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Maigret's Mustache

by Murielle Wenger

French original

The novelist provides us a sketch of Maigret from the very beginning of the corpus, with a brief description in the first few pages of Pietr le Letton [LET], establishing his character like an anthropometric photograph freezes its representation... a plebeian frame, muscular, the whole forming a large and heavy mass. Maigret's silhouette, as sketched by Simenon, is not expanded, except for a few small points, with the progression of the series, and these are not only minimal, but hardly change over time. Almost nowhere in the texts are we told clearly about specific physical aspects of this character, nothing of what would be called in police language his "particulars", the shape of his nose, his ears, his face, or any "distinguishing features". But what can we find in the texts about Maigret's hair?

In Pietr le Letton [LET], Simenon tells us clearly that the Chief Inspector has no mustache. Certainly, no one imagines Maigret with a beard. That much, at least, is clear, for there are numerous scenes in the corpus where we see him shaving. He did, however, in his younger years, have a goatee, as was fashionable at the beginning of the past century (see Les caves du Majestic [MAJ]... "a photo of a group of gentlemen in frock coats and top hats, wearing improbable mustaches and pointed beards... the association of police secretaries, when Maigret was 24!" and in La maison du juge... "at the time of the Bonnot affair, when he was thin, and had a long, pointed mustache and a goatee..."). As for the mustache, if when we see him in Pietr le Letton [LET], the author makes it clear that he's clean-shaven, that wasn't always the case... In La première enquête de Maigret [PRE], we learn that the young Maigret had a reddish mustache ending in points, and in Les mémoires de Maigret [MEM], that his mahogany mustache was quite long, also ending in sharp points, following men's fashion in vogue at the time, where a man had to have a mustache so as not to appear "a flunky". And we recall that Simenon was inspired, to some extent, in the creation of his character, by two true policemen, the Chief Inspectors Massu and Guillaume, who both had mustaches. But when the fashion changed, Maigret gave up his mustache, which "had shortened to little more than toothbrush length before disappearing completely" (Les mémoires de Maigret [MEM]). Curiously, in Félicie est là [FEL] (and this is the unique case in the corpus), Maigret is described as having a "short mustache"... was it an attempt to please Jules Lapie's young maid?!

Thus, it seems clear that on the whole, Simenon envisioned his character without a mustache... But how about the actors who interpreted him? Well, we find some "mustached" and some "without", and it seems that the presence or absence was not a determining factor in Simenon's assessment of the portrayal of his character. Thus, in two that he liked, we find mustaches... Pierre Renoir (of whom Simenon – by way of Maigret's pen (in Les mémoires de Maigret) – found a certain "verisimilitude" with his Chief Inspector) and Michel Simon. As for the non-mustached, Jean Gabin (of whom Simenon said, "Gabin has done an amazing job. This gives me a little problem with the others, for I can't see Maigret without seeing Gabin." No doubt in part because of the friendship he felt for the actor...) and Rupert Davies (Simenon said of him: "Finally I've found the perfect Maigret."). Among the actors whose interpretations didn't please Simenon, we find those without mustache... Abel Tarride and Albert Préjean, and those with... Charles Laughton and Harry Baur. In the television adaptations, we also find the mustached, and those without... Among the former, Jan Teulings in a Dutch series, Kinya Aikawa in a Japanese series, Boris Tenin in Russian telefilms, Michael Gambon in an English series, and Gino Cervi in an Italian one. Among the latter, the French Jean Richard and Bruno Crémer.

The representations of the Chief Inspector, besides those of the little and grand screens, also show us Maigret with and without a mustache... No mustache in the graphic novel series by Philippe Wurm, and with the shadow of a mustache from the pen of Jacques Blondeau. And again, in the traits evoking Cervi (thus with a mustache) by Ferenc Pinter. The statue sculpted by Pieter d'Hont in Delfzijl has, it seems to me, no mustache.

translation: S. Trussel
Honolulu - August 2015

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