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Maigret of the Month: Liberty-Bar (Liberty Bar / Maigret on the Riviera)

5/01/05 –

In the spring of 1932, Simenon moved into "La Richardière", a residence first mentioned in the seventeenth century, in the countryside at Marsilly (Charente-Inférieure — now Charente-Maritime), but not far from the sea, some seven kilometres north of La Rochelle. Renting this establishment, he installed running water, electricity and furnishings suitable for himself, his wife Tigy, and their maid and cook, Boule. This became his base for nearly the next three years and it was here that he wrote a dozen novels.
In April 1932 the first novel that he wrote at "La Richardière" was Liberty-Bar.
This Maigret novel is set along the French Riviera, in Antibes, Cap d’Antibes, Juan-les-Pins and Cannes (all in the département of Alpes-Maritimes). Simenon had stayed in the villa des Roches Grises in Cap d’Antibes from November 1931 until February 1932 and so came to know this area well.

Map of Antibes. Guide Michelin, France, 1934. Maigret travels to this town by train where he is met by a local police Inspector and conveyed from the station (la Gare) to the Place Macé (numbered 1 on the map — this square is now the Place Général de Gaulle). (click to enlarge)

The novel opens with Maigret arriving by train at Antibes station. Little is stated as to the reason for his journey to this part of the French coast except that a certain William Brown has been murdered and Maigret is instructed to handle the investigation with caution. During the First World War William Brown had worked for the Deuxième Bureau — the French Intelligence Service — so Maigret’s superiors were probably concerned with possible political and diplomatic repercussions.
On arrival Maigret is met by a local police Inspector, but Maigret has a feeling of unreality among the people enjoying the bright sunlight, the blue sea and the air of being on holiday, coupled with the luxury of wealth, the villas and the yachts.
On this occasion, although outside his jurisdiction within the city of Paris, Maigret has been sent to the French Riviera on the instruction of his superiors and so is able to use his police authority.

Map indicating the proximity of Antibes, Juan-les-Pins and Cap d’Antibes. Michelin, France, 1962. From November 1931 until February 1932 Simenon was staying in a rented villa along the Boulevard James-Wyllie, (numbered 13 on the map) in Cap d’Antibes. (click to enlarge)

Booking into a modest hotel in Antibes and with the instruction "to proceed with caution" constantly in the forefront of his mind, he begins to probe into the life of William Brown. Although officially having the assistance of the local police, Maigret, for most of the time prefers to wander from place to place sensing the atmosphere and attempting to understand how William Brown’s mind worked.
Gradually he discovers that the dead man lived in a world of contrasts. He started out working in the family business in the wool trade in Australia, only later to travel by himself to the French Riviera in order to live the high life among the wealthy. But for the past decade he had lived with his mistress and her mother in a somewhat rundown villa in Cap d’Antibes supported by a monthly allowance from his Australian family.
Maigret learns that during this time William Brown had a routine, driving himself the eleven kilometres westward along the coast to Cannes for a few days each month. Travelling by the local bus, Maigret goes to Cannes, steadfastly visiting bar after bar searching for the one that William Brown had frequented. Eventually he comes across a very small bar, the Liberty-Bar of the novel’s title, in a back street. This bar is yet another world involving a handful of characters and one that William Brown must have considered to be his bolt-hole.
Later Maigret meets Harry, one of William Brown’s three sons who is staying at the most luxurious hotel in Juan-les-Pins, Le Provençal, running the family wool business, but unlike his father, Harry Brown is a model of business efficiency.
But in spite of discovering much of William Brown’s lifestyle and activities, Maigret is disgruntled, feeling that his investigation is in a muddle on account of the way he has handled matters. Doggedly he forges ahead, until certain events happen that clarifies the situation in his mind to enable him finally to resolve the investigation in his own way.

Map of Cannes. Guide Michelin, France, 1934. Cannes is eleven kilometres westward along the coast from Antibes. The Boulevard de la Croisette, which runs along the seafront, is numbered 28. The Casino Municipal is marked with the letter B and just to the west of it is the harbour where the yachts are moored. (click to enlarge)

To date there is only one translation of this novel, that by Geoffrey Sainsbury, and as usual with this translator his English text is wayward in some passages in comparison with Simenon’s French text.

This is Georges Simenon’s seventeenth Maigret novel. This "run" of Maigret novels is only broken by two others, Le Passager du "Polarlys" (The Mystery of the Polarlys), written in the summer of 1930, and Le Relais d’Alsace (The Man from Everywhere), written in July 1931.

Having spent nearly six years writing many pulp novels and a host of short stories under pseudonyms, sometime at the beginning of 1930 he felt that he was ready to write the more "literary" type of novel under his own name, but he was cautious. He was wary of making too much of a sudden change, so he developed the genre that he knew from his research would prove acceptable to the reading public. Some of his pulp fiction involved detectives, so he drew on certain characters that appear in a few of these earlier novels, hence Maigret, and now with him as colleagues, part of his team, Lucas and Torrence, and from time to time Coméliau, an Examining Magistrate, all based in Paris.
After writing Liberty-Bar, it is obvious that Simenon now felt ready to embark on other novels, which some commentators have described as "the novels of destiny" or "the psychological novels", as of the next nine novels he produces, only two involve Maigret.

[On the maps, C is the Caserne (Barracks), G the Gendarmerie (Police Station), H the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), J the Palais de Justice, M the Musée (Museum), S.I. the Syndicat d’Initiative (Tourist Office) and T the Théâtre.]

Peter Foord, UK

Maigret of the Month: Liberty-Bar (Liberty Bar / Maigret on the Riviera) - 2

5/03/05 –

Liberty Bar was adapted as a play for the theater in 1955.
At you will find the text from Simenon about the play.
At there is an interesting study about the adaptation of the book. There are many citation from Assouline biography.
The play seems to have been published in les Œuvres Libres N°114, novembre 1955 Ed. Arthème FAYARD and in October 1955 in the revue Paris Théâtre, 9e année, n° 101.

Bellow you will find some details on the play.

Liberty Bar (France), comédie policière en trois actes.
Adaptation : Frédéric Valmain.
Mise en scène : Jean Dejoux.
Avec : Jean Morel (Maigret), Rellys, Frédéric Valmain, Karl Klingström, Paul Forget, Catherine Anys, Mary Grant.
Création : Paris, Théâtre Charles-de-Rochefort, le 17 octobre 1955.

Liberty Bar a paru en octobre 1955 dans la revue « Paris Théâtre », 9e année, n° 101.

Le texte de Frédéric Valmain est accompagné de photos de la pièce et précédé d'un avant-propos — intitulé Maigret vient au théâtre — de Georges Simenon.


Maigret of the Month: Liberty-Bar (Liberty Bar / Maigret on the Riviera) - 3

5/04/05 – From the "fascicule" accompanying No.1 of Maigret: Les Meilleures Enquêtes en DVD:

En 1960, La RTF produit Liberty-Bar, un téléfilm tiré d'un roman datant de 1932 et realisé par Jean-Marie Coldefy. Il s'agit d'une dramatique, selon l'expression consacrée. Louis Arbessier y joue Maigret, au sein d'un casting très féminin ou on relève les noms de l'excellente Margo Lion (la Jenny de L'Opéra de quat'sous de Georg W. Pabst), de Mathilde Casadesus, de Lysiane Rey ou encore de Marie-Blanche Vergne.
I bought the first two editions in this series and they include some interesting information. Haven't watched the DVDs yet, which star Jean Richard.

Maigret of the Month: Liberty-Bar (Liberty Bar / Maigret on the Riviera) - 4
5/22/05 –
"Liberty Bar" has always been my favourite Maigret, so when we went to the Riviera this month, we planned to go also to Antibes and Cannes to visit "les lieux du crime". I marked them on your map of the Cap d’Antibes of your site.

On the Cap d'Antibes there are two sure, and still existing reference points: the Hôtel Bacon, where Maigret stayed (nr.1 on the map) – Il y avait un hotel genre pension de famille, à mi – chemin du Cap et de la ville – Il rentra à son hotel, l'Hôtel Bacon – , which is now a one-star restaurant in the Guide Michelin, and where the speciality is still bouillabaisse! – La patronne de l'Hôtel Bacon etait entréé dans la pièce, souriante, mielleuse. "Est-ce que la bouillabaisse vous a plu?... Je l'ai faite exprès pour vous, étant donné que...

"Les Roches Grises", where Simenon stayed in 1931-32.

Then there is the hotel Provençal (nr. 3 on the map), in Juan-les-Pins, where Harry Brown, the son of William stayed, when he came to Antibes. It is a huge pile of an Art Deco building, now completely decayed, but renovation is soon to start to make it into a complex of luxury apartments.

The "Provençal" in Juan-les-Pins.

I was really excited when I thought I found Brown's villa (nr. 2 on the map). The location corresponds exactly to the description in the book – at 500 meters from the Hôtel Bacon, after the sharp curve in the road of Pointe Bacon, where Gina Martini crashed with Brown's car, and on the sea-side of the road, because through the hall there was a view on the sea – ...un hall dont les baies s'ouvraient sur la mer –. It is a small, white villa, called "Ashore" (no house number), with a garage on the right side, une grille before the house, reinforced now with a metal fence (so that taking a good picture of the house is impossible!), une lampe électrique s'allumant au-dessus de la porte. But – alas – on looking at the pictures I took, I think this villa cannot possibly be dating from the 20's, it is more of the style of the late 1930's. Maybe it is built on the site of an older villa.

The villa "Ashore", I thought was the villa of Brown.

The same villa, showing the backside and the location by the sea.

As for the Liberty Bar itself: it should have been in the old quarters of Cannes, in one of the back streets parallel with the port. These one-time slums have very much changed since 1932: the whole neighbourhood has been upgraded and is now very touristy, with many little restaurants and boutiques. So I was not able to even remotely identify the bar.

John Hendriks


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