lunedì 19 febbraio 2018

SIMENON SIMENON. MAIGRET: OBSERVER AND WITNESS IN COURT

On two novels with detailed portraits of Maigret in court 

SIMENON SIMENON. UN OBSERVATEUR ET UN TEMOIN AU TRIBUNAL 
A propos de deux romans qui donnent des portraits détaillés de Maigret à la cour 
SIMENON SIMENON. UN OSSERVATORE E UN TESTIMONE IN TRIBUNALE
A proposito di due romanzi che forniscono dei ritratti dettagliati di Maigret dal giudice


Maigret testifies in court numerous times. “Had he not come here two hundred, three hundred times? Even more?” But only twice does he spend so much time there that the reader comes away knowing so much more about the man and the ‘method’ (he never had). In Maigret at the Coroner’s (1949) and Maigret in Court (1959), both cases are shortfour days and one day respectively, but the judicial activity continues practically throughout the entire book in the first and almost half in the second. 
If superficially similar, the two novels display dramatic differences. In the first, Maigret is a passive observer at a coroner’s murder inquest in Tucson, Arizona, a rural place he picked in order to study the American justice system. For example, the French detective is surprised to learn the American police chief is simply “an elected citizen who personally chooses his associates, and he also “couldn’t believe” that “six jurors would make decisions about accident or crime in just a few hours.” In contrast, in the second novel, Maigret is aactive witness for the prosecution in a double murder trial right at home in urban Paris, France. The atmosphère is different there, for “one was all of a sudden plunged into a  depersonalized space” in front of “an impersonal apparatus.” 
Still, the courtroom settings are tellingly similar. The scenario in Tucson resembled a real courtroom with a pulpit for the witness, an authentic jury box, and a bench for the coroner, just the way it was in Paris. There is constant oppressive heat in both courtrooms, causing the participants to squirm and sweat and thirstand that intense physicality highlights and aggravates their emotional stress. For “concerned and concentrating Maigret, appearing in court “always posed the very worst part, the dreariest of his functions, and he felt the same anxiety every time he was there. 
Both books repeatedly emphasize the similarities of the Court to the Church. For example, while waiting in court to testifygrown-up Maigret felt “the same turmoil” he used to feel as a youth while waiting to follow the priest serving daily mass. In court, “everyone was playing his role as if they were strangers, celebrants at a ceremony as ancient and ritualistic as mass.” The black and red robes “again built up a sense of ceremony with unchanged rituals where the individual was nothing.” So, Maigret “would have preferred to ignore it, or in any case, stand clear of those last rites he never really became accustomed to. 
Notably, dialogue is more prominent in these two novels than it is in other Maigrets, at least as I recallIndeed, Simenon makes good theater of the spoken testimony in court, sustaining both action and mystery in ostensibly open-and-shut cases and also leaving their outcomes uncertain at the end. In Tucson, although Maigret picks the killer out of five accused men, he leaves town, but “he never knew the verdict.” In Paris, the Chief Inspector’s testimony surprisingly concludes the primary trial and generates two subsequent trials in the future. So, projecting he will be “called as a witness yet again,” Maigret wonders, when required to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” if he would “really tell it all? Couldn’t he….” 

David P Simmons 

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