giovedì 18 maggio 2017

SIMENON SIMENON. A TOUR IN DIEPPE WITH SIMENON AND MAIGRET

Which are the novels where the city of Dieppe appears? 

SIMENON SIMENON. UN GIRO A DIEPPE CON SIMENON E MAIGRET 
Quali sono i romanzi in cui appare la città di Dieppe ? 
SIMENON SIMENON. UN TOUR A DIEPPE AVEC SIMENON ET MAIGRET 
Quels sont les romans dans lesquels apparaît la ville de Dieppe ? 

Although Simenon only made three short visits to the Normandy port of Dieppe, the town is nevertheless present in a number of romans durs and Maigret inquiries. The totality of the action in L’Homme de Londres/The Man from London (1934) and the Maigret short story ‘Tempête sur la Manche’/’Storm in the Channel’ (1938) unfolds in the town, an important scene in Les Rescapés du Télémaque/The Survivors (1938) is played out in a Dieppe café and although the investigation of Maigret et la vieille dame/Maigret and the Old Lady (1950) takes place further along the coast in Etretat, the deputy Charles Besson’s in-laws, who ‘built half the houses in Dieppe and numerous public buildings’ and from whom he inherits a significant fortune, are from Dieppe.  
Historically a commercial and fishing port, Dieppe underwent a transformation during the second half of the nineteenth century. As the closest point on the coast to Paris, it became the focus for the new fashion for seaside holidays, particularly after the inauguration of a direct rail link in 1848. An infrastructure of hotels, a casino, a race course and golf links followed, along with a regular steamship ferry service to England. At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Dieppe was considered France’s leading seaside resort, was the main French port for the import of bananas and employed 4000 workers in its fishing fleet. Following the war, Dieppe lost ground as a prestigious resort to Deauville and Cabourg although the introduction of paid holidays by the Front Populaire government in 1936 gave it a new impetus with the influx of a more petit-bourgeois clientele like the guests in Mademoiselle Otard’s pension where Maigret and Madame Maigret stay waiting for the storm to abate in ‘Tempête sur la Manche’. Moreover, despite, this relative decline in its fortunes, Dieppe remained a step ahead of other Normandy port-resorts such as Fécamp, as is recognised by the rail worker Charles Canut in Les Rescapés du Télémaque where he marvels at the café to which he tracks a suspected killer, ‘a real brasserie, like in Paris […] with a record player with speakers in the main room and another out in the street’. This, then, was the Dieppe known by Simenon on his three visits to the town in 1933, 1935 and 1938.  
In 1874, a railway station, the gare maritime, was constructed alongside the ferry quay and it is here that Maloin, the central character of L’Homme de Londres, works as a night signalman in an elevated cabin overlooking the rail tracks on one side and the harbour on the other. It is from this vantage point that Maloin witnesses an argument between two men who have disembarked from the ferry. In the course of the struggle, one man falls into the water with a suitcase in his hands. Maloin recovers the suitcase which contains a fortune in British banknotes but suspects that he has been seen by the other man, a certain Brown. An unspoken bond develops between the two men who begin to spy on each other. Brown is forced to go to ground by the arrival of a British police inspector and Maloin begins spending the money but his secret weighs heavily on his conscience. Brown takes refuge in Maloin’s cabin at the foot of the cliff; he is spotted by Maloin’s daughter who, unaware of his identity locks him in. Moved by sympathy for the man from London, Maloin takes food to the cabin but Brown does not understand what is happening, a fight ensues and Maloin kills the other. He then informs the police, returns the remainder of the money and admits to the killing.  
In the more than eighty years since the composition of L’Homme de Londres, Dieppe has undergone significant changes, including, in 1994, the relocation of the ferry port to the outskirts of town and the demolition of the gare maritime. The modern visitor can, however, still see the building on the boulevard de Verdun which housed the Hôtel du Rhin et de Newhaven, where Simenon stayed in 1933 and where Brown initially took refuge, and follow the path taken by Maloin from the site of his signalman’s cabin on quai Henri IV, stopping like Maloin for a drink in the Café Suisse, before crossing the two bridges to climb the steps to the cliff top where the signalman lived and descending again to the foot of the cliff face where his cabin was located and where he reluctantly killed the man from London.  
While Dieppe may have less by way of attractions to the Simenon enthusiast than the more obvious locations in Paris and Liège, it is, at only two hours by train from the Gare Saint-Lazare, nevertheless, a destination of considerable interest.  

William Alder  

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