Maigret of the Month: Maigret et la vieille dame (Maigret and the old lady )
Maigret of the Month: Maigret et la Vieille Dame (Maigret and the Old Lady)
On the other hand, the author wrote nine other novels, out of 27, each with an American setting where he explores characters and relationships in a much more successful way. On his return to France in 1955, the first novel he wrote, La Boule Noire (The Rules of the Game) has Connecticut as a setting.
During the later months of 1949, there were two important, but very different, events that Simenon experienced.
The committee set up in France at the end of the Second World War to investigate those who were suspected of co-operation with the Forces of Occupation had now turned their attention to Simenon. This concerned the author’s connection with the Continental Films organisation that produced several films based on his work.
The committee decided that Simenon was guilty of collaboration and decreed that none of Simenon’s work, in any form was to be produced in France for a period of two years. This meant a complete ban on any printed material, adaptions for the theatre, film and radio and in any other format.
This decision was sent to him in July, but to his last address in the Vendée region of France, so Simenon was only aware of the circumstances when the information reached him in Arizona in October. Realising that it would affect his main source of income, among other implications, immediately he wrote a statement to the committee putting his side of the situation and sent it to his lawyer in Paris, Maître Maurice Garçon, who was successful in winning over Simenon’s argument, so that in December 1949 the committee retracted their decision.
The other important event was on the 29th of September 1949 when Denyse Ouimet gave birth to Simenon’s son Jean, named after his godfather the film director Jean Renoir.
At this time they were still living in Tucson, Arizona, but once more decided to move.
Simenon’s wife, Tigy, their ten year old son Marc, and Boule already had rented a house by the sea at Carmel in California, and he, Denyse and Jean (usually called John or Johnny) followed them at the end of October, renting a house in Ocean View Avenue in Carmel, which reminded Simenon of France’s Côte d’Azur.
The events that Simenon was experiencing during this time had an effect on him, which he later related in his last autobiography Memoires Intimes (Intimate Memoirs). The birth of his son Jean / John was on the joyous side, but there was a shadow cast by the French Committee’s decision, even though it was rescinded. Then there was the tension between the two “camps” in Carmel, these being Simenon, Denyse and their young son on the one hand, with Tigy, Marc and Boule on the other. The termination of Simenon and Tigy’s marriage was very much in the near future.
How much effect this had on Simenon’s writing is a matter of speculation as he has said very little about it, but his first works after moving to Carmel were two Maigret novels, Maigret and the Old Lady and Madame Maigret’s Own Case / Madame Maigret’s Friend / The Friend of Madame Maigret, written basically in December four days apart.
Several times Simenon has stated that to write a Maigret work was a form of relaxation compared to the mental strain of producing some of his other novels. So now perhaps he was turning to Maigret and his wife and their stability as a contrast to the life he was living through then.
Maigret arrives in Étretat (Seine-Inférieure) on the Normandy coast. His journey is the result of a visit by a Madame Valentine Besson (the old lady of the novel’s title) to his office on the Quai des Orfévres, as well as an independent request by Madame Besson’s stepson, Charles Besson, a Deputy in the Fécamp area, to Maigret’s superior.
The cause of the request is that Rose Trochu, Valentine’s maid, has died as a result of swallowing her employer’s nightly drink.
At Étretat, Maigret is met and assisted by Inspector Castaing from Le Havre who explains the situation to him.
Simenon deftly describes the atmosphere of the Normandy coast with Maigret for some moments transported back in his mind to his earlier experiences by the sea.
Although this Maigret novel is as long as many of the others, the structure is different. Maigret’s investigation only lasts two days, during which time he questions several members of Valentine Besson’s family, as well as travelling the few miles to Yport to visit the family of Rose Trochu. Because of this time factor Maigret’s investigation is condensed into a steady methodical routine without much time to do other things and break the steady rhythm of the story line.
It is almost as if Simenon, having worked out the idea for the novel, is going through the motions, with the result that this novel is not as interesting as many of the others.
The only translation is by Robert Brain who remains close to the author’s French text.
Maigret of the Month: Maigret et la vieille dame (Maigret and the old lady)