giovedì 24 novembre 2016


The main differences between the novels and the short stories

Les principales différences entre les romans et les nouvelles 
Le principali differenze tra i romanzi e i racconti

In a recent post, Murielle Wenger recounted the re-appearance of Maigret after an absence of over two years in a series of short stories published in ‘Paris-Soir-Dimanche’ from 1936-1937. The most obvious contrast between these Maigret inquiries and the 1931-1934 Fayard texts is that the former are short stories while the latter are full-length novels, albeit not particularly long ones. This change in form has important implications for Simenon’s approach. A short story necessarily concentrates on a smaller group of characters and deals with a shorter period of time. Inevitably, this allows less possibility for the development of characters or for the creation of social context by the accumulation of descriptive detail. It might, therefore, be thought that the short story form is particularly appropriate for the deductive sub-genre of crime fiction, focusing on an enigma to be solved rather than the social causes of crimes.
Simenon had already written a number of detective short stories in the period preceding the publication of the first Maigret novels. These originally appeared in 1929 in Détective magazine under pseudonym but were collected and republished under Simenon’s own name in 1932 as Les 13 Coupables, Les 13 Enigmes and Les 13 Mystères. The stories are short and have little by way of characterization or social context. The methods of inquiry used in the ‘13’ series are much closer to the short story model of Poe or Doyle than to what would become the ‘Maigret method’: the ‘detectives’, Froget, G-7 and Leborgne, act by reasoning and deduction, unlike Maigret, one of whose catch-phrases is ‘I don’t think anything’, and their cases are usually narrated in the first-person by an admiring
‘straight man’.    
The impact of the change in format from novel to short story in the 1936-1937 Maigret narratives is immediately obvious in three areas: first, the duration of the inquiries; secondly, the limitation of Maigret’s physical movements; thirdly, the implications for Maigret’s method in solving cases. Typically, the Fayard novels span a period of between five days and a week; most of the short stories are restricted to a period of twenty four hours or less: the action of ‘La fenêtre ouverte’ occupies an afternoon and an evening; ‘Rue Pigalle’ and ‘Les larmes de bougie’ a morning and an afternoon; ‘Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!’ a single day; ‘La péniche aux deux pendus’ a single evening and night. The novels often involve Maigret in travel from one location to another; in contrast, most of the short stories unfold in a single setting: the lock at Coudray in ‘La péniche aux deux pendus’; an office building in the rue Montmartre in ‘La fenêtre ouverte’; a nightclub in ‘Rue Pigalle’; a railway coach in ‘Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!’.
The short time span and the confinement of the commissaire to a single location have important consequences for his method of working. In the novels, Maigret works by what might be termed ‘progressive penetration’, gradually immersing himself in the social context in which the crime has been committed. Although Maigret does not spurn conventional clues or the use of techniques such as forensics and handwriting analysis, his approach is based on atmosphere and instinct and his sensitivity to people and places. In short, it is a social rather than a logical or technical approach to police investigation.
In the short stories there is insufficient time for the deployment of such a method. Maigret relies much more on conventional clues, such as an analysis of the seating plan of the victim’s train compartment and the details of which passengers got off and back on the train at different stations in ‘Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!’. Logic and deduction play a much greater part in the resolution of many of these cases than they do in the Fayard novels, as both Maigret and the narrator note: ‘It’s like this! I’ve been looking for the only logical explanation of the facts. It’s up to you to prove it or get somebody to confess.’ (‘Jeumont, 51 minutes d’arrêt!’/’Jeumont, 51 Minutes’ Stop!’); ’This was one of those rare cases which might have been solved from diagrams and documents, by deduction and by scientific police methods. Indeed, when Maigret left the Quai des Orfèvres he was already acquainted with every detail.’ (‘Les larmes de bougie’/‘Death of a Woodlander’)
Does this mean, therefore, that the social dimension of the Fayard Maigret texts is absent and that a sensitivity to social class and environment plays no part in Maigret’s approach in these stories?  In a subsequent post, I will contend that, despite the restrictions of the short story format, social class continues to be an important feature of many of the inquiries in that it often provides the background to the crime as well as determining the behavior of the protagonists.

William Alder

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