Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989) Last Updated 6 March 2020


This blog entry was first intended as a private note, but I thought it may be of some interest to regular or occasional readers of this blog. Most of the information has been taken from the excellent blog site The Maigret Forum and from Maigret’s World: A Reader’s Companion to Simenon’s Famous Detective by Murielle Wenger and Stephen Trussel. In bold I have highlighted the books that are my favourites. Some believe that Maigret’s bests can be found in The Gallimard cycle but my personal preference tend towards the Fayard cycle and, more recently, among the ones written after his return to Europe, particularly those written on Swiss soil, in Noland, Echandens (Canton of Vaud). Please bear in mind that this is a work in progress, you may read my reviews of the books I’ve read so far clicking on the books’ titles. Comments are welcome.

simenon_georgesAbout the Author: Georges Simenon, in full Georges-Joseph-Christian Simenon, (born Feb. 13, 1903, Liège, Belg.—died Sept. 4, 1989, Lausanne, Switz.), was a French-speaking Belgian novelist whose prolific output surpassed that of any of his contemporaries, and who was perhaps the most widely published author of the 20th century. He began working on a local newspaper at age 16, and at 19 he went to Paris determined to be successful.

Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day. His oeuvre includes nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms. Altogether, about 550 million copies of his works have been printed. He is best known, however, for his 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Commissaire Maigret. The first novel in the series, Pietr-le-Letton [The Case of Peter the Lett], was serialized in 1930 and appeared in book form in 1931; the last one, Maigret et Monsieur Charles [Maigret and Monsieur Charles], was published in 1972. The Maigret novels were translated into all major languages and several of them were turned into films and radio plays. Three television series (1960–63, 1992–93 and 2016-), have been made in Great Britain (the first with Rupert Davies in the title role, the second with Michael Gambon and the third with Rowan Atkinson), one in Italy in four different seasons for a total of 36 episodes (1964–72) starring Gino Cervi and two in France: (1967–1990) starring Jean Richard and (1991–2005) starring Bruno Cremer. Simenon also wrote a large number of “psychological novels” (what the French refer to as “romans durs”), such as Coup de Lune (1933) [Tropic Moon], L’homme qui regardait passer les trains (1938) [The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By], Les Inconnus dans la maison (1940), [The Strangers in the House], La Veuve Couderc (1942) [The Widow], La Fuite de Monsieur Monde (1945) [Monsieur Monde Vanishes], Trois Chambres à Manhattan (1945)[Three Bedrooms in Manhattan], La Neige était sale (1948) [Dirty Snow], Feux Rouges, (1953) [Red Lights], as well as several autobiographical works, in particular Je me souviens (1945), Pedigree (1948), Mémoires intimes (1981).

Despite these other works, Simenon remains inextricably linked with Inspector Maigret, who is one of the best-known characters in detective fiction. Unlike those fictional detectives who rely on their immense deductive powers or on police procedure, Maigret solves murders using mainly his psychological intuition and a patiently sought, compassionate understanding of the perpetrator’s motives and emotional composition. Simenon’s central theme is the essential humanity of even the isolated, abnormal individual and the sorrow at the root of the human condition. Employing a style of rigorous simplicity, he evokes a prevailing atmosphere of neurotic tensions with sharp economy.

In 1966, Simenon was given the MWA’s highest honour, the Grand Master Award. Simenon, who travelled to more than 30 countries, lived in the United States for more than a decade, starting in 1945; he later lived in France and Switzerland. At the age of 70 he stopped writing novels, though he continued to write nonfiction. He died on 4th September 1989, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The ‘proto-Maigrets’. Although Simenon himself proclaimed that “Pietr-le-letton” was “the first Maigret”, the character Maigret had appeared before in four novels written under pseudonyms, and which are referred to as the ‘proto-Maigrtes’. ‘Train de Nuit’, ‘La figurante’ aka ‘La jeune fille aux perles’, ‘La femme rousse’ and ‘La maison de l’inquiétude’. Particularly one can wonder why La maison de l’inquiétude [The House of Anxiety], considered by Simenon scholars as the best of the ‘proto-Maigrets,’ is not included among the official novels of the saga. The answer can be found on Maigret’s World: ‘A Reader’s Companion to Simenon’s Famous Detective’ by Murielle Wenger and Stephen Trussel, ‘… above al, what makes it different from the novels of the saga, is that while Maigret is at the front of the stage, it’s still describe by a narrator –and therefore seen by the reader–“from outside.” Simenon “tells” how the Chief Inspector feels things, how he imagines them, how he tries to understand. That’s the difference in the novels which follow, where Maigret’s impressions are described “from inside”, as if the world of the story were seen through the eyes of its main character. In the official saga, the reader “sees and thinks” through Maigret, he experiences things as Maigret experiences them, and its Simenon’s talent that he succeeds at moving from a neutral and “objective” narration of a detective story, into a “subjective” view of an investigation, where the reader finds himself taking the part of the hero.’

The Early Maigrets, (The 19 novels of the Fayard cycle): Pietr the Latvian (Inspector Maigret #1), The Late Monsieur Gallet (Inspector Maigret #2), The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien (Inspector Maigret #3), The Carter of ‘La Providence’ (Inspector Maigret #4), The Yellow Dog (Inspector Maigret #5), Night at the Crossroads (Inspector Maigret #6), A Crime in Holland (Inspector Maigret #7), The Grand Banks Café (Inspector Maigret #8), A Man’s Head (Inspector Maigret #9), The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Inspector Maigret #10), The Two-Penny Bar, (Inspector Maigret #11), The Shadow Puppet (Inspector Maigret #12), The Saint-Fiacre Affair (Inspector Maigret #13), The Flemish House (Inspector Maigret #14), The Madman of Bergerac (Inspector Maigret #15), The Misty Harbour (Inspector Maigret #16), Liberty Bar (Inspector Maigret #17), Lock Nº 1 (Inspector Maigret #18), and Maigret (Inspector Maigret #19)

“In April 1933, Simenon wrote L’écluse nº1, with the intent that it be the last in the series. In this novel Maigret is getting ready to retire professionally, as his author was getting ready to retire him literarily. And as Simenon has decided to leave Fayard, too dedicated to “popular novels and detective stories,” in October 1934 he signs a contract with a new publisher, Gallimard. But Simenon received numerous appeals … from readers …, and from the editor of the daily Le Jour, asking him for one more Maigret. And so he agreed to revive his hero.”

The Gallimard cycle (6 novels): “At the insistence of Gallimard, contemplating the substantial revenues the Maigret texts could generate, Simenon yielded in October 1936, and wrote a first series of nine stories featuring the Chief Inspector. And he will turn him back again in 1938, writing another series of ten stories in which Maigret is the hero. Eight of these ten stories will from, along with the nine of 1936, the collection published in 1944 by Gallimard under the title Les nouvelles enquêtes de Maigret. Between 1939 and 1943 Simenon wrote first two stories with Maigret again on active duty, then six novels published in two collections by Gallimard –Maigret revient in 1942, containing the novels: Cécile is Dead (Inspector Maigret #20); The Cellars of the Majestic (Inspector Maigret #21); and  The Judge’s House (Inspector Maigret #22); and the collection Signed Picpus, published in 1944, containing the novels: Signed, Picpus (Inspector Maigret #23); Inspector Cadaver Inspector Maigret #24), and Félicie (Inspector Maigret #25).”

The Presses de la Cité cycle (50 novels). “In June 1945 Simenon wrote a short story entitled La pipe de Maigret. Then in August he wrote another short novel to appear in France-Soir, Maigret se fâche, where his hero is, once more retired. Simenon was probably thinking of relieving himself of his character, at the same time as he left “old Europe” to discover the New World. But most likely his new editor, Les Presses de la Cité, was also counting on Simenon to bring his renown, and a few novels on the investigations of Maigret. And so Simenon wrote a new Maigret in which the Chief Inspector is once more retired, Maigret à New York. But this will be the last time he portrayed him as retired. Henceforth, and until the last novel of the saga, Maigret will be on active duty at the Quai des Orfèvres. First Simenon will put his Chief Inspector back into service in the four short stories which appeared in the collection Maigret et l’inspector Malgracieux, then, in November 1947 will have him lead an investigation while the Chief Inspector is on holiday, Les vacances de Maigret. It is of interest to note that his novella, Un Noël de Maigret and his novel Les mémories de Maigret are situated exactly in the centre of his chronology (May and September 1950), as if he wanted to do an update of his hero, before launching him on a series of new investigations. In 1953, with Maigret a peur, there appears a first hint of what will become a constact in the rest of the saga, Maigret’s reflections on aging and the approach of retirement. Maigret se trompe, Maigret à l’école (both in 1953), Maigret et la jeune morte, Maigret chez le ministre (both in 1954), and Maigret et le corps sans tête (1955) are the last Maigret novels written in American soil.

Chronologically I’m going to divide this cycle in three groups:

a) The United States and Canada Period, 1945 – 1955: Maigret Gets Angry (Inspector Maigret #26), Maigret in New York (Inspector Maigret #27), Maigret’s Holiday (Inspector Maigret #28), Maigret and His Dead Man (Inspector Maigret #29), Maigret’s First Case (Inspector Maigret #30), My Friend Maigret (Inspector Maigret #31), Maigret at the Coroner’s (Inspector Maigret #32), Maigret and the Old Lady (Inspector Maigret #33), Madame Maigret’s Friend (Inspector Maigret #34), Maigret’s Memoirs (Inspector Maigret #35), Maigret at Picratt’s (Inspector Maigret #36), Maigret Takes a Room (Inspector Maigret #37), Maigret and the Tall Woman (Inspector Maigret #38), Maigret, Lognon and the Gangsters (Inspector Maigret #39), Maigret’s Revolver (Inspector Maigret #40), Maigret and the Man on the Bench (Inspector Maigret #41), Maigret is Afraid (Inspector Maigret #42), Maigret’s Mistake (Inspector Maigret #43), Maigret Goes to School (Inspector Maigret #44), Maigret and the Dead Girl (Inspector Maigret #45), Maigret and the Minister (Inspector Maigret #46), Maigret and the Headless Corpse (Inspector Maigret #47).

“Maigret tend un piège (1955) is the first written by Simenon after his definitive return to Europe, and it inaugurates in a way a “turning point” in his character’s career, in the sense that the Chief Inspector’s investigations will tend more an more to approach the author’s questions with regard to Man, his responsibility and fate, and the legitimacy of the judiciary and the police machine. The titles of the upcoming novels reflect well this evolution: Un échec de Maigret (1956), Les Scrupules de Maigret (1958) and Maigret hésite (1968). After two novels with a little “lighter” (a lightness also felt in the titles Maigret s’amuse (1956) and then Maigret voyage (1958), the first written on Swiss soil, at Echandes, and in which the author “amuses himself” by leading his character from one corner of France to another, and to Switzerland, as he himself has just done) Les Scrupules de Maigret(1957) is not only a novel where the Chief Inspector ask himself questions about the responsibility of criminals, and of Man in general, but it’s also atypical in the sense that the investigation the Chief Inspector leads is made before the crime rather than after. The following novels will reflect anew all these questions: the effects of aging (Maigret et les témoins récalcitrant 1958), the position of Man in the face of the judiciary Une confidence de Maigret and Maigret aux assises, both 1959). Themes we will see taken up again, supplemented by others, in the novels of the last part of the saga, like the deepening relationship between Maigret and his wife, the refined culinary tastes of the Chief Inspector, and the reminiscence of his childhood. And sometimes Simenon, wanting to treat a theme in a “psychological novel,” doesn’t do so, and uses his Chief Inspector to accomplish his project (as is the case of Maigret et les vieillards, written in 1960).”

b) The Return to Europe, 1955 – 1963: Maigret Sets a Trap (Inspector Maigret #48), Maigret’s Failure (Inspector Maigret #49), Maigret Enjoys Himself (Inspector Maigret #50), Maigret Travels (Inspector Maigret #51), Maigret`s Doubts (Inspector Maigret #52), Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses (Inspector Maigret #53), Maigret’s Secret (Inspector Maigret #54), Maigret in Court (Inspector Maigret #55), Maigret and the Old People (Inspector Maigret #56), Maigret and the Lazy Burglar (Inspector Maigret #57), Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse (Inspector Maigret #58), Maigret and the Saturday Caller (Inspector Maigret #59), Maigret and the Tramp (Inspector Maigret #60), Maigret’s Anger (Inspector Maigret #61), and Maigret And The Ghost (Inspector Maigret #62).

c) The Last Part of the Saga, 1964 – 1972: Maigret Defends Himself (Inspector Maigret #63), Maigret’s Patience (Inspector Maigret #64), Maigret and the Nahour Case (Inspector Maigret #65), Maigret’s Pickpocket (Inspector Maigret #66), Maigret Hesitates (Inspector Maigret #67), Maigret in Vichy (Inspector Maigret #68), Maigret’s Childhood Friend (Inspector Maigret #69), Maigret and the Killer (Inspector Maigret #70), Maigret and the Wine Merchant (Inspector Maigret #71), Maigret’s Madwoman (Inspector Maigret #72), Maigret and the Loner (Inspector Maigret #73), Maigret and the Informer (Inspector Maigret #74) and Maigret and Monsieur Charles (Inspector Maigret #75).

“In December 1963 Simenon relocated to Epalinges, and it wasn’t until July of 1964 that the author once more took up his pen and began with Maigret se defend. In 1965, he wrote La patience de Maigret, which forms, in a way, a diptych with the preceding novel….. In February 1972 Simenon wrote Maigret et Monsieur Charles, He didn’t know it, but that was the final novel in the Maigret saga, and his last novel of all..… Chance or irony of fate –or perhaps a premonition?–in Maigret et Monsieur Charles, he tells how Maigret, in the evening of a fine career, was offered the position of Director of the PJ, and how the Chief Inspector refused, because he wanted to remain a man of the earth, to continue his infinite quest in search of the human.

The 28 Maigret short stories: The majority of Maigret short stories translated into English are available in two books: Maigret’s Pipe: Seventeen Stories by Georges Simenon and Maigret’s Christmas: Nine Stories. Three of this stories, previously untranslated into English, are now available at the excellent website Maigret Forum: The Group at the Grand Café (1938); The Unlikely Monsieur Owen (1938) and Death Threats (1942). The maths doesn’t work, there’re actually eighteen stories in the first book and in the second there’s a non-Maigret story and another listed now among Maigret novels.”

Following the order suggested at Maigret Forum, the 28 short stories are: Two Bodies on a Barge (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; The Mysterious Affair in the Boulevard Beaumarchais (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; The Open Window (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Mr. Monday (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Jeumont, 51 Minutes’ Stop! (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Death Penalty (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Death of a Woodlander (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; In the Rue Pigalle (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Maigret’s Mistake (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Madame Maigret’s Admirer (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; The Old Lady of Bayeux (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; The Drowned Men’s Inn (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Stan the Killer (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; At the Étoile du Nord (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Storm in the Channel (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Mademoiselle Berthe and her Lover (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; The Three Daughters of the Lawyer (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; The Unlikely M. Owen (tr. Stephen Trussel); The Group at the Grand Café (tr. Stephen Trussel); The Man in the Street (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Christmas: Nine Stories; Sale by Auction (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Christmas: Nine Stories; Death Threats (tr. Stephen Trussel); Maigret’s Pipe (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Pipe: Seventeen Stories; Death of a Nobody (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Christmas: Nine Stories; The Evidence of the Altar-Boy (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Christmas: Nine Stories; The Most Obstinate Customer in the World (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Christmas: Nine Stories; Maigret and the Surly Inspector (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Christmas: Nine Stories, and Maigret’s Christmas (tr. Jean Stewart) in Maigretʻs Christmas: Nine Stories.

As a footnote, I would like to add that “the length of the novels varies between 78 and 121 pages, while the short stories size is much more varied. It ranges from the 47 pages of Maigret’s Christmas to the 8 pages of stories such as Mr. Monday, Death Penalty, Death of a Woodlander, In the Rue Pigalle and Maigret’s Mistake. In fact, very few novels may be considered novels strictly speaking, that is to say with an extension of more than 40.000 words. The majority are novellas in size (between 17.000 and 40.000 words). Sixteen of the so-called short stories are novelettes (between 7.500 and 17.000 words) and the rest are short stories (between 3.500 and 7.500 words).” 

2970

(Source: Facsimile Dustjacket The Crime of Inspector Maigret, by Georges Simenon. Covici-Friede Publishers (USA), 1932)

The Crime of Inspector Maigret is a novel by the Belgian writer Georges Simenon. The original French-language version Le Pendu de Saint-Pholien appeared in 1931: it is one of the earliest novels by Simenon featuring the detective Jules Maigret. The first English translation, by Anthony Abbot, entitled The Crime of Inspector Maigret, appeared in 1932, published by Covici, Friede in New York. In 1963 a translation by Tony White, Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets, was published by Penguin Books. A translation by Linda Coverdale, The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, appeared in 2014, published by Penguin Classics. (Source: Wikipedia)

Read more at: Mike Grost on Georges Simenon; The Maigret Forum

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