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Maigret of the Month: Maigret à New-York (Maigret in New York’s Underworld / Maigret in New York)
3/01/06 –

In Paris in August 1945, Simenon obtained the necessary papers to travel to Canada and the United States. With his wife Tigy and their six-year-old son Marc, the first stage was to travel to London where they stayed at the Savoy hotel in the Strand waiting for more documents that would allow them to travel from the port of Southampton to New York. Boule stayed in Paris at the apartment in the Place des Vosges and did not join them in the United States until September 1947.

They arrived in New York in early October 1945 and were met by Justin O’Brien a friend and former colonel in the United States army who was to about to take up his post as the Chair of French Literature at Harvard and at Columbia University. The Simenons booked in to the Drake hotel on Park Avenue (Built in 1925, this hotel is now the Swissotel New York, the Drake, 440 Park Avenue, New York, near East 56th Street).

The need to have a French-speaking friend like Justin O’Brien was necessary for Simenon as his English then was rudimentary. He spent part of his time visiting his American publisher at Doubleday and being interviewed by journalists, although the Simenons did see parts of New York guided by Justin O’Brien who had a home in Greenwich Village.

Deciding to settle somewhere in order to become acclimatised to his new life, return to writing and to learn more English, Simenon chose to travel by train to Montréal in Canada. He selected a location just over fifty miles north of Montréal, the village of Sainte-Marguerite near Lake Masson in the Province of Quebec where he rented a house with an adjacent log cabin, this latter building acting as his office. By early November 1945, in this French speaking area, Simenon was able to settle after several hectic weeks. He hired a governess for his son Marc and decided that he needed a French-speaking secretary. He met and appointed Denyse Ouimet, a Canadian who was bilingual, who not only became his secretary, but his mistress and, in 1950, his second wife.

After a break of five months, Simenon settled down to writing fiction once more and perhaps it was not surprising that he set his next two novels in New York.

The first novel that he wrote in Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson was Trois Chambres à Manhattan (Three Beds in Manhattan), clearly based on his meeting with Denyse Ouimet. This novel is dated the 26th January 1946.

Perhaps it is also not surprising that he followed this novel by introducing Maigret to New York in Maigret à New-York (Maigret in New York’s Underworld / Maigret in New York) which he completed on the 7th of March 1946.

Once more Maigret is enjoying his retirement at Meung-sur-Loire (Loiret) when he is visited by nineteen-year-old Jean Maura accompanied by his lawyer Monsieur d’Hoquélus, requesting his help. Jean Maura states that his father John Maura, a rich man, is in trouble, even in danger, the nature of which is obscure.

Maigret finds himself accompanying the young Jean Maura to New York.

Maigret’s arrival by ship parallels Simenon’s own experience of disembarking at New York. Both with a limited knowledge of English, they find help from certain individuals who are bilingual. Is it by chance that two of the latter have the same surname of O’Brien? In Simenon’s case it is Justin O’Brien, a professor of French and in Maigret’s case it is Michael O’Brien, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both Simenon and Maigret are booked into hotels fairly near to each other in Midtown Manhattan — Simenon at the Drake (440 Park Avenue and East 56th Street) with Maigret at the St. Regis (East 49th Street and 5th Avenue). It is most likely that Simenon, through Maigret’s eyes, is describing the interior of the Drake hotel, although giving it another name — the St. Regis — with a slightly different location.

Part of a general map of New York City from Manhattan to the Bronx. This is the main location of the novel. On two occasions Maigret travelled from Manhattan to the South Bronx. (Road Atlas USA, Collins / Rand McNally, 1990).

[There is a St. Regis hotel, then and now, at 2 East 55th Street and 5th Avenue, built in 1904, and it is most likely that Simenon knew of its existence. As in his Maigret novel Maigret and the Hotel Majestic (Les Caves du Majestic), written in December 1939, he substituted the name of an existing hotel in Paris].

But Maigret at the point of disembarkation in New York is faced with a problem as the young Jean Maura, who persuaded him to make the journey, has disappeared. When Maigret meets the father, John Maura, a shadowy figure (and only sketched in by the author) at the same hotel, the atmosphere is far from conducive. This situation is similar to the last occasion when initially Maigret’s help was sought (Maigret se fâche / Maigret in Retirement) and his presence was met with a cool reception, making him wonder what he was doing away from home.

Disgruntled, Maigret, with O’Brien as his main companion, wonders as to what his next move might be (Did the author know at this juncture?).

Part of a map of Midtown Manhattan. This is the location of Simenon’s hotel (The Drake, 440 Park Avenue and East 56th Street), Maigret’s first hotel in the novel (The St. Regis, East 49th Street and 5th Avenue) and the existing St. Regis hotel (2 East 55th Street and 5th Avenue). (The AA Key Guide New York, 2004).

But Maigret’s mood changes when he moves to another hotel off Broadway in a much livelier location that reminds him of certain parts of Paris. Through O’Brien’s help, he acquires the services of a rather eccentric private detective, which leads him to make visits to a certain location in the Bronx, as well as meeting and talking to a couple of “characters” in Greenwich Village. As a result of the information now gleaned, Maigret is able to arrive at a conclusion.

Part of a map of the New York Subway — a section of the South Bronx. Maigret travelled twice to the intersection of Findlay Avenue and East 169th Street (marked with an arrow), the second time by the Subway. (Website: Straphangers NYC Subway Map, 2004).

The English translation by Adrienne Foulke, which follows the author’s text closely, was first published as a hardback in the United States in 1955 by Doubleday under the title Maigret in New York’s Underworld. It wasn’t until 1979 that Hamish Hamilton published the same translation in hardback in Great Britain as Maigret in New York.

Peter Foord

Maigret of the Month: Maigret à New-York (Maigret in New York’s Underworld / Maigret in New York)
3/07/06 – This is not one of my favorite M's. Perhaps it reflects Simenon's turmoil in moving to a different continent or something, but I don't much care for it. M himself was rather out of character at a number of points in the story. Also, at the end, why did M ask for John Maura to send him a phonograph from the USA? An American phonograph cound not be plugged into a French wall socket and even if you did get an adapter to use it, the French 220 volt current would have ruined it before the first record played on it came to an end. Was this supposed to be a photograph rather than a phonograph? A photo would have made a much better souveneir, I think.


Maigret of the Month: Maigret à New-York (Maigret in New York’s Underworld / Maigret in New York)
3/08/06 – Joe is right; a phonograph is not a good memento of Maigret's trip to New York. The 220V vs. 110V problem can be easily rectified by using a 220V/110V transformer, but it still leaves a phonograph that was designed for American 60 cycle alternate current (AC) to run on European 50 cycle AC. The phonograph motor will run slow and the sound will be distorted. I understand that there are ways to convert from 60 to 50 cycles but is not as easy as buying a transformer. When I was living in Spain and tried to use my American turn table I couldn't get over the 60 to 50 cycle problem and ended up buying a European turn table. I confess that at the time I read Maigret in New York I didn't pick on that; good eyes, Joe. If Maigret had brought an American electric clock to France it would have lost 10 minutes every hour!


Maigret of the Month: Maigret à New-York (Maigret in New York’s Underworld / Maigret in New York)
3/08/06 – In answer to Joe’s question (3/07/06), I looked at the end of the French First Edition of this Maigret novel.

Madame Maigret says:

'Tu aurais pu tout au moins me rapporter quelque chose pour moi, un souvenir, je ne sais pas…'
A cause de quoi, il se permit de câbler à Little John:
Prière envoyer appareil à disques.
Ce fut tout ce qu'il conserva, avec quelques pièces de bronze et quelques nickels, de son voyage à New-York.
You could at least have brought something for me, a souvenir, I don’t know...'
As a result of which, he permitted himself to cable Little John:
Please send phonograph.
It was all he kept, together with a few pennies and a few nickels, from his trip to New York.

Most likely Maigret was requesting a wind-up gramophone that would play 78 rpm shellac records. This was still the era of that type of home entertainment, and the 78-shellac record was still being sold to the general public in 1956. The transition to the vinyl long playing record began when The Columbia Company of America issued its first 33 rpm LP in July 1948, followed by RCA Victor bringing out the 45 rpm 7 inch record in February 1949
As Simenon completed Maigret à New-York on the 7th of March 1946, the idea of Maigret requesting the then type of gramophone is feasible as far as the dates are concerned.
As a twelve year old, I remember sorting out a cupboard at home, only to come across a wind-up gramophone with a small case holding a few eight-inch shellac records. Apparently this gramophone had been a present to my parents many years before from an uncle and aunt I was intrigued to find out if it was still in working order. It was. There was the handle at the side that was used to wind up the mechanism of the turntable, and the heavy arm, at the end of which was the circular sound box. But what was amazing was the steel needle that screwed into the underside of the soundbox, and then when the turntable was operational this needle was lowered onto the groove. Although quite heavy to carry around, and with the 78 records only with a longest playing time of just less than five minutes, it could be played anywhere as no power source was needed.

Peter Foord


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