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Maigret of the Month: Le Port des Brumes (Death of a Harbourmaster)

3/01/05 –
Most of this Maigret novel is located in and around Ouistreham (département of Calvados) in Normandy, with a visit, later, to the town of Caen fifteen kilometres to the south west.
Simenon was in Ouistreham during the latter part of August, then for September and October 1931 during the final part of his two and a half year journey on board his boat the "Ostrogoth". Early in November of the same year he took it to Caen where he sold it.
During his stay in Ouistreham he wrote two Maigret novels, At the Gai-Moulin (La Danseuse du Gai-Moulin) and The Guinguette by the Seine (La Guinguette à deux sous), but Le Port des Brumes was written three months later in February 1932, the last of four more Maigret novels, whilst he was living in his rented villa "Les Roches Grises" at Cap-d'Antibes (Alpes-Maritimes) on the French Riviera.
His reminiscence of his stay in Ouistreham is evoked near the beginning of Chapter IV of the novel (Le Port de Brumes, Paris, Arthème Fayard & Cie., Éditeurs, Mai 1932, page 68):


'Ouistreham, c'était un village quelconque, au bout d'un morceau de route plantée de petits arbres. Ce qui comptait seulement, c'était le port: un écluse, un phare, la maison de Joris, la Buvette de la Marine.
Et le rythme de ce port, les deux marées quotidiennes, les pêcheurs passant avec leurs paniers, la poignée d'hommes ne s'occupant que du va-et-vient des bateaux....'
Ouistreham was a very ordinary village, at the end of a bit of road lined with small trees. The only thing that counted was the harbour: a lock, a lighthouse, Joris's house, the Buvette de la Marine .
And the rhythm of this harbour, the two daily tides, the fishermen going past with their baskets, the handful of men only occupying themselves with the comings and goings of the boats... (translation by Peter Foord).

A recent map showing Ouistreham (Calvados) in Normandy in relation to Caen, with the canal running parallel to the river Orne. (303, Calvados, Manche, Michelin et Cie., Mai 2004). (click to enlarge)

And as a 1920s guidebook put it... 'An old seaport at the mouth of the canal.'
This canal, the construction of which was completed in 1850, made it possible for ships to reach Caen, where it ends. It runs parallel to the river Orne that frequently silts, especially as it nears the coast.
When a middle-aged man, possibly suffering from amnesia, is found wandering about central Paris, the police take charge of him and Maigret becomes involved. The unknown man is finally identified, with the result that Maigret officially accompanies him back to his home in Ouistreham. Within a short time of arriving, Maigret is plunged into the atmosphere of the canal and in wandering about almost loses himself in the fog that envelops the whole area, which gives the novel its French title.
Gradually finding his way around, Maigret becomes only too aware that the people with whom he has to deal constitutes a marine community very much closed in on itself with a well established strata from ship owner and mayor to deck hand. Unable to cover all aspects of his enquiries, Maigret sends for his colleague Sergeant Lucas who together endeavour to unravel and understand the complex relationships within the community, made all the more difficult by a wall of silence that seems to be in place. The web of intrigue seems to involve the same few people that finally Maigret discerns emanates from a long-standing family feud.
Writing this novel in early 1932, Simenon describes the area around Ouistreham, the canal with its functions, and the beach, as it must have been, probably with little change, since the canal was constructed. But scarcely thirteen years after Simenon stayed there, the events of the Second World War were to change the area. The huge stretch of coast from Ouistreham (Calvados) westwards to Les Dunes de Varreville (Manche) on the Cotentin Peninsula was the location chosen for the D-Day landings made by the Allied Forces on the 6th of June 1944. Many maps since indicate the wartime code names given to the Beaches — Sword (Ouistreham), Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah.


A recent and more detailed map showing the canal from the English Channel adjacent to Ouistreham and beyond towards Caen. Also to be seen is the lock with its bridges, lighthouse, and the harbour, which are similar to those that Simenon describes in the novel. (1612 OT, Caen, Ouistreham, Institut Geographique National, 2000). (click to enlarge)

Translation
To date there is only one English translation, that by Stuart Gilbert. As with some of the earliest translations of Simenon's work, it is much freer in comparison to the author's original French text. Some of the English expressions and phrases used are somewhat quaint and dated.

Peter Foord, UK

Maigret of the Month: Le Port des Brumes (Death of a Harbourmaster) - 2

3/17/05 –

Present Tense

I'm really enjoying Le Port des Brumes. I noticed that about halfway through the first chapter in the French version, Simenon switches to present tense. I seem to remember from my schooldays that this is not uncommon in French literature, but I can't say I've noticed it before in Simenon, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't occur in the earlier Maigrets. Any scholars out there who can add to this?

Roddy

Maigret of the Month: Le Port des Brumes (Death of a Harbourmaster) - 3

3/22/05 –
At end of the third chapter, the last sentences bring a feeling of fear, uncertainty, like in "Maigret et le chien jaune". In chapter nine, there is a sentence that shows the way Maigret feels toward the victim "Mort, il n'a qu'un seul ami... C'est moi...." [Now that he's dead, he has just one friend... me.] He calls himself a friend of the victim. He behaves like he had known Joris for a long time; he tries to understand him , guesses how he behaved.
In the small house, when Maigret finds the wife of the Mayor, Simenon writes "Or, soudains on eut froid." [Suddenly, everyone felt cold.] With only a small sentence, he manages to bring a real feeling to what is happening in the room. There is always an economy in the number of words that make his sentences very efficient: tell a lot with few words.

Regards,
Jerome

Maigret of the Month: Le Port des Brumes (Death of a Harbourmaster) - 4

3/29/05 – Back on May 6, 2002 (and May 10, 2002) there was a discussion in this Forum about the typo of Nantes for Mantes in the opening paragraph of Stuart Gilbert's English translation.

The discussion was picked up by Le Courier de Mantes a few months later, and reported here. Here's a reprint:

Maigret dans le train de Mantes :
grand débat sur trussel.com

Claude Cécile
Le Courrier de Mantes
Publié le 24 juillet 2002

C'est un débat certes microscopique, mais il a agité récemment quelques fervents de Georges Simenon, dans un forum anglophone dédié au commissaire Maigret. En voici résumé l'enjeu : dans Le Port des brumes (1932), le train du commissaire Maigret passe-t-il par Nantes ou par Mantes ?

Dans le texte original de Simenon, on lit : "Quand on avait quitté Paris, vers trois heures, la foule s'agitait encore dans un frileux soleil d'arrière-saison. Puis, vers Mantes, les lampes du compartiment s'étaient allumées. Dès Evreux, tout était noir dehors".

Mais une internaute, Patricia Clark, a lu la traduction de Stuart Gilbert : "When the Cherbourg train left Paris, just before three, the cool, clear sunlight of an October afternoon still bathed the busy streets. Thirty miles later, when it was nearing Nantes, the lights had been turned on in the compartments. Half an hour later, when the train reached Evreux, it was quite dark".

Elle écrit : "Paris-Evreux via Nantes, ce serait assez pervers, ça n'a aucun sens. S'agit-il d'une erreur d'impression ? L'erreur vient-elle de Simenon ou bien du traducteur ?"

Le modérateur du forum, Steve Trussel, se reporte au texte français, et suggère que l'erreur a été commise par un correcteur trop zélé, ignorant en géographie.

Richard Thomas signale que l'erreur a été reproduite dans une édition anglaise de 1944, après l'originale de 1941, et John H. Dirckx confirme que dans l'édition Harcourt de New York (1942), c'était aussi Nantes à la place de Mantes.

Steve Trussel : se peut-il que Stuart Gilbert ait été aussi nul en géographie ?

Un nouvel examen de sa traduction dédouane Stuart Gilbert quelques jours plus tard. Traducteur pas toujours scrupuleux, Gilbert a pris quelque liberté avec le texte de Simenon, et il a ajouté cette précision kilométrique : "Thirty miles later...".

Trussel : "Il apparaît donc que Gilbert a fait des recherches sur les temps de trajet et les distances, il ne fait pas de doute que sa traduction originale mentionnait bien Mantes". Le coupable est à chercher ailleurs... Voilà une enquête collective rondement menée qui fera que, peut-être, la prochaine traduction anglaise du Port des brumes ne sera pas fautive.

and translation:

Maigret on the Mantes train:
big debate on trussel.com

Claude Cécile
Le Courrier de Mantes
Published July 24, 2002

It's certainly a microscopic debate, but it recently agitated some fans of Georges Simenon on an English-speaking forum dedicated to Commissioner Maigret. At issue: In Death of a Harbourmaster (1932), does Maigret's train pass through Nantes or Mantes?

In Simenon's original text, we read : "Quand on avait quitté Paris, vers trois heures, la foule s'agitait encore dans un frileux soleil d'arrière-saison. Puis, vers Mantes, les lampes du compartiment s'étaient allumées. Dès Evreux, tout était noir dehors."

But one Internaut, Patricia Clark, noticed in Stuart Gilbert's translation: "When the Cherbourg train left Paris, just before three, the cool, clear sunlight of an October afternoon still bathed the busy streets. Thirty miles later, when it was nearing Nantes, the lights had been turned on in the compartments. Half an hour later, when the train reached Evreux, it was quite dark."

She writes: "Paris-Evreux via Nantes would be perverse, it doesn't make any sense. Is it a typo? Does the mistake come from Simenon or the translator?"

The moderator of the forum, Steve Trussel, refers to the French text, and suggests that the mistake may have been committed by an overzealous proofreader, weak in geography.

Richard Thomas reports that the mistake had appeared in an English edition of 1944, after the original of 1941, and John H. Dirckx confirms that in the Harcourt edition (New York, 1942), it was written as Nantes instead Mantes.

Steve Trussel: Can it be that Stuart Gilbert himself was hopeless in geography?

A further examination of Stuart Gilbert's translation some days later showed him to be not always scrupulous, for Gilbert took some liberty with Simenon's text, even to adding precisely: "Thirty miles later... ."

Trussel: "So since Gilbert investigated the times and distances, his original translation must have been Mantes." The guilty party must be sought elsewhere... It was a concise collective investigation that will perhaps make the next English translation of Port de brumes more accurate.

ST

 

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