Maigret: The Saint-Fiacre Affair

In his magisterial history of the twentieth century, Age of Extremes, Eric Hobsbawm writes that “the most dramatic change of the second half of this century, and the one which cuts us off forever from the world of the past, is the death of the peasantry,” a group “which had formed the majority of the human race throughout recorded history.”

So we shouldn’t be too surprised to see that the peasants are still here in semi-rural France in 1932, as Maigret goes back to his hometown in order to investigate a death foretold. “The old peasant suspicion” appears on a boy’s face, while another character’s “marked features, robust bones” indicate his “peasant origins.” It’s odd to hear these racial stereotypes attributed to a socioeconomic class, where the town is a feudal holdover with the local aristocracy is in sad decline, threatened by a rising middle class. Back when Maigret was a kid the ancien régime, even if only in the imagination, still held sway.

The most Agatha Christie-like of these books I’ve read thus far, with a far-fetched plot and even further-fetched reveal at the end. I’m not sure what the invocation of Walter Scott was referring to. Simply the world of romance and chivalry that has been displaced? I can’t think of any literary connection.

Maigret index

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