Maigret of the Month: Maigret et le marchand de vin (Maigret and the Wine Merchant)
The entire structure of this novel is built on a binary principle of opposition, of contrast. Here are some determining elements...
- First, the novel opens on a "parallel investigation" by Maigret, who is interrogating young Stiernet, even though it isn't this affair of the murder of an elderly woman which will occupy most of the plot.
- Next, if at first the Chief Inspector focuses his investigation on the wine merchant, in other words, on the entourage of the victim, soon his attention will become concentrated on the murderer, and he will take first place in Maigret's preoccupations. Once more, the Chief Inspector will be interested in the reasons that push a man to commit a murder, which will lead him, if not to excuse, at least to understand those reasons. From there the novel concentrates on the relationship between the murderer and the Chief Inspector, and Simenon renews the thread used in the preceding novel, to the point of reusing similar elements, such as the phone calls from the murderer to Maigret, and the final visit to the Chief Inspector's home.
However, with certain nuances... If, in TUE, Maigret – and Simenon behind him - were ready to excuse the Robert Bureau's action (his murderous impulses were caused by mental illness), in this novel, the Chief Inspector, while he feels a certain sympathy for Pigou, is however less prepared to admit that one can kill for humiliation. Maigret had certainly listened to Pigou, agreed with him that Chabut was someone hard, but the Chief Inspector tells him that Chabut himself had been humiliated, and that murder wasn't justified. Two passages in the novel apply here... In Ch. 7, Maigret says to Pigou: "He [Chabut] also needed to reassure himself... Each of us is more or less to be pitied. I try to understand. I make no attempt to assign responsibility to everyone." Maigret, it appears, had felt, if not sympathy, at least a certain attraction to Chabut's personality, and if he pitied Pigou, he did not excuse his actions. Consider the second passage, the last lines of the novel, which we can contrast with those of TUE:
"From his box, Bureau found Maigret eyes, and give him a resigned smile. He seemed to say, "As I expected, isn't it?" When Maigret left, his shoulders were a little heavier." (TUE)
"On the landing, Pigou turned. He had tears in his eyes. He looked at Maigret once more, as if to give himself courage. But wasn't it by self-pity that he was moved?" (VIN)
These last words are significant. Maigret feels compassion for Pigou, but recognizes that Pigou had seen but his own humiliation when he had killed Chabut, and that he hadn't hesitated to end a human life to avenge that humiliation.
- Other elements of the principle of contrast are presented. For example, the opposition between two worlds, two social levels. On one hand, the opulent world into which Chabut had introduced himself "by his own strength", a world summed up by images of the Place des Vosges apartment, the Avenue de l'Opéra offices, Mme Blanche's, and the fashionable relationships of Mme Chabut; and on the other hand, the world of Chabut's roots, represented by his father's little bistro, and the warehouses of Quai de Bercy.
- And finally we note the opposition between the cold and snowy world of December, the world of outdoors, and the world of "inside", that of the cozy apartment where Maigret takes refuge, filled with the odors of framboise, the Sunday roast, which brings to the Chief Inspector "whiffs of his childhood". Between these two worlds, Maigret brings his cold, protected by the muffler knitted by Mme Maigret, and his cold gives him an excuse to let himself be "pampered" by his wife, a pleasure he seems to grudgingly accept... "pretending to grumble".
translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu, December 2009