Maigret of the Month: Maigret se fâche (Maigret in Retirement)
Having completed his convalescence in the coastal town of Les Sables-d’Olonne (Vendée) after contracting pleurisy, and with the Second World War almost at an end, Simenon travelled to Paris during the latter part of April 1945. His intention was to live in the United States of America, but he would have to wait until the necessary authorised documents could be obtained.
Some years before, he made over his former apartment at 21 Place des Vosges in Paris to a business friend. This friend not being in Paris at the end of the war agreed that Simenon could make use of the apartment, so his wife, Tigy, their son Marc and Boule took up residence there, whilst he stayed at Claridge’s Hotel in the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
In June 1945 he booked into the Hôtel de Cambrai in the Rue de Turenne, around the corner from the Place des Vosges, where he wrote two of his longer short stories, La Pipe de Maigret (Maigret’s Pipe) and Le Bateau d’Émile (Émile’s Boat not translated into English).
Not long afterwards he travelled the 44 kilometres south to Saint-Fargeau (Seine-et-Marne) in order to write Maigret se fâche, which he completed by the 4th of August 1945. It is possible that this work was commissioned by Simenon’s friend Pierre Lazareff who now owned the daily newspaper France-Soir, and it was in this journal that Maigret se fâche was first published in 38 instalments between March and May 1946.
Occasionally there is some confusion concerning the status of Maigret se fâche, whether it is a short story or a novel. This probably arises from the first publication of the French text in book form, as well as the first appearance of the English translation in a volume of collected short stories. The French text was published by Presses de la Cité in 1947 with the front cover and the spine of the dust wrapper printed only with the title La Pipe de Maigret, although the cover of the book has La Pipe de Maigret suivie de Maigret se fâche. The title page has only Maigret se fâche. This has led some to assume that this publication contains two, albeit long, short stories. 1n 1976 Hamish Hamilton in Great Britain published the first volume in English translation of the “Complete” Maigret Short Stories under the title of Maigret’s Christmas. This volume contains nine works, the last of which is Maigret in Retirement, all just called stories in the introduction on the front flap of the dust jacket.
(In 1977 Hamish Hamilton published the second volume of the “Complete” Maigret short stories, but “Complete” is a misnomer as there are only 25 short stories in the two volumes out of a possible 28).
But Maigret se fâche is a novel, although not as long as many of the other Maigret novels (refer to the Maigret Forum: Reference: Length of the Maigrets).
Michel Lemoine, one of the major researchers of Simenon’s work and life, has written an intriguing article concerning this novel:
‘...In this novel, Simenon seems to be going out of his way to muddle up the tracks since he placed the action at “Orsenne, a village on the banks of the Seine between Corbeil and the Forest of Fontainbleau”. In reality Orsenne does not exist. Initially, one is tempted to see in this name the transposition of Seine-Port, a place name phonetically close to Orsenne: the inversion of the two parts of the name and the suppression of the initial P in effect giving [P]ort-Seine = Orsenne. The fact that Maigret stayed at the Angel Inn, in the past run by a certain Marius, tends all the more to confirm to us this opinion, as in the past at Seine-Port there was an inn called Chez Marius. Nevertheless the novel makes clear that Orsenne is situated at 5 kilometres from Seine-Port. This obliges us to abandon this place and to fall back on Morsang-sur-Seine, the other locality bounded by the river and situated at 5 kilometres down stream from Seine-Port, moreover a locality that Simenon knew very well since in 1930 and 1931, on board the “Ostrogoth”, he wrote several of the first Maigret novels. Once again the phonetics come to our aid if we want to prove that Orsenne represents Morsang: in effect, the suppression of the initial M from the place name allows the appearance of a form of Orsang close to the fictional place name Orsenne. However satisfied by these findings based on the close place names and geography of Seine-Port and Morsang, the reader looking for the elements of transposition must certainly become disillusioned as Seine-Port and Morsang are situated on the right bank of the Seine, whilst Orsenne evidently is situated on the left bank of the river. As a consequence, if we are able to believe that the name Orsenne was inspired by that of Morsang and/or Seine-Port, the geographic transposition prompts us instead to search for an inspiration among the localities of the left bank, to know that Le Coudray-Montceaux, mentioned under the simplified form of Le Coudray, in La Peniche aux deux pendus and Menaces de Mort, Saint-Fargeau-Ponthierry, mentioned under the simplified form of Saint-Fargeau, in M.Gallet, décédé and Maigret et le fantôme, indeed even Tilly, mentioned in Le Grand Bob, our preference focuses, for topographic reasons, towards Le Coudray-Montceaux; moreover one will notice that Monceaux is not so phonetically remote from Orsenne.’Claude Menguy, the major Simenon researcher, some time ago visited this part of the Seine, interviewed some of the inhabitants and researched the whole area thoroughly. In a separate article, Claude Menguy agrees with Michel Lemoine that Le Coudray-Montceaux is the setting for Orsenne.
This novel finds Maigret retired from the police force for nearly two years and living with his wife at their home at Meung-sur-Loire (Loiret).
(This is the second novel, in the written sequence, where Simenon has Maigret living in retirement and called upon to investigate a crime at the request of a private individual. The first novel in which this situation occurs is Maigret (Maigret Returns) written in 1933, but the author places Maigret in similar circumstances in five of the short stories that he wrote during the winter of 1937 to 1938).
There is a touch of humour at the beginning of this novel as the formidable Bernadette Amorelle, aged 81, in seeking Maigret’s help, mistakes him and his wife for two other people.
Maigret goes by train to Orsenne and during a very warm August at first enjoys the change of scene. He arrives at the Angel Inn where he meets Bernadette’s son-in-law Ernest Malik with whom, he discovers, he was at school. Also Maigret soon realises that Ernest Malik is still the same self-opinionated individual that he was in his younger days, and when Maigret gradually meets the rest of the family, residing in their well-appointed villas, he finds the atmosphere unfriendly and he now resents being there. As it transpires it is a situation that makes him angry, hence the French title of this novel. But it is Raymonde the maid at the Angel Inn who restores the balance and Maigret’s interest. At the Inn, where he enjoys a couple of improvised meals with Raymonde, he is reminded of the past and of the many types of people with whom he came into contact. Raymonde is also informative and this spurs Maigret to continue with his enquiries. He pays more than one visit to Paris, meeting up with some of his former colleagues, such as Lucas, Janvier and Torrence, from whom he requests information mainly about the family that he is investigating. One of his requests is to locate Mimile, a former circus performer, with a police record, who is now working with the animals at the menagerie at Luna Park in Paris. (Luna Park was opened in 1909 at Porte Maillot in Paris in the seventeenth arrondissement for the general public. Among other attractions there was a funfair, a scenic railway, a water chute, a menagerie and facilities for dancing. It closed and was demolished in 1948. Today the site is occupied by the Palais des Congrès complex).
Armed with information and with the help of certain people, Maigret’s task becomes hectic, moving between Orsenne and Paris, later even using the apartment in the Place des Vosges, as the author, in fiction, echoes his own situation in reality.
Eventually Maigret discerns that the main culprit, over a period of time, had been using and maniplulating various people for a number of devious reasons.