lunedì 21 maggio 2018


Comparing the earlier Leborgne with the later Maigret 

Une comparaison entre le Leborgne d'avant et le Maigret d'après
Un paragone tra il primo Leborgne e il Maiigret seguente

Joseph Leborgne preceded Jules Maigret by about a year. He is the protagonist in a series of 13 short stories written during the winter of 1928-1929. They came out serially in Détective magazine from March 1929 to June 1929 under the pseudonym Georges Sim. The first Maigret came out serially in Ric et Rac from July 1930 to October 1930 entitled Pietr-le-LettonMaigret resurfaced in the 1931 novel under the same title, and Leborgne resurfaced in a 1932 collection called Les 13 mystères. 
I wondered if Leborgne was an ancestor of Maigret and found searching for his potential contribution was quite simple because the stories are short—averaging just six pages—and descriptive details about the man are sparse—although how he behaves is well spelled out. Curiously, the last published story tells the most about the man, including the early life that turned him into a detective. 
Unfortunately, few translations exist (I could identify three definite English translations and another probable one; three tales translated by Anthony Boucher appeared inEllery Queen’s Mystery Magazine: “The Three Rembrandts” (September 1943), “The Safe of the S.S.S.” (October 1946), and “The Little House at Croix-Rousse” (November 1947). The Stolen Snuff-Box in Coronet Magazine (November 1939) is likely the informative last story) to inform pure Anglophones, so here’s a look at the original character: for starters, his name is at once ironic and apt. Le borgne means ‘the one-eyed or half-blind man,’ sufficient vision for a detective who solves cases exclusively by reading materials in hand. In fact, newspaper clippings, letters, postcards, photographs, a map, a calling card, and a police report are his sources. The 35-year-old is “rather small and thin.” An “ordinarily pale face” and “white hands” characterize his complexion. “Extremely well-groomed,” he sports “blond hair” so “stiff” it “stands upright on his head.” A bachelor with “horrors of life’s complications,” he “perseveres in living in a hotel” where he “has his meals served in his bedroom.” Liable to faint if he saw someone with a bloody nose, he investigates “from his armchair.” Indeed, “he swore he had never seen a dead man.” 
The creator uses his detective’s facial expressions to signal his attitude: not “always stone-faced,” he often puts on a “grave face” or a “serious look” and also will “toss” a “haughty” or ‘furious” or “mocking look. What’s more, Leborgne’s spoken voice is demonstrative. He “grumbles” with his words falling “curtly” or “in a muted tone.” With “his anger already at its height,” he “stammers in a strange tone. Another time, “his voice overflows with bitterness.” His behavior also expresses his attitude: he shrugs his shoulders” or “doesn’t go to the trouble of replying.” Here, “he looks at me [the narrator] with astonishment” or there, “he sighs, outraged.” Once, he is even “more amiable than usual.” Sometimes, he gets very animated: “he hides his satisfaction badly” or plunges into his armchair in a rage” or snatches the pipe from his friend’s mouth and throws it on the hearth. He explains his ‘method’ to the narrator this way: “Counting on one’s nose is a joke. Learn […] to use your brain… I make the effort to acquire the exact specifics […] to decipher enigmas.” In further confirmation, Leborgne criticizes this ever-present friend for “dreaming instead of deducing” the way he does. That the incisive investigator “only needed a quarter of an hour to discover the solution” keeps these stories short. 
Finally, he can and does drive a car! Yes, he smokes a lot, but only cigarettes and not pipes! My conclusion: Joseph Leborgne and Jules Maigret don’t share much DNA. 

David P Simmons 

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