On the character sketched out in "Pietr the Latvian", the first novel of the series
SIMENON SIMENON. LE PORTRAIT INITIAL DE MAIGRET
Sur le personnage esquissé dans "Pietr-le-Letton", le premier roman de la série
SIMENON SIMENON. IL RITRATTO INZIALE DI MAIGRET
Sul personaggio abbozzato su "Pietr-le-Letton", il primo romanzo della serie
In his first Maigret novel, Simenon paints a decent if spotty picture of the protagonist he develops extensively through the rest of the 103 works. For instance, he provides limited biographical information. 45-year-old Maigret is Chief Inspector of the Brigade Mobile in Paris, but he does not have “many helpers,” just “one or two,” and one of those, Torrence, gets murdered early on. He is married to Madame Maigret, but he does not have “a car” or “millions” or even a first name.
The physical description is more complete. Maigret is a “big heavy” man, a “solid” one, “a block cut from an old oak tree, or better, from dense stone.” His “hard muscles take shape under his jacket and quickly deform the newest trousers.” He has “large” hands and “strong hairy calves.” Yet, he “has to stop twice to catch his breath” when climbing an incline, indicating he is unfit, and he consumes “obese sandwiches” and many beers, suggesting he is also fat. He has “thick” hair that is “dark brown” with “white threads around his temples.” His derby hat, incorrectly knotted necktie, and heavy overcoat make him readily recognizable as a cop. The pipe so often in his mouth becomes practically a physical part of him.
Personality traits abound: he is “calm,” even “placid.” He is “patient,” as a stakeout for hours in cold rain without “manifesting impatience” highlights. He is also “stubborn” and even becomes “obstinate.” His manner is “grave” and “stern” with a “hardened face.” Indeed, he “did not smile a single time” except once when one does see “a bitter smile.” He “grumbles” and “mutters,” advancing to being “brusque” and “tough.” His emotions vary from “indifferent” to “sad,” and he grows increasingly “angry.” But a compassionate nature shows up early and intermittently, running from not going home one night to avoid “waking up my wife” to unhesitatingly handling the “hysterical crisis” of an adversary “without a shade of hostility, with a gentleness of which one would have thought him incapable.”
Maigret’s “method” (something he repeatedly denies in the series) is in full view. His pursuits include a long passive standing stakeout—“to huddle for better or worse against a wall and wait”—and a short active foot chase—“he moved ahead with reflex precipitation.” He digs up and doggedly follows clue after clue. One example is “unstitching” a mattress to extract a sack of consequential photos and a diploma. Another is using “veritable science” on a tissue paper sleeve that triggers a long train ride to track a lead. However, the detective relies on intuition as well: “Above all, he searches, waits, and watches for the fissure,” that crack through which the man behind the crime will pop into his head. A “vague impression he could not even call a hunch,” which “remains imprecise in his mind,” drives him forward. And there is one harbinger of trances to come: “He plunged into contemplation […] the silence only troubled, rather punctuated, by the crackling of his pipe.” And finally comes the inevitable and remarkably revelatory confrontation: with “a sort of intimacy,” compassionate Maigret and his antagonist become drinking buddies, both “risking their necks,” the lawman guiding the criminal down a path that avoids incarceration.
David P Simmons
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