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Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 1

4/04/04 –

JanuaryLe chien jaune - The Yellow Dog
FebruaryM. Gallet décédé - Maigret Stonewalled
MarchLa nuit du carrefour - Maigret at the Crossroads
AprilLe charretier de la Providence - Maigret Meets a Milord
MayLa tête d'un homme - A Battle of Nerves
JuneUn crime en Hollande - Maigret in Holland

Simenon wrote : "Le dimanche - c'était le 4 avril -, la pluie ...." Today is the Day to read the Maigret of the Month : Sunday the 4th of April as in the novel. This is a Maigret of the Month that happens at the right time!

My first impression about the place is that it is similar to "La nuit du carrefour". It's remote from the town — Dizy is at two kilometers and a small vilage, Epernay is three more kilometers away. There are three places that play a role in the novel: the house of the lock keeper "la maison de l'éclusier, en pierres grises, avec son écriteau: Bureau de Déclarations", the bar : "Café de la Marine, qui était la seule autre construction de l'endroit", the boats: "La Providence" and the "Southern Cross".
In "La nuit du carrefour", the place is also remote and with the garage and the two houses there are three places. But after those similarities, the novel are different, the tragedy is not the same.
Simenon visited the site in 1931. He wrote an article entitled "une France inconnue ou l'aventure des deux berges" for a special issue of the weekly newspaper "Vu", n°172, 1st July 1931. [published in "Simenon : Mes apprentissages, reportages 1931-1946", Omnibus]. He traveled on his boat la "Ginette". Simenon described the life of the canal and of the bargees and boats to his readers, explaining the vocabulary used on the canal.
He wrote about Dizy : "Dizy, c'est un tout petit village, à deux kilomètres d'Epernay. Mais c'est surtout l'endroit où les bateaux quittent la Marne, pour pénétrer dans le canal".
He writes about the "Trois bistros-épiceries" selling products; about the rain: "Dizy un dimanche soir d'avril sous une pluie désespérante" and even "une accorte Bruxelloise, la marinière du bateau qui est juste au-dessus de nous". There are already lots of the elements that will appear in "le charretier de la Providence"

Here is a good place to look at names used by ferrymen (batelier): This is the Lexicon part of the site of Voies navigables de France. You can find definition for "trémater" and other terms used by Simenon.
At there is a clear map of the canal with Dizy...

Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 2
4/9/04 – By chance I read M meets a Milord immediately after M and the Dosser and was struck by the fact that both feature Doctors who whose lives have changed beyond all recognition – losing family, foreign travel, total loss of social status etc...
I guess that in the almost 4 decades between the two novels Simenon forgot that he had used the device – or perhaps both characters were generated from the same raw material?
Maybe some of the more expert contributors out there have some ideas on this?
It would be very interesting to do a careful analysis of all the books to identify such similarities – although with 100+ it would be a project requiring the co-operation of a number of readers. Anyone interested?
Muir Smith

Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 3

4/18/04 – Thanks first of all to Jerome for pointing out the similarities in setting between this book and Maigret at the Crossroads, which I had not noticed before.
In The Mystery of Georges Simenon, Fenton Bresler writes:

The peculiarly self-sealed existence of those who live by, and on, the water Simenon was later to recreate — especially in the nineteen-thirties — with his normal stylistic realism in such novels as La Maison du Canal and Le Charretier de la Providence ("Maigret Meets a Milord"), where the Parisian detective sits in a local cafe soaking up the atmosphere and inhaling "a distinctive odour, the nature of which was enough to mark the difference between this and a country cafe. It smelled of stables, harnesses, tar and groceries, oil and gas". (Bresler, pp 63-64)
[This quote is from Maigret Meets a Milord but not as in Robert Baldick's Penguin translation — the reference to "gas" suggests it is from an American translation.]

Bresler continues:

Simenon brought the Ostrogoth down to an anchorage at Morsang, on the River Orge near Corbeil, just south of Paris. And there, in the summer of 1930, he wrote, on the trot, three full-length novels: M. Gallet Décédé ("Maigret Stonewalled"), Le Pendu du Saint-Pholien ("Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets") and Le Charretier de la Providence ("Maigret Meets a Milord").

"At that time I worked morning and afternoon, a chapter in each," Simenon recalls. "I said to myself: 'When it comes quicker, I won't be able to work any longer except in the morning,' and the time came when I could only work in the morning." (Bresler, p74)


Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 4

4/18/04 – This Maigret novel is set completely along a certain stretch of a French canal from Épernay to Vitry-le-François (both in the Marne département). In reality this canal was constructed in 1845 to run parallel to the river Marne. This river meanders considerable, so that the canal, which runs straight for many stretches, is preferable for the barge traffic. Vitry-le-François provides a junction for two further canals, the Canal de la Marne à la Saône (the Canal from the Marne to the Saône) and the Canal de la Marne à la Rhin (the Canal from the Marne to the Rhine), forming part of the canal system that stretches not only through France, but also links Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany.
In two trips, Simenon explored much of this network of canals and rivers in his first boat, the "Ginette", in 1928 and then, between 1929 and 1931 in his larger craft the "Ostrogoth".
This Maigret novel was written at Le Four à Chaux, near Morsang-sur-Seine (Seine-et-Oise – now Essonne), during the summer of 1930 on his second boat the "Ostrogoth", but the setting and atmosphere relates to his first trip in the "Ginette" in 1928.
Simenon seemed to have been fascinated by water throughout most of his life, setting some of his novels and short stories by, or on, canals, rivers, lakes and the sea. Maybe this fascination was instilled in him during his formative years in Liège, living close to the river Meuse and when the Simenon family lived in the district of Outremeuse they were living on an island formed by the Meuse and its counterpart, the Derivation de la Meuse.
One of the strengths of the novel is how well Simenon constructs the storyline into the setting of canal life made authentic from his personal experience.
In the spring of 1928, he bought the "Ginette", a boat measuring 13 feet in length by 5 feet wide, which he then fitted with a three horsepower engine. This was to carry him, his wife Tigy, their maid and cook Boule and their dog, a great Dane named Olaf, from mid-April to the end of September of 1928, through some of the rivers and canals of France. Their itinerary started in Paris and took in Épernay, Chaumont, Langes, Chalon-sur-Saône, Lyon, Marseille, Sète, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Montluçon, Orléans, Montargis and then back to Paris.
During this trip, Simenon continued to write his novels and short stories under pseudonyms, so the boat had on board his typewriter and a stock of paper. Most of the other necessary equipment for this journey was towed behind in a canoe.
Later Simenon wrote several articles about this journey, commissioned by various magazines, and some of the details are used in Le Charretier de la "Providence".
Most of the photographs of canal life that illustrate these published articles were taken at a later date. In July and August 1931, Simenon, accompanied by the Czechoslovak photographer Hans Oplatka, went over the itinerary undertaken in 1928, but this time by car.
The canal in the novel from Dizy to Vitry-le-François runs for nearly 67 kilometres (about 42 miles) and has 15 locks along this stretch.
In one of his articles (in Une France inconnue ou L'Aventure entre deux berges - An unknown France or The Adventure between two banks - published in 1931 in the magazine "Vu"), Simenon writes:
'Dizy is a very small village, two kilometres from Épernay. But above all it is a place where the boats leave the Marne in order to enter the canal…
…But it is about Dizy that I wish to talk, of Dizy one April Sunday evening under appalling rain.'
At the beginning of the novel, Simenon mentions Dizy and then:
' That Sunday - it was the 4th of April - the rain had started pouring down at three o'clock in the afternoon…' and later…' The rain was falling more and more heavily…'
Again in the same article Simenon describes how in April 1928 he and his two companions in the "Ginette" were working like maniacs to reach the canal at Dizy in the same appalling rain which was making many items soaking wet including themselves. Eventually the owners of the barge just ahead of them invited them on board to shelter and dry off.
And in the article he continues:
'The rain still more abundant. As in order to dishearten us, a Decauville train goes past in a building yard and its driver takes shelter under an enormous umbrella…' - a detail he uses again in the novel:
'Everything was steaming in the rain. That was the dominant note… A hundred yards away, a little Decauville train travelled backwards and forwards across a building yard, and its driver, at the back of the miniature engine, had fixed up an umbrella under which he was standing shivering, with his shoulders hunched up.'
A few examples of the author using personal experiences, in various ways, that occurs in much of his work
(The quotes from the novel are taken from the English translation by Robert Baldick, Penguin Books, C2027, 1963).
In the book entitled "Cruising French Waterways" by Hugh McKnight (Great Britain, Adlard Coles Nautical, 1999, 3rd Edition), on page 67 is to be found: 'All the atmosphere of the pre-World War II horse boats in this location (Canal Latéral à la Marne) is admirably portrayed in Georges Simenon's 1931 novel Le Charretier de la "Providence", published in English as Maigret Meets a Milord.'
In the novel, Maigret finds himself, like Simenon, in the world of the daily working canal life among the people whose livelihood depend on the trade carried out along the network of waterways throughout France and beyond. This is in contrast with the pleasure craft, a yacht named "The Southern Cross", owned and skippered by Sir Walter Lampson (the "Milord" of the Penguin English title).
Simenon admirably portrays the differences between the two sets of lifestyles. There are those who work on the canals, the bargees, the lock keepers, café and store owners striving to keep to their daily schedules in order for the canal traffic to run as smoothly as possible, contrasted with the occasional pleasure craft with a different and more leisurely itinerary.
From the beginning, Maigret realises that few craft along the canal remain in one place for long, especially with fifteen locks to negotiate, so he resorts in following their progress by taking to the towpath on a borrowed bicycle.
Leaving much of the collection of information to Lucas, Maigret gradually discovers how tragically these two very different lifestyles are interwoven.

Peter Foord

Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 5

4/23/04 – In Simenon a Critical Biography, Stanley Eskin says that Simenon took a keen interest in the pricing and design of the early Maigrets.
He writes: "Simenon himself went running about the rue Mouffetard in search of an appropriate bum to pose for the third Maigret, Le Charretier de la "Providence".

(Eskin, p79)

Comparing Le Charretier de la "Providence" with M. Gallet, décédé, Eskin says that Le Charretier de la "Providence" "is a better story that fuses together many Simenonian motifs and experiences. The canal setting allows Simenon to activate his recent observations and enthusiasms, transferring them to Maigret, who noses out the secret by absorbing the canal-life atmosphere. The skeleton in the closet is the long-lost love of a young doctor for a jazzy, destructive woman who betrays him. The doctor goes overseas and returns years later as an inarticulate bargehand, one of Simenon's innumerable dropouts. Accident brings him in contact with his beloved, whom he murders. Solving the crime and finding pathos, Maigret displays his characteristic sympathy for a technical criminal, who dies at the end, obviating any legal questions of criminal justice."
(Eskin, p87)


Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 6

4/25/04 – A couple of small points from Roddy's entry (4/18/04), and the quotes from Fenton Bresler's "The Mystery of Georges Simenon", 1983.
The earlier translation of Le Charretier de la "Providence" was by an American author, Anthony Abbot, first published in the USA in 1934 by Covici, Friede (a two novel volume entitled The Shadow in the Courtyard and The Crime at Lock 14) and later in the same year in the UK by Hurst and Blackett (the same two novels in one volume under the overall title of The Triumph of Inspector Maigret).
Unfortunately, for some reason Fenton Bresler has indicated the wrong Morsang. Simenon moored the Ostrogoth at Morsang-sur-Seine and not Morsang-sur-Orge. The confusion could have arisen from the fact that the two Morsangs are only a few miles from each other and both near Corbeil. The novels Monsieur Gallet, décédé and Le Charretier de la "Providence" were written near Morsang-sur-Seine in the summer of 1930, whilst Le Pendu du Saint-Pholien was written at Beuzec-Conq (Finistère) in December 1930.

Peter Foord

Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 7

4/25/04 – Either someone found an actual barge named "La Providence" or set it up for this (1970) Livre de Poche cover (above). But can anyone tell if it's actually wooden, horse-drawn? I suspect it's not...


Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 8

4/25/04 – In Simenon a Biography, Pierre Assouline writes about the hostility which Simenon faced from some of his journalistic colleagues:

With the publication of Le Charretier de la "Providence" (1931), his third novel in three months, the word record became increasingly linked to his name. But few of his contemporaries had any idea of the labor and creative energy that went into his easily denigrated novels.

(Assouline, p100)

In an article entitled "For and Against the Police Novel", [Robert] Brasillach compared Simenon to Malherbe, raved about the power with which he describes a canal in Le Charretier de la "Providence" (1931), hailed the portrait of decay and degradation in L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre (1932), and called Maigret the Monsieur Bergson of the police novel. But in the end he criticized Simenon for neglecting the action

(Assouline, p141)
In a quote which might refer directly to Le Charretier de la "Providence", Simenon said:

"I've been killing myself for years trying to make what a farmer or a fisherman says come out right. It would have been easy to put words in the mouths of people like myself. Complex characters are easy to create, since the writer, by definition complicated, senses and understands them better than any others. But to write novels about people who live without thought — without what we call thinking!"*

(Assouline, p141: Simenon in a letter to André Gide, January 15, 1939,
printed in
Simenon, Lacassin and Sigaux, Plon, 1973, p396-405)

*Sacrebleu ! Je me crève depuis trente-deux années à essayer de faire dire un mot juste au fermier, à un pêcheur, à n'importe qui. Il m'aurait été facile de faire parler des gens comme moi. Le personnage compliqué est le plus facile puisque l'écrivain, étant à priori compliqué, le sent et le comprend mieux que n'importe quel autre.
Mais écrire le roman de ceux qui vivent et ne pensent pas — ce que nous appelons penser ! (p. 402)


Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 9
4/25/04 — For more on Le Charretier de "La Providence" – photos, maps, analysis – see Guido de Croock's

Maigret's Journeys in France

(And there's a section on "Le Bagne" – the penal colony in Guyana where Jean served his time...)

Maigret of the Month: Le charretier de la Providence (Maigret meets a milord) - 10
4/29/04 — It seems that Simenon sold the film rights to this novel because he said that he would oversee the production of "Le Charretier de la "Providence" (Assouline, p109), but I have found no further trace of this. It would seem the film was never made.
Simenon apparently writes about his experiences with the film industry in one of his autobiographical books, Point Virgule.
Does anyone know any more about this?
More on Le Charretier de la "Providence"
at Guido deCroock's Maigret's Journeys in France


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