Maigret of the Month: Le chien jaune
Let's look at "Le chien jaune", one of the first Maigrets, published in 1931, the year the series was inaugurated. Literally "The Yellow Dog", it also appears in English as A Face for a Clue, Maigret and the Concarneau Murders, Maigret and the Yellow Dog. I wonder how they came up with "A Face for a Clue" as the title for the first translation? Whose face was it that gave the clue, Emma's?
Richard Vinen's introduction to the new Penguin edition, "The Yellow Dog" is a fine and interesting anaylysis. Marcel Aymé's preface to the French edition is more of an introduction to Maigret than to Le chien jaune.
There are two translations, the first by Geoffrey Sainsbury, published in 1939 in the UK, 1940 in the US, and the newer one by Linda Asher, published in 1987 by Harcourt. Here's the bibliography entry.
As usual, there are some "strange" translations in the Sainsbury version. Looking briefly at Chapter 1, for example, in the opening paragraphs Sainsbury adds a new line: "The hotel was at the corner where the quay joined the Place Jean Jaurès." And when M checks for strychnine in the Calvados bottle, in the Sainsbury translation "there were no white grains to be seen," while in fact in the original French (and the Asher translation) , "il ... aperçut quelques grains du poudre blanche," "he ... saw a few specks of white powder." I'd say you're best to stick with the Asher translation if you're not reading the French.
What is Maigret doing in Concarneau? He was temporarily posted to Rennes "to reorganize its mobile unit." You can see Rennes on the map, west of Paris. Continue west all the way to the coast at Brest, and the little red dot south of Brest is Concarneau, not far outside of Quimper. Distance from Paris is 341 miles (549km), Rennes 122 miles (197km), Quimper, 17 miles (27km).
Here's an enlargement of that area:
(Both of these are adapted from Michelin maps published in the mid-50s.)
I haven't located a good city map of Concarneau, but it would be interesting to follow the action on one from the 30s...
There's a brief online English Summary of Concarneau history, etc., at Concarneau, the blue city. Other online sites about Concarneau are Concarneau - découvrez La Ville Bleue, Concarneau La Ville Bleue, Concar.net, and Concarneau.
Unfortunately, Guido de Croock hasn't done Le chien jaune on his Maigret's Journeys in France site yet, or I'm sure we'd have a wealth of detailed information about this setting.
The second Maigret film (after La nuit du carrefour) was Le chien jaune, in 1932, with Abel Tarride.|
In Chapter 1 Maigret hardly speaks at all, and when he does, it's always a question:
"Did the operation go well?"
"And the dog?"
"Has the waitress been here long?"
"She didn't go out last night?"
"What's the matter?"
"What makes you think?"
"You always drink Pernod?"
Maigret of the Month: Le chien jaune - 2
Le chien jaune was the first Simenon I read in French, and possibly the first I ever read, although I knew of Maigret from the Rupert Davies series on BBC in the 60s.
In the autumn of 1969, Professor Glanville Price of the University of Stirling set Le chien jaune for first year students to improve their French vocabulary, so at 8.30 every Tuesday morning we would sit in a seminar room while he quizzed us to see whether we'd actually looked up the words we didn't know.
He was a fierce little Welshman, and woe betide you if you'd been lazy.
However, I learned a lot from him, including the urban nature of the glottal stop (now widespread in Britain -- and elsewhere?), and how to pronounce the "u" in "tu", which, if I remember correctly, involved blowing out a lighted match!
I re-read Le chien jaune last year. It seems to me one of the most densely plotted of the Maigrets, with a lot to enjoy.
Now I'll have to read it again!
Richard Vinen's introduction is interesting, though you can hear the sound of political axes being ground.
How right-wing was Simenon? There is plenty of evidence which makes it seem likely that his sympathies did lie on the right, but at the same time his irreligious libertinism points to a rejection of his early influences.
I suspect that Simenon was fairly apolitical, even to the extent of being politically naive. Pierre Assouline's biography, particularly when it deals with the war years, supports this reading of his character.
I don't have access to Geoffrey Sainsbury's translation at the moment, but from the first chapter I would say that Linda Asher has done a fine job.
There are, however, a couple of points that need to be teased out.
Firstly, le chien itself. Simenon describes it as recalling both le mâtin et le dogue d'Ulm. Asher translates this as "both a mastiff and a bulldog", but the dictionaries I've consulted translate dogue as mastiff (perhaps dogue d'Ulm is a particular type of mastiff?) while mâtin is described as a hunting hound. In Britain, foxhounds and beagles are the most common type of hunting hounds, and no doubt in France they use all sorts of dogs for hunting, but surely not a bulldog?
a dogue d'Ulm is apparently a kind of dogue Allemand
| Asher translates "...his huge head calls to mind both a mastiff and a bulldog," so while the dog may not have resembled a bulldog so much, maybe his head did...
dogue Allemand, aka: dogue d'Ulm,
dogue anglais, dogue danois...
Sainsbury skirted the issue in his translation: "...its large head had something of a mastiff about it."
Secondly, Servières says he was directeur de la Vache Rousse à Montmartre. Asher translates this as "the manager of the Red Cow". This suggests that he ran a bar or perhaps nightclub, and while this might account for Mme Servières' shady background, alluded to in Vinen's introduction, my dictionary gives a secondary meaning of directeur as 'editor'. Given that Servières works as a journalist, surely this is a better reading. "The Red Cow" might have been a magazine, perhaps one like the satirical and semi-pornographic magazines that Simenon contributed some many pieces to in his apprenticeship as a writer. Might the word "red" have political connotations? Or does La Vache Rousse contain a cultural allusion?
From the looks of Simenon's punctuation, it seems more likely to me to be a club. The original looks like this:
J'ai été longtemps directeur de la Vache Rousse, à Montmartre... J'ai collaboré au Petit Parisien, à Excelsior, à la Dépêche...
It seems like Simenon used italics to indicate the names of the newspapers or journals, and none of the others indicate a district of Paris...
Sainsbury apparently thought so too. He 'translated' this section as: "For many years I ran a cabaret in Montmartre. The Vache Rousse I dare say you know it."
Simenon set many of his books in seaside ports, and his descriptions are very atmospheric. He would of course have been very familiar with such settings from his sailing exploits, and his birthplace, Liège, on the Meuse, was itself a major port.
The opening pages capture the scene with sensual intensity, using visual and aural imagery to present the scene vividly to the reader.
In particular, the use of the present tense lends an almost cinematic immediacy to these pages, as if we are witnessing events as they occur. I suspect that Simenon used this technique frequently.
Finally, I was intrigued by the reference to Pernod being described as l'imitation d'absinthe or mock absinthe. I did a little research and found that absinthe was banned in France in 1915 due to fears about the effects of wormwood and the immense consumption of the drink contributing to social problems. The firm of Pernod-Fils (now Pernod-Ricard) closed down for five years before reopening with a wormwood-free recipe. I've only tasted Pernod once, and that was enough!
Maigret of the Month: Le chien jaune - 3
Is this cute little puppy on the dust jacket of the Harcourt edition supposed to represent the 'monster' that had everyone so upset?
La Vache Rousse
As far as La Vache Rousse is concerned, the punctuation issue did occur to me later, after I'd posted.
In Chapter 3 when Maigret phones Le Phare de Brest (which Asher translates beautifully as the "Brest Beacon"), he asks to speak to the directeur, reinforcing the idea that Simenon used it in the sense of "editor".
However, in Maigret's notes in Chapter 3, he refers to Servières as journaliste à Paris, sécretaire général de petits théâtres, which lends force to La Vache Rousse being one of those.
Although Servieres is described as being proud of his journalism, he might have been trying to impress Maigret in another way when he introduced himself. I'll go along with La Vache Rousse being a petit theatre.
Jerome has forwarded a link to a large detailed map of Concarneau. Here's a reduced version on which I've added an "A" to mark the location of the Admiral Café, "B" for les Sables Blancs, the White Sands, where the Mayor's house and Dr. Michoux's was, and "C" for Cabélou Point, the old fort where Léon was camping.
And from here you'll find more maps of Concarneau, including the downtown area.
The Linda Asher translation was first published in the USA in 1987 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich as a hardback book in a dust jacket entitled "Maigret and the Yellow Dog" (ISBN 0-15-155564-8). In 1988 the same translation and title was published in the USA as a paperback with a mainly typographic front cover by Harvest/HBJ (ISBN 0-15-655157-8). This translation was reissued in 1995 in the USA by the same publisher with the same title and ISBN, but with a more pictorial cover.
In 2003 Penguin Books in the UK published this Maigret novel, but under the title "The Yellow Dog", the translation being by Linda Asher (ISBN 0-14-118734-4).
The earlier translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury, in comparison with the author's French text, has many additions, omissions and alterations. Linda Asher's translation is much closer to what Simenon has written, but at times is too clipped, too staccato. However her translation is the one to read to appreciate Simenon's narrative.
Maigret of the Month: Le chien jaune - 4
In what year does it take place?
The image is a tourism poster for Concarneau from 1930.
I am rereading "Le chien jaune," and the first sentence of the book is interesting : "Vendredi 7 Novembre. Concarneau est désert." ("Friday, November 7. Concarneau is empty.") I wondered in what year the action took place.
An Excel spreadsheet provides an easy way to find all the 7th November Fridays in the 20th century. The possible years would be 1924 or 1930. There is also a 7-Nov-1913, but absinthe was still allowed at that time, as Roddy wrote. After 1930, the next Friday 7th November is 1941, and that is too late. I think that we can safely say that the action is taking place at end of the year 1930.
I looked at previous discussions related to Maigret's age (by Forest and Drake) but did not see "Le chien jaune" in the list. If the action took place in 1930 that would make Maigret 43 years old. In the age study, I saw that "M Gallet died on June 27, 1930". That's possible since in "Le chien jaune" Maigret had just been assigned to Rennes for a month. He must have arrived in Rennes around the 7th October. 1930 was a busy year for Maigret!
To complete the year study, the second sentence says it is "onze heure moins cinq" (10:45)
and the third that "c'est le plein de la marée" (the tide is full - high tide). At www.concarneau.org/meteo you can input a date and get the tide schedule. The 7 November 1930, the tide was at its lowest at 11:23! Simenon used boats a lot and must have known from books the tide schedules. Was he correct?
And here's another element to date the story: in Chapter X, Maigret asks about what happend four or five years before to the boat La Belle-Emma and Léon tells in his story that everyone at that time was smuggling alcohol. In the USA, Prohibition was from 1919 to 1933 that would make the year 1930 a good one, as Léon's arrest would have taken place in 1925: during Prohibition. The other possible date, 1924, would have made the arrest of Léon in 1919, just at the start of Prohibition. Could it be possible?
One last point. Today in France, the 11th November is a bank holiday for the end of the first World War: l'arministice, Armistice Day. In the book, as the story spreads over 5 or 6 days, we should see Tuesday the 11th and have some celebration, but nothing is mentioned in the story. I do not know when the 11th November became a bank holiday in France, perhaps after 1924 or 1930. That could allow us to choose which year 1924 or 1930 is the best possible year for the book.
Maigret of the Month: Le chien jaune - 5
Chapitre 2 Le docteur en pantoufles
Maigret teases Leroy on his scientific methods; Leroy thinks Maigret "ignorait la valeur des investigations scientifiques". I think the Forum has looked at this before, but I was interested to read (in Patrick Marnham's biography, The Man who wasn't Maigret) that Simenon himself had attended lectures on forensic science:
In later life Simenon denied that he had ever done any serious research into police methods before writing his Maigret books, apart from spending the odd afternoon with some friends in the Paris CID. In fact in 1920-21 the young reporter enrolled as an extra-mural student and attended a series of lectures at the University of Liege on the new science of forensics.... Simenon's attendance ... would have made him, for a brief period, better informed than many policemen. (Marnham, pp 59-60)
Obviously he felt that the interest in novels arises from characters rather than from clues, unlike many of his contemporaries or indeed some present-day crime novelists. No one would read Agatha Christie or Patricia Cornwell for their human interest.
With regard to the political ideas in Richard Vinen's introduction to the new Penguin edition, the pharmacist who analyses the poisoned bottles would like to blame it on anarchists. Does anyone know how active anarchists were in the 1920s and 30s in France? Were they responsible for outrages like poisoning the drinks of the bourgeoisie in towns like Concarneau, or is Simenon indulging in a little social satire? (By the way, I'd agree with Jerome's placing of the novel in 1930; also, Vinen makes the point that there is no reference as expected to Armistice Day in the novel.)
I like the descriptions of the half-built houses and hotel on Michoux's plots of land, as well as of the false elegance of Michoux's house.
A small puzzle: Michoux is a doctor, but people interested in buying his plots are directed to Monsieur Ernest Michoux. Maigret says in his notes on the case that Michoux and his mother are "trading on dead husband's name", but I don't think that fully explains it.
I'd never fully realised the importance of being able to tutoyer in French until I compared the French and English versions of Maigret's conversation with Emma in this chapter: By referring to Emma as tu, Simenon conveys the concern and sympathy Maigret feels for the girl, but this is lost, or at least less visible, in the translation; maybe the translator could have put in "my dear" to compensate.
Chapitre 5 L'homme du Cabelou
Maigret asks the young police officer who captured the giant of a man what people think about the arrest of Dr Michoux.
He replies that the ordinary people aren't too concerned, might even be pleased because he was part of the crowd who drank too much, treated the town as if they owned it and exploited poor young women.
The middle-class people are, however, appalled.
Maigret's sympathies are always with the underdog, the lower class, though he himself, as the son of an estate manager who served an aristocrat, might be said to be bourgeois and he leads a bourgeois existence.
Simenon seems to an extent to have shared these sympathies, though of course he himself became very wealthy (and of course acted on occasion like Michoux and his associates).
As Assouline states in the opening chapters of his biography, Simenon hated the social attitudes of the Christian Brothers whose school he attended, "especially their peculiar penchant for holding the state schools up as a bogeyman and for harping on class divisions. This may well have been the leavening of a powerful conviction that never left him: that humility is the greatest of all human values." (Assouline pp 4-5).
Simenon indeed seems to have despised the high-born and the rich. In "Maigret Meets a Milord", he portrays the English Lord as a dissolute brute, and later, in "Maigret and the Millionaires", for example, he shows them as leading empty, meaningless lives.
Towards the end of his life, Simenon seems to have deliberately eschewed the trappings of wealth, putting his valuables into storage and moving from his Epalinges mansion to live very simply and humbly in a small shady house in a quiet street.
Assouline asserts that this was "the final demand of the anxiety and insecurity that had never left him: a house, a neighborhood, and furniture as cramped and ugly as those of his childhood." (Assouline, p386)
While accepting this as likely, I wonder if another reading is not possible: that having experienced everything to excess, and finding little of value, Simenon finally chose the most simple existence possible.
In the exhibition in Liege last year there was short but very touching video clip which showed an old and feeble Simenon returning to his home from a walk. As he enters, his companion Teresa tenderly helps him take off his coat. Simenon looks distracted, unwell, tired. This extraordinary man, who has experienced more in his lifetime than perhaps any other of his generation, is now almost completely dependent on the love and care of his sole companion. Nothing else matters.
Maigret of the Month: Le chien jaune - 6
click to enlarge
1/15/04 Simenon, Concarneau, and the Yellow Dog
In the latter part of 1930, Simenon was moving around on the waterways of France, south of Paris, in his boat the Ostrogoth, with his wife Tigy, their maid/cook Boule (Henriette Liberge) and their dog, a Great Dane, called Olaf. This way of life had started in Paris during the spring of 1929 and was to last until October 1931 when Simenon sold the boat at Ouistreham (Calvados) in Normandy.
During the whole two and a half years of the trip Simenon was writing novels and short stories under pseudonyms, as well as those first, mainly, Maigret novels under his own name. It was a transitional period, completing contracts for his publishers of popular novels and building up a reputation as a writer of works for which he is now famous.
Some of the writing was done on board, but at times finding this unsatisfactory, he would moor his boat and find some temporary accommodation.
During November and December 1930, Simenon rented part of the villa "Ker-Jean", 11-15 Avenue des Sables-Blancs, northward along the coast from Concarneau (Finistère) in Brittany. Here he wrote the Maigret novel "Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien" (The Crime of Inspector Maigret / Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets), and some of the work that was published under pseudonyms.
Whilst living there, Simenon, Tigy, Boule, with their dog Olaf, explored Concarneau and its environment, which gave the author plenty of information about this town to use as the setting for two novels, "Le Chien Jaune" and "Les Demoiselles de Concarneau", the latter a non-Maigret work written in 1935 and translated under the title of "The Breton Sisters". Also the author took a number of photographs of the town, which are now in the Fonds Simenon in Liège.
Both novels are set in the month of November, which is precisely the time of year the author experienced whilst living in the area.
Simenon used some of the local names in both novels. The villa in which they were staying was at Sables-Blancs, the location of the homes of the mayor and Ernest Michoux in the "The Yellow Dog". The owner of the villa "Ker-Jean", a jeweller, was M. Albert Gloaguen, who had an address at 10, Quai d'Aiguillon, Concarneau. In the "Breton Sisters" a family's name is Gloaguen who live on the Quai d'Aiguillon, and this quayside is also mentioned in "The Yellow Dog". (Erroneously Simenon spells it Quai de l'Aiguillon). The Café de l'Amiral also features in both novels, as does the name Guérec.
Also it is reasonable to assume that including a dog as part of the storyline was influenced by Simenon having his own Great Dane with him.
In Paris on the 20th of February 1931 at the nightclub "La Boule Blanche" in Montparnasse, Simenon and his publisher Fayard launched the two Maigret titles "M. Gallet, décédé" (The Death of Monsieur Gallet / Maigret Stonewalled) and "Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien" (The Crime of Inspector Maigret / Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets), with the spectacular Bal Anthropométrique, an all night event, when guests were fingerprinted on entry.
Soon after this, in March 1931, the author took his boat along the river Essonne, south of Paris to Guigneville, near La Ferté-Alais, where in the Château/Hôtel "La Michaudière" he wrote "Le Chien Jaune" (A Face for a Clue / Maigret and the Concarneau Murders / Maigret and the Yellow Dog /The Yellow Dog).
But before he started writing the Maigret novel he explored the main plot in the form of a short story which he entitled "Sing-Sing ou La Maison des Trois Marches" (Sing-Sing or The House with the Three Steps). This short story was published in the weekly magazine "VU", N°. 158, 25 March 1931, illustrated with photographs by Germaine Krull. Being an astute businessman, Simenon frequently had many of his short stories and novels published in magazines or newspapers before they came out in book form. This meant that his work reached a wider reading public, as well as bringing in additional revenue.
Possibly, in this case, he might have wanted to put down his idea for the main plot quickly, to gauge how it would pan out as a novel, and how Maigret, who does not appear in the short story version, could be worked in to investigate.
In this short story, the plot is the same as the novel, one of betrayal, but there are fewer characters and their names are different, and there is no dog. Also there is no mention of the name of the town, although it is obviously by the sea. Part of the storyline takes place in the Grand Hotel, which has been in Concarneau for some considerable time. This forty-roomed hotel is located at 1, Avenue Pierre-Guéguin, which butts on to the Quai d'Aiguillon and the three windows of its end façade overlooks the Place Jean Jaurès. In the novel, which Simenon wrote soon after the short story, it is named the Hôtel de l'Amiral (the Admiral Hotel).
Basically having explored the main plotline in the short story, Simenon expands his idea into the novel, giving himself room to establish more characters with twists and turns in the narrative that brings in petty town jealousy, enmity, posturing and rivalry. Into the vividly portrayed atmosphere, conjured up both by the natural elements and the tension generated by certain individuals, he brings Maigret. The latter, at times, at his most brusque, not suffering fools lightly, dismissing a person or situation with a blunt oath, mentally, if not also physically, feels his way to the truth. His sympathy lies with only certain of the inhabitants, including the yellow dog of the French title that wanders through most of the novel like a mysterious symbol.
The printer's date in the first edition of the novel "Le Chien Jaune", published by Fayard, is April 1931, and it would have been put on sale soon afterwards.
When Jean Tarride made the film version of the novel in 1932, the exteriors scenes were shot in Concarneau, whilst the interiors were set up in the Billancourt Studios in Paris.
The Map of Concarneau (c. 1960)
Key to certain locations on the map:
No. 6 - Avenue Pierre-Guéguin.
The quayside next to the above is the Quai d'Aiguillon.
No. 7 - Place Jean Jaurès.
G - the Gendarmerie (Police Barracks).
H - the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall).
George Simenon's short story, "Sing-Sing ou La Maison des Trois Marches"
(Sing-Sing or The House with the Three Steps), translated by Peter Foord.
Le Chien Jaune - 7
A close reading of Le Chien Jaune shows that Simenon knows from the beginning exactly where the story is going to go.
The first time the yellow dog enters the cafe in Chapter 1, it lies down at Emma's feet, showing that it knows her. Chapter 2 ends: "Maigret gave a start, not because of this news, but because he had just caught sight of the yellow dog, stretched out at Emma's feet."
The connection between Emma and the dog's owner, Leon, is therefore present from the start.
There is also the back-story of Emma and Leon being engaged to be married until they are separated by Leon's voyage and subsequent arrest, for which Michoux and his associates are responsible.
This novel is tightly plotted. On the day he began the first chapter, Simenon knew how it was going to develop and how it was going to end. Perhaps some later Maigrets are more spontaneous, less planned, but I don't think a single one of them is written in the way Simenon wanted Bresler to believe.
Peter Foord's interesting and enlightening posting supports this idea that Simenon carefully prepared his books.
Maigret of the Month: Le chien jaune - 8
1/21/04 In the words of Simenon's biographers
I thought it would be interesting to cite what Simenon's major biographers and others have to say about the works under discussion.
I intend to look at Assouline, Marnham and Bresler first of all. Stanley Eskin's critical biography is often cited, so I have ordered this (from Long Beach, Ca!), but I'll have to add that later.
Assouline first. The edition I've used is Simenon a Biography by Pierre Assouline, translated by Jon Rothschild, Chatto and Windus, London, 1997:
Between March and December of 1931, he followed up the first Maigrets with eight others -- Le Chien jaune (A Face for a Clue), La Nuit du Carrefour (The Crossroads Murders), Un Crime en Hollande (A Crime in Holland), Au Rendez-vous des Terres-Nuevas (The Sailors' Rendez-vous), La Danseuse du Gai-Moulin, La Guinguette a deux sous (The Guinguette by the Seine), Le Port des brumes (Death of a Harbour-master), and L'Ombre chinoise (The Shadow in the Courtyard) -- plus one novel, Le Relais d'Alsace (The Man from Everywhere), in which the inspector does not appear. And he continued his frenetic lifestyle, dividing his time between the Ostrogoth and the Chateau de la Michaudiere in Guigneville-sur-Essonne. It was his usual pace.
Bresler takes up the story (in The Mystery of Georges Simenon by Fenton Bresler, Stein and Day, New York, 1985):
In December 1931, within ten months of the launching of the first two Maigret books, Simenon sold the Ostrogoth ... and rented a sumptuous villa called "Roches Grises" at Cap d'Antibes. There were not more than about a dozen villas built there at the time and in winter the place was almost deserted. [Isn't this curiously reminiscent of the plots of land sold by Dr Michoux in Le Chien jaune? RC] The only other inhabitant was the old Aga Khan who would wave at the soon-to-be-millionaire author as the two of them took their regular morning walks beneath the pine trees.
In the three months that Simenon was at "Roches Grises", he wrote three Maigret novels and worked on the scenarios of two Maigret films: La Nuit du Carrefour with Jean Renoir and Le Chien jaune ("The Yellow Dog") with Jean Tarride.
The fate of the two films proved somewhat amusing. La (sic) Chien Jaune was a considerable commercial success but an artistic disaster, with the director's father, Abel Tarride, a veteran of the stage, completely miscast as Maigret and giving a far too-overripe performance as the essentially humanistic and unflurried detective. In contrast, La Nuit du Carrefour sank without trace at the box-office but has now become a cult Jean Renoir film and is shown to intellectually smart cinema clubs throughout the world. As brilliant a director as Jean-Luc Godard has called it "the only great French detective film ever made."
Assouline, however, asserts:
Le Chien jaune and La Nuit du carrefour were commercial failures. For that Simenon blamed the producers, but he was also unhappy with the entire profession, including adapters, screenwriters, and directors (except his friends, of course). He was especially irate about the critics' claim to define the canons of the detective film. He had written his Maigrets by violating imperatives of exactly this kind, and he now railed against the conventions:
“There are rules, it seems, rules of the genre, which some seek to transgress and others obstinately defend…. To begin with, there is no such thing as a detective novel, nor a detective film. And there is no rule of the genre, and no formula either…. There are good and bad films. … The audience doesn’t give a f--- about rules. And they’re right! All the audience wants is a film that holds their interest all the way through, and they don’t care how their interest is held…. If Le Chien jaune and La Nuit du carrefour are failures, the fault lies not with the people who made them but with the people who paid for them. Or rather, it lies with the rules and with the idiots who issued them”.
In 1933 Simenon was sued for libelling a widow Mercier, a hotelkeeper, in one of his African novels, Le Coup de lune. The case was dismissed, although there was evidently some guilt on Simenon's side, but, as Assouline says:
... he learned his lesson. He would be more careful next time. Two years later, a dumbfounded Simenon was to witness the same phenomenon in reverse: the owner of the hotel in Concarneau that had served as his model in Le Chien jaune (1931) renamed his establishment the "Hotel de l'Amiral", the better to capitalise on the tie-in with the novel and the film it had inspired.
There is a slight irony here, for, as Assouline writes:
After the publication of Le Chien jaune (1931), he expected problems with the inhabitants of Concarneau, where the mysterious deaths of the participants in a regular card game took place. The mayor, in fact, made no secret of his displeasure.
Marnham makes an interesting connection between Simenon’s experiences during the German occupation of Liege and his novels:
Perhaps the most enduring mark left on Simenon by the occupation of Liege was an ambivalence towards conventional ideas of right and wrong. This became one of the major themes of the Maigret books; it might almost be called the “message” of the Maigret saga. On the whole Commissaire Maigret finds criminality easy to understand and adopts a frankly sympathetic attitude towards many of his clients. His first question is not “Who committed this crime?” but “Why was it committed?”, and in order to answer, he has to understand the person who committed it. The criminals, in Maigret’s world, are often less guilty than their victims. This is true from the earliest of the Maigrets. In Le Chien jaune (A Face for a Clue), the sixth Maigret to be written but the fourth to be published, a group of local notables are terrorised by a shadowy enemy who turns out to be a poor man they have all wronged.
Later Marnham writes of Simenon leaving Lakeside to return to Europe:
The flight to America had failed, just as it had failed for Leon, the fugitive vagabond in one of the first “Maigrets”, Le Chien jaune. Simenon, still pursued, was changing his ground again.
Maigret of the Month: Le chien jaune - 9
1/26/04 In the words of Simenon's biographers - 2
Stanley G. Eskin's Simenon: A Critical Biography (1987, McFarland and Company, Inc., Jefferson, NC) is very interesting on the genesis of Maigret and on the development of the detective story from the 19th century onwards.
Le Chien jaune, probably the fifth or sixth written in the series, is an excellent example of early Maigret.... Unlike Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien, the foreground action has considerably more interest than the background action. Maigret's investigation in the little Breton port of Concarneau, terrorized by an unknown criminal, is a masterpiece of ambiance (sic), suspense and sharp character description; the explanation behind it all is implausible and grotesquely involuted.
Simenon leads into the atmosphere and the foreground story with a terse style, verging sometimes on the telegraphic. "Friday 7 November. Concarneau is deserted." "In front of him, in the basin, a coastal vessel which has taken shelter that afternoon. No one on deck." "Leaning by the cashier, a waitress. At a marble table, two men finish their cigars, sitting back, legs stretched out." A sort of stage-direction style. Frequent predicateless sentences, no less effective on that account. The novel is rich in early examples of Simenon's atmosphere building, sometimes too specifically labelled as "atmosphere": "There was in the cafe's atmosphere something gray, dull, that you couldn't put your finger on." [All translations are Eskin's own; they are technically and grammatically accurate, except for "Leaning by the cashier": I prefer Linda Asher's reading, "Leaning on the till", RC]
By and large, though, Simenon builds up a vivid sense of the quality of the town, the mood and sensibility of its denizens. A sense of rural sexual sordidness is pervasive, as well as small-town xenophobia and petty viciousness as when townspeople throw stones at the hapless wounded dog of the title, while, in contrast, Maigret gently pats it. Individual corruption, as well as the town's disagreeable collective personality, are effectively echoed by the physical setting:
Maigret looked through the window panes. It was no longer raining, but the streets were full of black mud and the wind was still howling violently. The sky was livid gray.
In contrast with the bad weather almost intruding on it are bursts of good weather and of concurrent good humor, centering on Maigret but somehow spreading through the whole town:
Maigret was in such a good mood that following morning that Inspector Leroy dared to follow him and chat ... The sky seemed as if freshly laundered ... The horizon seemed vaster, as if the celestial dome had been more deeply scooped out. The sea sparkled, punctuated by little sails that looked like the flags in a military map.
If bad weather is an emblem of human turpitude and misery, good weather is a way, not so much of counter-balancing it, as of getting a perspective on it. a way of wriggling momentarily into a Maigret-like serenity that embraces suffering and cruelty because it cannot neutralize them. Figures of speech are infrequent, as usual in Simenon's style. When they occur, they are either perfunctory, or else quite striking, as this one, describing Maigret and an associate [why not "Inspector Leroy"? RC] observing from a rooftop the encounter between two young lovers [Emma and Leon RC] in a room some distance away:
It was imprecise, as blurry as a film projected when the houselights have been lit. And something else was missing: noises, voices ... Again like a film: a film without the music.
One of the skills that Simenon developed as he escalated from a commercial to a more literary mode was to manipulate time, to move fluidly from present to past, to more distant past, and sometimes to future. In the early Maigrets, this is mostly a matter of flashbacks, usually towards the end, providing the explanatory background action. In Le Chien jaune, he experiments with some subtleties. In the course of the opening foreground narrative, another level of foreground is anticipated in dramatic juxtaposition:
"It was only at that moment that I had the feeling that something had happened," the customs office (sic) would testify during the inquest.
As for Maigret himself, he is filling out his "first-series" personality. He still has his early brusque manner. "F---ez-moi la paix!" we find him shouting, using aggressive vulgarisms that he abandons later, and he has a rude way of staring at people without answering their questions. His gruff heaviness is used deftly to dramatize his sympathy for the victimized young waitress, Emma: "... He took her shoulders into his big paws and looked into her eyes at once gruffly and warmly." He still has his velvet-lapelled overcoat and his bowler hat, which he brushes on his sleeve. We find that he's already well-known, as he remains throughout his career: people constantly recognize him. The famous Maigret method is both demonstrated and expounded. Simenon as author establishes the atmosphere which Maigret as detective immerses himself in, both drawing on their skills in their respective crafts. The do-nothing aspect of the Maigret method just sit back, observe, let it soak in is laconically expressed:
"What do you intend to do?"
As for the detective-story tradition, Le Chien jaune builds up an impressive collection of suspects and brings them together for the denouement in the best golden-age manner. There is a hint of the American hard-boiled school in the background action, which has to do with how Emma's young lover, Leon, was seduced and betrayed by a corrupt group of local gentry in a murky bootleg-liquor (actually cocaine RC) operation across the Atlantic. And there is a touch also of the detective tradition's Gothic background in Leon's hideout in an ancient, abandoned coastal fortification, with a hidden staircase under the walls (echoes of Arsene Lupin's "Aiguille creuse").
The quotes are all from pp87-95.
"Nothing at all."
"I conclude from that ..."
"Yes, of course ... Only, for my part, I never conclude anything."
Apart from the last point, where I would dispute that there is a hidden staircase:
Maigret s'engagea dans un etroit escalier de pierre creuse a meme l'epaisseur du mur...
Eskin makes several points that are worth expanding on.
Maigret started up the narrow stone stairway cut right into the wall...(Asher)
For a start, what he terms "a sort of stage-direction style" owes more I think to the mise-en-scene of the screenplay. Since Simenon was engaged soon after this on screenplays for both Le Chien jaune and La Nuit du carrefour, I don't think it's fanciful to believe that he would have a working knowledge of the techniques of writing for the screen when he wrote this novel. The first scene of Le Chien jaune, written, as I noted earlier, in the present tense, would function perfectly well as the first scene of a film, with very few changes. The reference above to the scene between Emma and Leon unfolding in front of Maigret and Leroy makes specific reference to silent films and has the same melodramatic quality. The use of flashback, which is crucial to the back-story of Leon, is, I think, essentially filmic. A study of what I would call Simenon's "cinematic style" would probably be interesting. If nothing else, it might explain why so many of his works have been adapted for film and television. Eskin's reference to Maigret's "first-series" personality relates of course to television.
The descriptions of weather are of course one of the great pleasures of the Maigret novels. Simenon does to some extent utilise the pathetic fallacy to mirror Maigret's changing moods, but again I think the descriptions belong more to Simenon's essentially visual, or rather, sensory imagination. We are made to share Maigret's joy in the first day of Spring, or his exhaustion in the heat of a Paris summer, or even the rain that seeps through his overcoat.
Eskin refers to bad weather as "an emblem of human turpitude and misery", but this is specifically linked to the villains in Le Chien jaune. Mostaguen falls into the mud when he is shot. Michoux's housing development looks "sinister" in "the rain and the mud". But in Chapter 9, the weather turns fine, and Maigret is in good spirits because he is on his way to solving the mystery.
Finally, Eskin's allusion to the detective story tradition of bringing all the suspects together for the unmasking of the true villain is insightful, but it ignores the way in which Simenon subverts the tradition. In the classic country house detective story, the detective (Poirot perhaps) would assemble everyone in the library (later Rex Stout would bring them into the brownstone on 35th Street), but where does Simenon bring his cast of suspects? To a prison cell! I think this is meant to suggest that not only Michoux but all his associates his mother, the journalist Servieres, aka Goyard, the mayor all share the guilt. It is surely significant that Maigret leaves the cell with the only true innocents, Emma and Leon and enables them to lead a different, happier life elsewhere.