giovedì 26 settembre 2019


Deauville as setting in Simenon's popular fiction

Deauville come posto dell'azione nei romanzi popolari di Simenon
Deauville comme lieu de l'action dans les romans populaires de Simenon

Maurizio Testa’s post of August 14 features a photo of Simenon signing copies of the early Maigret novels in front of the Bar du Soleil in Deauville, Normandy in August 1931. The up-market resort of Deauville is a recurrent setting for Simenon’s popular fiction of the late 1920s and appears again in the short story ‘La fleuriste de Deauville’, part of the Dossiers de l’Agence O series, written in 1938 and first published in Police-Roman in 1941. 
Exclusive seaside resorts such as Deauville, Cannes, Monaco and Biarritz were a frequent choice for the settings of the popular escapist literature of the 1920s. The relative prosperity of the period meant that lower-middle class readers has disposable income with which to purchase books and the recent horrors of the 1914-1918 world war made the subject matter of adventure without danger, romance and conspicuous consumption a winning formula.
In L’Amant sans nom, appearing in 1929 under the pen-name Christian Brulls, Simenon’s readers encounter the heroic figure of Yves Jarry, gentleman burglar and seducer of beautiful women. At Deauville, Jarry becomes romantically involved with Eléonore Bruce, the wife of a wealthy American, but he also feels attracted to Jessie, a niece of the Bruces. Eléonore’s husband is killed and Jarry is found guilty. Eléonore rescues him from penal servitude in Guyana on her yacht and the couple returns to France where they steal a quantity of gold ingots from a train. Jarry and Eléonore take refuge in a villa at Deauville and the police lay siege. Jessie arrives and, unable to choose between the two women, Jarry attempts suicide. When he recovers consciousness, Jarry discovers that it was Eléonore who had killed her husband; she flees to Polynesia, leaving Jarry free to marry Jessie.
The action of La Figurante, written in 1929 but published in 1932, once again under the pseudonym Christian Brulls, is divided between Deauville and Paris. The story revolves around the murder of a rich banker, Isaac Reiswick, the plotting of his secretary, Mornier, and a love story involving a young woman, Nadine Langevin, and an engineer, Jacques Morsan.  La Figurante is the second of four ‘proto-Maigrets’, all published under pseudonym, in which the commissaire appears but is not the central character.
Simenon’s third Deauville narrative is the short story ‘La fleuriste de Deauville’, written
in 1938. With Maigret retired, inspecteur Torrence has left the police judiciaire to set
up a private detective agency, L’Agence O, with his collaborator the photographer Emile. Torrence and Emile are in Deauville observing madame Davidson, the wife of a wealthy American, when Loulou, a flower seller at the casino, is murdered with a bullet from madame Davidson’s revolver. Shortly after, monsieur Henry, head porter at the hotel Royal, is discovered killed with a bullet from another weapon. Emile solves the case by immersing himself, in the manner of Maigret, in the life of the staff and clients of the Royal. It transpires that count Vatsi, a wealthy Hungarian guest at the hotel, had recognised Henry as a former rival in love and realised that madame Davidson and Loulou were the daughters of Henry and his (Vatsi’s) former fiancée. By the purest coincidence, all of the characters were in Deauville at the same time and Vatsi had killed Henry and Loulou using Madame Davidson’s stolen revolver in order to throw suspicion on her.
This brief account of three of Simenon’s Deauville stories gives a feel for both the ambiance of the town in the inter-war period and for Simenon’s popular fiction. Deauville is, moreover, at the centre of the emergence of Maigret, both in name and in form. In La Figurante, the commissaire shows sympathy for the falsely-suspected Nadine and Jacques, sending them flowers at the end of the story. The Maigret of La Figurante is a not yet fully-formed character, but for his physical appearance and personal habits, Simenon would draw heavily on the pipe-smoking  inspecteur N. 49 of l’Amant sans nom, a big heavily-built man with the stoic air of a peasant and an obstinate character to match. Whatever the policeman’s name, Simenon was clearly on his way towards the creation of one of the most famous characters in the history of crime fiction.  

William Alder

Nessun commento: