An examination of another Simenon protagonist, a sort of Maigret opposite
SIMENON SIMENON. UN RACCOMMODEUR OU UN OBSERVATEUR DES DESTINEES ?
Un examen d’un autre protagoniste simenonien, en quelque sorte un contraire de Maigret
SIMENON SIMENON. UN ACCOMODATORE O UN OSSERVATORE DEI DESTINI?
Un esame di un altro protagonista simenoniano in qualche sorta il contrario di Maigret
Aboard the Aquitaine (originally 45º à l’ombre) of 1936 invites comparison of Donadieu, a ship’s doctor, to Maigret, the city detective. They are both interested in destinies! The detective’s interest in being a mender of destinies “had its roots in the dreams of his childhood and adolescence,” according to Maigret’s First Case of 1949. The doctor’s interest in destinies had childhood roots also, but his story came out 23 years earlier. Donadieu translates as ‘Gift to God’ and this likely nudged a colleague to once quip, “We should call you God the Father!” Notably, Donadieu “had not laughed” because he believed it.
Simenon gives Donadieu four “compulsions.” First is “his compulsion to play God the Father.” Second is “his compulsion to be preoccupied with others […] because he could not remain indifferent to beings […] sliding towards joy or catastrophe.” Third is the compulsion to exploit how “he could sense when certain beings were heading for catastrophe,” to look at “a complete stranger” and know “something bad will happen to him.” Fourth is the compulsion whereby Donadieu “ruminates on the mystery of destinies,” reflecting on how omniscient “God’s plans are impenetrable” and “everyone, in his life, has his time.” These combined “compulsions” make his shipboard position ideal, for “everyone on board behaved as if some misfortune was coming.” For him, the ship is “a bit of matter with life inside,” which fulfills his compulsive needs, for he can observe “people of all sorts, with destinies of all sorts” within its close quarters. “In three days, Donadieu would know them all” and could spend his time thereafter touring the ship, keeping an eye on everyone.
Donadieu, however, turns out to be extremely detached. Fundamentally “impassive with a touch of rigidity, he does not get involved in anything.” In fact, he provides very little medical care. Some examples: the primary malady he sees is seasickness, but he waves its victims off with a “There are no reliable remedies.” As “a doctor who did not like to be disturbed, he finds a way to get revenge” on a woman seeking his care. He humiliates her by first insisting she strip totally naked and then sending her away with a “There’s nothing wrong with you at all.” He refuses to treat a swollen leg because he finds its possessor obnoxious. The captain confines a psychotic to a cabin with padded walls, but the ‘treating’ doctor and locked-up patient “are like strangers, and even worse, the doctor could only regard him as an animal under observation.”
Granted, a broken arm does force the doctor to set a fracture and, ironically, a broken leg produces the novel’s denouement. By chasing after a distraught passenger he is preoccupied with, Donadieu actually precipitates this injury, which brings him his glory as he feels like “God the Father” who “understands the drama” and treats the “wounded man.” That “catastrophe” taken care of, Donadieu seeks to “regain his splendid indifference” and “reflect again on how there is inevitable waste in nature.” He just “wants to keep on playing God the Father,” for after all, “had he not succeeded?” My answer is no because he is mostly a passive observer and rarely an active mender at all. Thus, I dub him the observer of destinies.
David P. Simmons
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