Maigret: Maigret Enjoys Himself

The Dunning-Kruger effect is one of most cited in the field of psychology, to the point where it’s become an all-purpose media touchstone. At its most basic level it refers to the tendency of people to be overly confident of their knowledge and competence in an area where they have little ability or expertise. The initial study was published in 1999. And here is an observation made by Detective Chief Inspector Maigret in Maigret Enjoys Himself (1957):

The less knowledge or experience some people have to back [their opinion] up, the more certain they are that they know what they are talking about.

Part of the work of science is to establish on an empirical basis what everyone already knows.

Maigret is enjoying himself in this book because he’s on vacation. Except that he doesn’t want to take on the crowds at all the usual French getaway spots so he and Madame Maigret opt for a staycation in Paris (“In August everyone will be away, and we’ll have the place to ourselves”). Alas, when the naked body of a prominent doctor’s wife is found stuffed in a cupboard, a crime that immediately becomes headline news, he can’t help but get his hand back in the game. He’ll remain an observer, relying mainly on newspaper reports for information on the case, but he’ll try to nudge his temporary replacement Janvier along in the right direction by way of some anonymous tips.

This is a bit awkward, as the news reports have to be novelistically detailed in order to give Maigret (and us) the information necessary to move things along. Was this style of writing typical of French newspaper reporting in the 1950s? I have doubts. Then there’s the doctor’s personal assistant/nurse, who is described in the following manner: “She is unmarried, and from the sight of her it is difficult to imagine her ever having had a man in her life.” Was this sort of drive-by smear of an innocent party typical of French newspaper reporting in the 1950s? Perhaps it’s a little more likely.

Overall this is an enjoyable change-up that has fun with its working-vacation premise. One of the more interesting parts, and one that says something about how things were changing over the years Simenon was writing these books, comes in a chapter where Maigret eavesdrops on a pair of young lovers. “The boy’s hair was too long; the girl’s, too short.” Get used to it Jules! Long hair for boys and short for girls was coming. But even worse comes when the couple get up to leave and pass by Maigret’s table.

As they passed, the girl gave Maigret’s hat an amused look, even though there was nothing the slightest bit ridiculous about it. It was true that she wasn’t wearing a hat herself, and her hair was cut short like that of a Roman emperor.

Ouch! Not only do they have modish haircuts, but hers explicitly suggests a male authority figure. Meanwhile she finds hats ridiculous! Even if there’s “nothing the slightest bit ridiculous about it”! In Cécile is Dead Maigret had been disturbed at his American visitor not wearing a hat. But that was 1942. The times they were a-changing.

Maigret index

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