How Simenon launched Maigret: a ball and photographic covers
SIMENON . UN TALENTO PER LA PROMOZIONE
Come Simenon ha lanciato Maigret: un ballo e copertine fotografiche
SIMENON . UN TALENT POUR LA PROMOTION
We have often underlined how Simenon was attentive not only to the content and the form of what he wrote, but he had also precise ideas as well about the editorial choices as about the promotional modalities. Suffice it to recall the novelist’s quarrels with his publisher Fayard, who was at first time almost shocked when Simenon claimed he wanted to stop his production of popular novels to dedicate himself to that particular serial detective, in which the protagonist was, moreover, a police officer far away from any typology of the successful literary investigator at the time.
Likewise, after having written the nineteenth novel of the Chief Inspector’s investigations, Simenon wanted to stop with the literature of the genre and to devote to the novel “tout court”. Fayard, who at the beginning had been against the idea of the Maigret novels, was now on the contrary quite happy to have been wrong and to have in his team a character of so great success, and he didn’t understand why the novelist wanted to get rid of this goose that laid golden eggs.
Here too Simenon was right, or at least half right. From one part he was now mature and ready to take the step towards these novels that would make him one of the most popular writers of the 1900s. From another part yet, after a few years off, he started writing again Maigret novels (at first for a prestigious publisher like Gallimard, and then for Nielsen and his Presses de la Cité), which would accompany him for his whole life as a writer.
Simenon was also right when he claimed that the launching of Maigret had to constitute an event, and that a usual presentation was not enough, if it would just end up in a column of the newspapers reserved for literary news. He wanted all Paris to talk about it and for a whole week. And he conceived the now well-known event called Anthropometrical Ball, an unbridled party at the Boule Blanche, a dancing club in Montparnasse, where the Parisian cream of the crop had been invited with legal warnings and the guests were taken fingerprints by extras dressed as policemen. Inside there were decorations and furnishings in the judicial-prison-style. A night with dances, Central American music, impromptu performances, drunkenness, improvised strip-teases. And in the press, newspapers and weekly magazines, really talked about it for the whole week. And Maigret got off to a great start, thanks to the literary product, but also to the launching strategy.
And in this we have to add, in the same way, the attention that Simenon paid to the covers. “I never accepted that bad taste was a necessity not even for popular editions…” Not surprisingly he claimed to have been the first in the world (?), precisely in 1931 with the launching of the Maigret novels, to have created the photographical covers that showed not only the ambiance of the plot, but also often the protagonist. In his Intimate Memoirs he told: “in the Maubert district of la ’, as it was called in jargon, a shelter for the bums, with whom I spent a whole night, that time only to find a man that would have to appear on the photographical cover of Le Charretier de la “Providence”. I found him, in the lowest of shelters, for those who have no hope anymore, I brought him a studio where he was photographed near a white horse rented for the occasion.”