giovedì 23 aprile 2020


A culture shock for the commissaire. "Le revolver de Maigret."

Uno schock culturale per il commissario. "La rivoltella di Maigret."
Un choc culturel pour le commissaire. "Le revolver de Maigret."

Just as Le Charretier de la ‘Providence’ and Mon ami Maigret draw on Simenon’s experiences in his trips along the waterways of France aboard the Ginette in 1928 and his holidays in Porquerolles in the 1920s and 1930s, so Maigret’s visit to London in Le revolver de Maigret (1952) is also informed by events in the author’s own life. In August 1945, Simenon, like Maigret took a flight to Croydon airport in the southern suburbs of London and stayed for a number of days at the Savoy, one of the capital’s most exclusive hotels. Maigret, who is in London in pursuit of the young Alain Lagrange who has stolen his revolver and is now on the run, calls on the assistance of Inspector Pyke who had accompanied him to Porquerolles in Mon ami Maigret. Until now, Maigret’s impressions of the English had been formed on the basis of encountering them in France, but in the course of his brief sojourn in London he now has the opportunity to observe them on their home ground, thereby opening up the possibility of a broader overview of English society. 
It is, nevertheless, a view of England and the English based on contacts that are mainly restricted to hotel personnel and his Scotland Yard colleagues. While Simenon’s reliance in his fiction on his own personal experience often adds to the immediacy and vividness of his descriptions, it can also be a limiting factor in painting a broader social canvas. The London suburbs that Maigret drives through in his journey from Croydon airport show no signs of the aerial bombing of 1940-1945 which had reduced significant parts of the capital to rubble, and post-war austerity, with its attendant strict rationing of foodstuffs and other items, is not in evidence in the expensive restaurants where the commissaire eats.  
Although there are references to an earlier visit to London twelve or thirteen years previously, Maigret’s response to London is that of an outsider in an unfamiliar environment in which he feels out of place and disoriented: ‘Was it because he was conscious of being abroad? The street lamps seemed to him to have a different sort of light from the ones in Paris […] and even the air had a different smell’. His overall impression is of an ordered society with everything in its place from the neat houses and gardens of the suburbs to the liveried chauffeur of the Scotland Yard Bentley and the floral buttonholes which seem to constitute a sort of uniform for police and hotel personnel alike. Social life is governed by rules - speed limits and traffic lights are respected and the police follow strict procedures - which are implicitly recognised and automatically followed by all.  
Maigret discovers ‘details which enchanted him, then, all of a sudden, others which infuriated him’, not least the laws limiting the hours in which alcohol can be sold in public places and which mean that the commissaire cannot get a drink in the Savoy hotel bar before 11.30 in the morning or between 3 o’clock and 5.30 in the afternoon. Removed from his familiar surroundings and cultural norms, unsure of what constitutes acceptable behaviour in polite English society, communicatively limited by his very basic command of English, constrained and intimidated by a social context of which he is largely ignorant, the commissaire is a victim of a culture shock so profound that it causes him to extrapolate and generalise his own feelings in a demonstration of empathy in wondering ‘Did Inspector Pyke have the same humiliating sensation during his stay in France?’.  
Despite its difficult moments, Maigret’s experience is been a rewarding one in terms of the growth in his intercultural awareness and competence  On his return to Paris, the commissaire has fond memories of his visit to London, realising that, with a degree of openness, understanding and good will, national cultural differences can be transcended; he has ‘kept a soft spot for Mr. Pyke’ and even goes so far when walking through the streets of Paris with Madame Maigret as to try to recreate the moment of pleasure when he drank a glass of beer in a London pub. While he remains a quintessentially middle-class, middle-aged Frenchman in his values, attitudes and behaviour, Maigret’s London visit has been small but significant step towards his becoming a citizen of the world.  

William Alder 

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