youth dreamed of an ideal vocation for himself, a vocation which did not exist in real life? He had never told anyone, had never even given it a name, but he knew now what it was he had wanted to be: a guide to the lost.
In fact, curiously enough, in the course of his work as a policeman, he had often been able to help people back onto the right road, from which they had misguidedly strayed. More curiously still, recent years had seen the birth of a new vocation, similar in many respects to the vocation of his dreams: that of the psychoanalyst, whose function it is to bring a man face to face with his true self81.
Through the vagueness of the hesitant reflections of the future commissioner shines the desire to rebuild, to restore the order where, in some manner or other, it has been damaged.
The admiration for that enormous "plan of Paris" in the Police Emergencies room is the admiration for the reproduction of the range of the urban space. To have clearly in his head the centers of the road network of the city, the representation of its geography, is to possess the instrument that delivers, in a rational, neat, legible manner, the urban reality definitely complex and articulated which commissioner Maigret must look after.
It is not therefore astonishing that the rapport between this "repairer" and the urban reality is established by spatial coordinates, like streets and boulevards, because they are very parameters which permit the ordering of the city, while bringing it in a linear manner under Maigret's eyes.
Unable to extend this attitude assuring harmony and safety to all of reality, Maigret controls and guides, by spatial sections, his own city:
It was impossible to search the whole of France. Maigret was pinning his hopes on Montmartre, though he would have found it hard to explain why.82This is perhaps the subtlest manifestation of the intimate demands which preside over the soul of the commissioner Maigret. The "plan of Paris" is necessarily engraved in his memory, both as a model and a means to satisfy the primary processes that make Maigret act: to order and to classify.
It seems to me that what I have shown thus far indicates that the system of Paris streets reveals itself without any significant doubt; not only because it contributes, through the evocation of toponyms, to the intensification of the sense of historic realism, but rather for what it represents to eyes of Maigret.
The names of streets identify metonymically, symbolically, the different affairs in which the commissioner interests himself; the identification of a boulevard or a district immediately communicates the social class to which the one that lives there belongs; the Parisian road network that Maigret keeps in memory permits him to contemplate the model of order toward which all connections that he has with streets of Paris seem to systematically lead, and to exploit them in his favor.
It is by reason of their capacity to satisfy Maigret's processes of order and ordering that the streets of Paris, its boulevards and its squares become the landmarks by which the commissioner coordinates and organizes the reality which surrounds him and which he guards within.
To this point, a last episode, a small passage from Maigret et la Grande Perche [Maigret and the Burglar's Wife], which appears to me exemplary.
Ernestine, who came to the commissioner's office to ask for his help, sends Maigret a note so that he will see her:
Ernestine Micou, alias 'Lofty' (now Jussiaume), who, when you arrested her seventeen years ago in the Rue de la Lune, stripped herself naked to take the mike out of you, requests the favor of an interview with you on a matter of most urgent and important business83The text makes allusion to an anecdote which goes back to beginnings of Maigret's career: he had gone to the Saint-Dennis district, to the room of a girl he was supposed to arrest, accused of theft. Ernestine had then undressed completely, lain down on her bed and, to provoke him, invited the young inspector to take her to jail. Poor Maigret had had to ask for the assistance of two agents from the district. They had wrapped the girl in a blanket and carried away her bodily, under the gaze of her neighbors and to the embarrassment of the young inspector.
Such an episode should not fade away easily from memory. However, Maigret, when reading the note, could only dissipate the fog of the past when a spatial coordinate, the name of a street, came to his aid:
Maigret couldn't recall the names Micou or Jussiaume, or even the nickname Lofty, but he retained a vivid memory of the Rue de la Lune, on a day as hot as this, when the asphalt feels elastic under one's tread and fills Paris with a smell of tar.84
1. M. PIRON, L'univers de Simenon, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1983, p. 15.
2. see also, in this regard, M. LEMOINE, Les lieux de Maigret in AA.VV., Simenon: l'homme, l'univers, la création, Bruxelles, Editions Complexe, 1993, pp. 94-109; F. FRANCK, Het Parijs van Simenon, Antwerpen, Uitgeverij Ontwikkeling, 1969; Le Paris de Simenon. Photographies de Daniel Langendries, «Cahiers Simenon», 2, 1988, pp. 65-96. Some studies show slight exceptions: M. DÉCAUDIN, Topographie et imaginaire chez Simenon, «La Licorne», 12, 1986; M. LEMOINE, Quelques particularités toponymiques dans l'oeuvre romanesque de Georges Simenon, «TRACES», 2, 1992, pp. 21-46 (although there's nothing about Parisian space); R. ADRIANNE, L'imaginaire urbain chez Simenon in R. FRICKX, D. GULLENTOPS, Le Paysage urbain dans les Lettres françaises de Belgique, Bruxelles, VUB Press, 1994, pp. 83-90.
3. G. SIMENON, Maigret en meublé, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1990 p. 15. After their first citation, all the novels of the Maigret cycle will be indicated in these notes uniquely by title. [Maigret Takes a Room, Penguin Books, 1965, Ch. 1, p. 13]
4. G. SIMENON, Le revolver de Maigret, Paris, Presses de la Cité 1995, p.81. [Maigret's Revolver, Penguin Books, 1961, Ch. 4, p. 62]
5. G. SIMENON, Maigret chez le ministre, Paris, Presses de la Cité 1990, p. 79. [Maigret and the Calame Report, Curtis Books, 1973, Ch. 4, p. 84]
6. G. SIMENON, La première enquête de Maigret, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1990, p. 50. [Maigret's First Case, Penguin Books, 1963, Ch. 3, p. 43]
7. G. SIMENON, Maigret et l'homme tout seul, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1990, p. 82. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 3, p. 68]
8. G. SIMENON, Maigret et l'inspecteur malgracieux, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1977, pp. 7-50, cit. p. 10. [Maigret and the Surly Inspector, in Maigret's Christmas, Harvest/HBJ, 1981, Ch. 1, p. 102-103]
9. Maigret et l'homme tout seul, p. 9. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 1, p. 5]
10. Ibid., p. 19. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 1, p. 13]
11. Ibid., p. 49. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 2, p. 38]
12. Ibid., p. 44. [Ibid., Ch. 2, p. 35]
13. Ibid., p. 50. [Ibid., Ch. 2, p. 40]
14. G. SIMENON, Maigret et la Grande Perche, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1995, p. 14. [Maigret and the Burglar's Wife, Penguin Books, 1960, Ch. 1, p. 11]
15. G. SIMENON, On ne tue pas les pauvres types in Maigret et l'inspecteur malgracieux, cit., pp. 141-185, cit. p. 178. [Death of a Nobody, in Maigret's Christmas, Harvest/HBJ, 1981, Ch. 4, p. 209]
16. Maigret et la Grande Perche, p. 54. [Maigret and the Burglar's Wife, Penguin Books, 1960, Ch. 3, p. 41]
17. La première enquête de Maigret, p. 10. [Maigret's First Case, Penguin Books, 1963, Ch. 1, p. 7]
18. Maigret et l'homme tout seul, p. 55. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 2, p. 43]
19. Maigret et l'inspecteur malgracieux, pp. 10-11. [Maigret and the Surly Inspector, in Maigret's Christmas, Harvest/HBJ, 1981, Ch. 1, p. 103]
20. Ibid., p. 20. [Ibid., Ch.1, p. 110.]
21. G. SIMENON, Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1990, p. 20. [Inspector Maigret and the Killers, Curtis Books, 1973, Ch. 1, p. 21]
22. G. SIMENON, Maigret se trompe, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1995, p. 21. [Maigret's Mistake, Penguin Books, 1961, Ch. 1, p. 15]
23. Cfr. Ibid., passim.
24. Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters, p. 146. [Inspector Maigret and the Killers, Curtis Books, 1973, Ch. 7, p. 144]
26. M. PIRON, op. cit.,p. 15.
27. La première enquête de Maigret, p. 13. [Maigret's First Case, Penguin Books, 1963, Ch. 1, p. 10]
28. Ibid., p. 71 [Ibid., p. 63]
29. G. SIMENON, Maigret au Picratt's, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1995, pp. 5-6. [Maigret in Montmartre, Penguin Books, 1961, Ch. 1, p. 5]
30. Maigret et l'homme tout seul, p. 20. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 1, p. 14]
31. SS. VAN DINE, Vingt règles pour le crime d'auteur in M. LITS, Pour lire le roman policier, Bruxelles, Deboek/Duculot, 1994, pp. 19-22 (règle n.° 1 6). The original text appeared as a preface to The Great Detective Stories (1927) and in «The American Magazine» en 1928.
32. J. DUBOIS, Le roman policier ou la modernité, Paris, Nathan, 1992, p. 122.
33. J.-N. BLANC, Polarville, Lyon, Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1991, p. 29.
34. J.-M. KLINKENBERG, Réalites d'un discours sur le réel dans C. GOTHOT-MERSCH, J. DUBOIS, J.-M. KLINKENBERG, D. RACELLE-LATIN, Ch. DELCOURT, Lire Simenon, Paris-Bruxelles, Nathan-Labor, 1980, pp. 117-138, cit. pp. 130-131.
35. R. BARTHES, op. cit.. p. 24.
37. R. ADRIANNE, op. cit., p. 84.
38. J.-M. KLINKENBERG, op. cit., p. 135.
39. L. GRIMALDI, Il giallo e il nero, Milano, Pratiche Editrice, 1996, pp. 24-25.
40. See also the remarks of Jean FABRE dans Enquête sur un enquêteur, Maigret. Un essai de sociocritique, Montpellier, Editions du C.E.R.S., 1981, with regard to the landscape: «a landscape (notably Paris) of which the non-funtional public buildings (except for the Quai des Orfèvres or the Morgue) are never described. Only the street names write the action in minuscule, attaching the capital letters to the monuments to which they are ordinarily attached, making the historical time concrete» (p. 30).
41. Maigret et l'inspecteur malgracieux, p. 34. [Maigret and the Surly Inspector, in Maigret's Christmas, Harvest/HBJ, 1981, Ch. 2, p. 119]
42. On ne tue pas les paueres types, p. 173. [Death of a Nobody, in Maigret's Christmas, Harvest/HBJ, 1981, Ch. 3, p. 206]
43. Maigret et l'homme tout seul, p. 153. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 6, p. 132]
44. La première enquête de Maigret, p. 28. [Maigret's First Case, Penguin Books, 1963, Ch. 2, p. 24]
45. Maigret se trompe, pp. 110-111. [Maigret's Mistake, Penguin Books, 1961, Ch. 5, p. 80]
46. M. LITS, op. cit., p. 99.
47. J. DUBOIS, Politique de Maigret, «T.R.A.C.E.S.», 2, 1990, pp. 7-23, cit. P. 10.
48. Maigret et l'homme tout seul, p. 18. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 1, p. 12]
49. J.-N. BLANC, op. cit., p. 176.
50. Maigret et l'homme tout seul, p. 20. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 1, p. 14]
51. Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters, p. 72. [Inspector Maigret and the Killers, Curtis Books, 1973, Ch. 3, p. 71]
52. La première enquête de Maigret, pp. 29-30. [Maigret's First Case, Penguin Books, 1961, Ch. 2, p. 25]
53. Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters, p. 168 [Inspector Maigret and the Killers, Curtis Books, 1973, Ch. 8, p. 169]
54. Maigret se trompe, p. 51. [Maigret's Mistake, Penguin Books, 1963, Ch. 3, p. 38]
55. Ibid., pp. 51-52. [Ibid., p. 39]
56. From there the narrator arrives at numerous narrative consequences, which go beyond the simple dimension of urban toponymy. The characters who, in some mannner or another, are not at «their» place are not only suspicious as in the case of Lulu in Maigret se trompe but are strongly shown to be probably (without making it an inflexible rule of composition) the instituters of criminal acts: the stripper at «Picratt's», Arlette, is killed by Oscar Bonvoisin, «originally from Auvergne» (Maigret au Picratt's, p. 143), the guilty ones in Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters are, as the title suggests, Americans; Madame Gouin, murderer of her husband's mistress «was just a simple nurse (...) who became the next day Mme Gouin» (Maigret se trompe, p. 172): wife of the famous surgeon, she was not only of humble origin, but her father «was a fisherman in Brittany» (p. 60).
57. J. DUBOIS, Le roman policier ou la modernité, cit., p. 171.
58. M. LITS, op. cit., p. 98.
59. Marc Lits in part, see also E. MANDEL, Delightful Murder. A Social History of the Crime Story, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1984 («What characterizes the classics of the detective story and separates them from their precursors as much as from subsequent writers is the extremely conventionalized and formalized character of their plots. To a large extent this marks a return to Aristotle's famous rules of the drama: unity of time, place and action», p. 25), T. STEELE The Structure of the Detective Story: Classical or Modern?, «Modern Fiction Studies», 4, winter 1981-82, vol. 27, pp.555-570 («The detective story is undeniably Aristotelian in a variety of ways, and whatever the customary attitude towards it, it is unquestionably sustained by literary conventions which have a long history», p. 556).
60. About space in detective stories, see, among others, A. PIETROPAOLI, Ai confini del giallo, Napoli, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1986.
61. H. VELDMAN, La tentation de l'inaccessible, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1981, p. 63.
62. Ibid., p. 67. In support of this anecdote concerning the writing of Simenon's novels, see also G. SIMENON, L'âge du roman, Bruxelles, Editions Complexe, 1988, pp. 67 et 79.
63. On ne tue pas les pauvres types, p. 157. [Death of a Nobody, in Maigret's Christmas, Harvest/HBJ, 1981, Ch. 2, p. 196]
64. Ibid., pp. 159-160. (emphasis mine.) [Ibid., Ch. 2, p. 197.]
65. Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters, p. 61. (emphasis mine.) [Inspector Maigret and the Killers, Curtis Books, 1973, Ch. 3, p. 59-60]
66. La première enquête de Maigret, pp. 105-106. [Maigret's First Case, Penguin Books, 1963, Ch. 6, p. 95]
67. Maigret au Picratt's, p. 58. (emphasis mine.) [Maigret in Montmartre, Penguin Books, 1961, Ch. 3, p. 44]
68. R. CAILLOIS, Approches de l'imaginaire, Paris, Gallimard, 1974, p. 183.
69. Maigret et l'homme tout seul, pp. 23-24. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 1, p. 16]
70. Ibid., p. 130. [Ibid., Ch. 5, p. 113.]
71. Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters, p. 143. [Inspector Maigret and the Killers, Curtis Books, 1973, Ch. 7, p. 144]
72. Ibid., pp. 119-121. [Ibid., Ch. 6, pp. 120-121.]
73. Maigret au Picratt's, p. 150. [Maigret in Montmartre, Penguin Books, 1961, Ch. 7, p. 110]
74. Maigret, Lognon et les gangsters, p. 148. [Inspector Maigret and the Killers, Curtis Books, 1973, Ch. 7, p. 149]
75. Maigret et l'inspecteur malgracieux, p. 8. [Maigret and the Surly Inspector, in Maigret's Christmas, Harvest/HBJ, 1981, Ch. 1, p. 101]
76. Ibid., p. 7. [Ibid., Ch.1, p. 101.]
77. Ibid., p. 9. [Ibid., Ch.1, p. 102.]
78. F. EVRARD, Lire le roman policier, Paris, Dunod, 1996, p. 94.
79. A. BERTRAND, Georges Simenon, Lyon, La manufacture, 1988, p. 19.
80. La première enquête de Maigret, pp. 90-91. (emphasis mine.) [Maigret's First Case, Penguin Books, 1963, Ch. 6, pp. 80-81]
81. G. SIMENON, Maigret et le corps sans téte, Paris, Presses de la Cité, 1978, pp. 62-63. [Maigret and the Headless Corpse, Avon Books, 1975, Ch. 3, p. 53]
82. Maigret et l'homme tout seul, p. 66. [Maigret and the Loner, Harvest/HBJ, 1983, Ch. 3, p. 55]
83. Maigret et la Grande Perche, p. 5. [Maigret and the Burglar's Wife, Penguin Books, 1960, Ch. 1, p. 5]
84. Ibid., pp. 6-7. [Ibid., Ch. 1, p. 6.]
a. mare magnum, Latin: 'great sea'
b. in media res, Latin: 'in the middle of things'
c. in note 59 as "Aristotle's famous rules of the drama: unity of time, place and action"
d. identified in error as [Tremblet], the father, in the original.
e. actually, Maisons-Lafitte is outside of Paris proper, on the Seine, 7 mi. to the NW, in Yvelines dept.