to Volume 12 of the Complete Works
Editions Rencontre (1968)
by Gilbert Sigaux
The reader will note that chronology allows us to distinguish three cycles in the whole of the novels and stories featuring Inspector Maigret...
- first cycle, comprising 19 novels (from Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett [LET] to Maigret Returns [MAI]) written from September, 1929, through June, 1933, and published by Arthème Fayard between February,1931, and 1934;
- second cycle, including short stories, certain among them having nearly the length of novels, written between the first months of 1938 and May, 1941, and published [by Gallimard] between May, 1938 (separate installments of Les Nouvelles Enquêtes de Maigret [The New Investigations of Maigret]), and 1944. This second cycle also contains a collection of three novels called Maigret Revient [Maigret Returns], which includes Maigret and the Spinster [CEC];
- third cycle, begun in June, 1945, with the composition of Maigret's Pipe [a collection of stories including [pip], and Maigret in Retirement [FAC], which appeared in bookstores from Presses de la Cité in 1947.
The first cycle maintained a proper chronological period, ending with Maigret's retirement. The second and third are not ordered in this regard, and do not correspond to Maigret's age as it would have been in 1934. In fact, the 1966 and 1967 novels, to choose the extreme examples, do not show us Simenon's hero in a professional position evolved from that of the first cycle novels, but rather set in a kind of "fixed" middle age. Maigret was of retirement age in 1934. Thirty-some years later, he is still active. This indicates that it's not possible for Maigret "fanatics" to reconstruct his biography by extracting chronological elements from the novels in the manner of the Sherlock Holmes chronology deduced by the Baker Street Irregulars (sometimes widely hypothetical, true, but often, happily, tinted with humor) for the novels and stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Maigret is a character who brings with him, into each novel, his world and his order. We could say, availing ourselves of convenient vocabulary, that he is a myth, a contemporary creature of the experience of his creator, adjusting to each time and scenario with a weight, a presence, that succeeding narratives do not substantially modify.
The third Maigret does not negate the preceding ones he rejoins them, increases them, extends them... without our being aware of any temporal gap; when we meet Maigret again, he is like an old friend who doesn't show his years, "You haven't changed...."
The same, of course, for his methods, his collaborators, his circle of intimates, the apartment on the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir... and also for his deep humanity, his capacity for understanding, and secret compassion. But not always the same, if we consider the art of Simenon...
In fact, certain novels of the third Maigret cycle are, in a way subject to, or under the influence of novels in Simenon's other domain, to which they are near in time of writing. It is as if, having painted a certain world, certain beings, with a particular coloration, Simenon, visiting several weeks later in Maigret country for a new encounter with his character, continues to evoke a certain style, a light, like a memory of his choice of colors, or a feature... This sort of intimate communication, difficult to define, this twice-given tonality, is not seen in Simenon until recent years, and irregularly. But it should be brought to the attention of the reader to whom the art of the novelist appears at a time simple and secret. In these internal influences, in these obscure intersections, we can recognize the phenomenon of the interchangeable instrument but employed differently that marks the aesthetics of the greatest creators.
*Note - If Sigaux was presenting a challenge, certain Maigret "fanatics" have accepted it See David F. Drake's Chronology of Maigret's Life and Career and Comparison of Simenon's and Drake's Chronologies of Maigret's Life, and Jean Forest's Chronology of the ages of Maigret and Simenon.
translation and note: S. Trussel
Honolulu, August 2006