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Maigret of the Month: L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre (Maigret goes home) - 1

1/08/05 –

With this novel, Simenon introduces the reader to the village where Maigret's mother and father lived and where he was born and raised. Although the novel is a work of fiction, Simenon based the location on an area of France he knew well.
When Simenon left his home city of Liège, in Belgium, in December 1922, he went to Paris where he was to start a new employment, made possible through a family connection, as a secretary to the journalist and writer Gustave Binet-Valmer. The latter was far more interested in a veterans' organisation with right-wing political associations, but one of the adherents was the Marquis Raymond d'Estutt de Tracy who in seeking a secretary took on the young Simenon in May 1923. The Marquis had inherited a fortune and property, among other bequests, from his father. The property included one of several châteaux, one being in the département of Allier at the village of Paray-le-Frésil twenty-five kilometres from the town of Moulins. Simenon was required to accompany the Marquis to his various properties and according to Tigy, Simenon's first wife, the Marquis '...prefers his Paray-le-Frésil château, near Moulins' (Tigy Simenon, "Souvenirs," Gallimard, 2004, page 22).
It was in and around the village of Paray-le-Frésil, renamed Saint-Fiacre by Simenon, that he chose to set his Maigret novel L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre and there to give Maigret his roots.
This particular location and period in Simenon's life is well documented, not only in the biographies by Fenton Bresler, Stanley G. Eskin, Patrick Marnham and Pierre Assouline, but also by the following:
  1. Gilles Henry: Commissaire Maigret, Qui Êtes-Vous? Librairie Plon, 1977, 284 pages. (Reprinted as La Veritable Histoire du Commissaire Maigret, Editions Charles Orlet, 1989, 269 pages). With reference to Simenon's autobiographies and fictional work, Gilles Henry has extracted details relevant to several aspects of Maigret's creation, life and career. Also by obtaining information from various archives and people in certain locations, he has pieced together how Simenon has used fact to create his fiction. There are two black and white aerial photographs of the village and the château of Paray-le-Frésil (the latter similar to the photograph in the Forum entry for 6/26/00 from Jérôme Devémy), two photographs of Pierre-Augustin Tardivon, the steward to the château, on whom Simenon based Maigret's father, and various stills and photographs of actors who have played Maigret. At the end of the text there is a list of the Maigret novels and short stories, plus a list of characters appearing in the Maigret works.
    The reprint of 1989 has the same texts but omits the photographs. Neither book has been translated into English.
  2. Claude Menguy. In the article Simenon: "sites classés". Traces N° 10, Université de Liège, Centre d'Études Georges Simenon, 1998, pages 186 to 193.
    Claude Menguy visited Paray-le-Frésil in May 1998 and his text reveals details of Simenon's connection with this village and the château gleaned from some of the inhabitants and his extensive knowledge of the author's work. The text is enhanced by Claude Menguy's own photographs of this location. He reveals that the inn in the novel where Maigret stayed and run by Marie Tatin was in fact, in 1923, owned by another Marie, Marie Picard, who was the youngest of six sisters.
    The Marquis, Simenon was soon to discover, had certain rigid ideas. Although Simenon had only been married for two months, the Marquis forbade his secretary's wife Tigy to live in the château or in any of his other properties he visited. Tigy decided to follow her husband and his employer, staying nearby in various rented accommodation. In Paray-le-Frésil, she stayed for a time in Marie Picard's (or the fictional Marie Tatin's) inn. In her Memoirs ("Souvenirs", Gallimard, 2004, page 22) Tigy Simenon writes:
    'At Marie Picard's, the real country inn, with the feather bed and the red eiderdown, perched on top. But the grub is fantastic and the board and lodging ridiculous: ten francs a day.' (In her Memoirs there is a small photograph of Tigy standing in front of the inn).
    As the Marquis seemed to be wanting to stay at this château for some time, Georges and Tigy Simenon decided to rent two rooms in a small house about a hundred metres from Marie Picard's inn in the Rue Haute (Claude Menguy: pages 191 to 193). Simenon remained in the employment of the Marquis until the spring of 1924 when he and his wife returned to Paris.
    Neither Claude Menguy's article nor Tigy Simenon's Souvenirs are available in English translation.
  3. Guido De Croock. L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre - 1 and 2. From his website: In September 2003 Guido De Croock visited Paray-le-Frésil, posting his findings on to his website with photographs and maps.
In the December bulletin from "Les Amis de Georges Simenon" there is this item from the press (unidentified source):
'Pierre-Augustin Tardivon. He was my father. At the close of the Great War, he became steward to the Marquis de Tracy, at Paray-le-Frésil, in the Allier. There he made the acquaintance of Georges Simenon, at that time secretary to the Marquis, with whom he got on well. In a letter addressed to my sister on the 22nd of November 1977, Simenon wrote, "I am happy to tell you what admiration I had for your father. It is on him that I based Maigret's father." So by the magic of the pen, without knowing it, my father took on the paternity of the renowned Commissaire Maigret'   Pierre-Henri Tardivon.

So less than eight years after his stay at Paray-le-Frésil, in January 1932, whilst living at the villa "Les Roches Grises" at Cap-d'Antibes (Alpes-Maritimes) on the French Riviera, Simenon turned certain aspects of real life into the novel L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre.

A map showing the route east from the town of Moulins, along the N79 to Chevagnes and then north east along the D238 to Paray-le-Frésil, all in the département of Allier (from France: Map 238. Centre: Berry-Nivernais, Michelin 1989). click to enlarge

A note is sent to the police at Moulins, and then on to the police in Paris at the Quai des Orfèvres, stating that a crime is going to be committed at first Mass in a certain church in a certain village on a particular day. The police regard it as a probable hoax, but Maigret recognises the location, takes it seriously, and travels to the village of Saint-Fiacre. There he finds accommodation at the inn of Marie Tatin, who he remembers from his childhood, and the following morning attends the first Mass at the village church. At the end of the Mass his apprehension is realised with the death of the Comtesse de Saint-Fiacre.
Making himself known, Maigret soon learns how conditions have changed, especially at the château, since he left the village as a young man to live in Paris. What he discovers saddens, disgusts and angers him. The standards that were maintained by the late Comte de Saint-Fiacre in the running of the château and the estate have been eroded leading to dire financial problems, exacerbated by the personal activities of the Comtesse and her son, the current Comte de Saint-Fiacre.
Maigret wanders about the village, looking in at the church and the château, talking to people, as well as visiting the town of Moulins, gleaning as much information as he can in trying to unravel the circumstances leading to the death of the Comtesse. With his now familiar writing skill, Simenon presents the atmosphere of village life both through Maigret's boyhood memories and the changes that have been, and are, taking place.
But it is when the Comte de Saint-Fiacre invites a group of people to dinner, including Maigret, who have connections with his family and the château, that events reach a climax. Simenon entitles the chapter in which this dramatic event takes place as "Sous le signe de Walter Scott" (translated as "In the style of Sir Walter Scott" and "A Scene from Scott"). From his childhood onwards, Simenon was a prolific reader of the works of many authors, including the Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), and he is recreating a remembered atmosphere for the dénouement of this novel. A dénouement that brings out the motive of greed with the manipulation of circumstances and certain people. But it is Maigret who puts into place the final piece of the mystery.

There are two English translations of this novel. The first is by Margaret Ludwig originally published under the title of "The Saint-Fiacre Affair" in the two novel volume with the overall title of "Maigret Keeps a Rendez-Vous" (in the UK by Routledge, 1940, and in the USA by Harcourt, 1941). The second is by Robert Baldick originally published by Penguin Books, UK, 1967 as a paperback under the title "Maigret Goes Home". Both English translations are close to Simenon's French original.

Peter Foord, UK

Maigret of the Month: L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre (Maigret goes home) - 2

1/10/05 –
I just reread Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre. It is even better than I remembered.
This is a strange book, as Maigret seems to be a witness and is not conducting the inquiry. He is more following The Comte.
The main meal at the end of the book is like some of those "huis-clos" and for me the whole book looks like a "huis-clos" in the village between Maigret and the others. Maigret seems to be more concerned by his memories of youth. In chapter three Simenon writes, "Mais il était furieux qu'on vïnt salir ses souvenirs d'enfance!"
At the end the official justice is not called and even if the crime is vile, the criminal can leave freely. It could be more related to the non-Maigret books by the vile crime and the abject criminal and motive.
You may have noticed that the name of The comte's girlfirend is Marie Vassilief, a clin d'oeil from Simenon as Marie Vassilief is the name of the painter that painted the wall of the restaurant 'La Coupole' in 1927 where Maigret and Joséphine Baker used to meet. (See 5/2/04 Forum).
I now need to reread the story "Maigret and the altar boy" to see if there is any point related to the altar boy in this story...


Maigret of the Month: L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre (Maigret goes home) - 3

1/11/05 –

[Édition de référence : Presses Pocket n° 1333 (1989) ; pagination : 7 ; 25 ; 41 ; 61 ; 78 ; 94 ; 113 ; 130 ; 146 ; 166 ; 179-185.]

Si Paray-le-Frésil est Saint-Fiacre, et Moulins Moulins..., alors Chevagnes, c'est Matignon ? Car c'est ainsi (Ch. 1, p. 9) que Maigret identifie son village : « — Saint-Fiacre, par Matignon ? ». Simenon respecte la géographie locale, en plaçant Saint-Fiacre et Moulins (Ch. 8, p. 138) : « Toujours est-il qu'il franchit les vingt-cinq kilomètres séparant Moulins du château en moins d'un quart d'heure... ». La carte Michelin 238 « Centre : Berry-Nivernais » proposée supra par l'érudit britannique Peter Foord nous indique 18 km de Moulins à Chevagnes (N79), puis 7 km de Chevagnes à Paray-le-Frésil par la D238. (Voilà bien un paragraphe inutile, puisqu'il est possible que Matignon ne figure plus nulle part ailleurs dans l'œuvre de Simenon !...)
Oui, mais... Simenon et la France... Pour Simenon, Saint-Fiacre, c'est dans le Berry (Ch. 5, p. 86) : « On devait parler dans tout le Berry de la vieille folle qui gâchait la fin de sa vie avec ses soi-disant secrétaires ! ». Alors que tout le monde et son chien sait que Paray-le-Frésil confine au Nivernais et au Bourbonnais. Peut-être est-ce la raison du revirement de Simenon quinze ans plus tard, en 1947, quand il rédige les Vacances de Maigret (1), où Saint-Fiacre se voit transporté (Ch. 3, p. 48) :
[Dr Bellamy]
— De quelle province êtes-vous ?
D'autres auraient dit département, et Maigret saluait au passage ce mot province qu'il aimait.
— Du Bourbonnais.
(Les Français se divisent entre les tenants des provinces historiques (le Bourbonnais) et les partisans des technocratiques départements (l'Allier) et régions. Toutefois, le négligent Simenon n'est pas à une contradiction près (Ch. 1, p. 6) : « [le] jeune Maigret qui, jadis, dans son village de l'Allier... » !)

1. Édition de référence : Presses de la Cité m 13 (1989) ; pagination : 5 ; 27 ; 47 ; 67 ; 89 ; 109 ; 129 ; 151 ; 171-190. Afin de se repérer dans les multiples éditions des Maigret, et dans l'attente d'un système définitif, j'indique un volume de référence, et la pagination des chapitres, en terminant par le numéro de la dernière page. Ici : ch. 1 p.5 ; ch. 2 p. 27 ; [...] ; ch. 9 p.171 - dernière page : p. 190. Ainsi, une règle de trois devrait permettre de s'y retrouver dans une autre édition ou une traduction...

[Edition of reference: Presses Pocket n° 1333 (1989); pagination: 7; 25; 41; 61; 78; 94; 113; 130; 146; 166; 179-185.]

If Paray-le-Frésil is Saint-Fiacre, and Moulins Moulins, then is Chevagnes Matignon? Because that is how Maigret identifies his village: "— Saint-Fiacre, by Matignon." (Ch. 1, p. 9). Simenon respects local geography in placing Saint-Fiacre and Moulins: "Still, the fact is he covered the twenty-five km separating Moulins from the château in less than a quarter of an hour..." (Ch. 8, p. 138). Michelin map 238 "Centre: Berry-Nivernais" set out (above) by the British scholar Peter Foord, indicates that it is 18 km from Moulins to Chevagnes (N79), then another 7 km from Chevagnes to Paray-Le-Frésil by D238. (This may be really a rather valueless paragraph, since it is possible that Matignon doesn't appear anywhere else in the entire Simenon œuvre!)*
Yes, but... Simenon and France... For Simenon, Saint-Fiacre is in Berry (Ch. 5, p. 86): "They would tell all over Berry of the old madwoman who wasted the end of her life with her so-called secretaries!" Whereas everybody and his uncle knows that Paray-Le-Frésil is confined to Nivernais and Bourbonnais. Could this be the reason for Simenon's reversal 15 years later, in 1947, when in Maigret on Holiday (1), Saint-Fiacre finds itself transported (Ch. 3, p. 48) :
[Dr. Bellamy]
— From what province are you?
Others would have said department, and Maigret gave nod to this word province that he liked.
— From Bourbonnais.
(The French are divided among those holding to the historical provinces (Bourbonnais) and partisans of the technocratic départements (Allier), and régions. However, a negligent Simenon is not above a contradiction: "the young Maigret who, previously, in his village in the Allier..."!) (Ch. 1, p. 6)

1. Edition of reference: Presses de la Cité m 13 (1989); pagination: 5; 27; 47; 67; 89; 109; 129; 151; 171-190. In order to align the multiple editions of the Maigrets, and in the absence of a definitive system, I indicate a volume of reference, and the pagination of chapters, while finishing by the number of the last page. Here: Ch. 1 p.5; Ch. 2 p. 27; [... ]; Ch. 9 p.171-last page: p. 190. Thus, a rule of three should permit its recovery in another edition or translation...

(*Matignon is not mentioned elsewhere in the Maigrets.)


Richard Budelberger

Maigret of the Month: L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre (Maigret goes home) - 4

1/11/05 –

I just read "Maigret and the altar boy" again, and on the last page, when Maigret is ill and resting after having solved the case, Simenon wrote: "Il s'endormi enfin, le cou entouré d'une large compresse, en rêvant des messes de son village, de l'auberge de Marie Titin, devant laquelle il passait en courant parcequ'il avait peur" [He fell asleep at last, with a huge compress round his neck, dreaming of Mass in his own village and Marie Titin's inn, past which he used to run because he was afraid. (Jean Stewart translation)]
This is another small memory of Maigret's youth. Simenon makes a small mistake as Marie's familly name is Tatin in L'affaire Saint-Fiacre. In "Maigret and l'altar boy" he uses the fact that as a boy Maigret wanted to get many things like the big missal with big red letters for the young altar boy at Saint-Fiacre. "Maigret and the altar boy" was writen in April 1946 when Simenon was in Canada. That is 14 years after l'Affaire Saint-Fiacre.


More on L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre
at Guido deCroock's Maigret's Journeys in France


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