Die Wahl

The election (I)


When the Germans invaded Paris in June 1940, they did not fail to seize a journalistic power: The newspaper »Paris-Soir« was the medium with the highest circulation in Paris. They used it for their propaganda. The manoeuvre did not go unnoticed by the Parisians. Circulation plummeted to a third. Who wanted to read the occupiers' communiqués?

The editorial team had disappeared from Paris before the invasion and published first from Nantes, then from Clermond-Ferrand and later from Bordeaux. In the end, the newspaper ended up in Lyon. All that remained in Paris was a shell, which had to be refilled by the Germans. After the invasion on 14 June 1940, a new editorial team was launched a week later. Some of the better-known authors that the occupying »Paris-Soir« was able to attract had not realised that the newspaper was under a new regime. They quickly left again.

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Seventeen months after the takeover, the newspaper published a remarkable announcement on the front page. It announced that the famous »Maigret creator« Georges Simenon would be publishing a crime novel called »Signé Picpus«. The newspaper's readers would be able to choose from a selection of characters to become part of the novel.

After an announcement on 18 November 1941, the characters were introduced from 21 November 1941 onwards and - to give readers an idea - were given the faces of well-known actors. The election was to take place from 26 to 28 November (ironically, there were no other elections at the time), and it was important not to forget to choose the victim. 

We will introduce you to thirty characters from which you will choose the fifteen faces that Georges Simenon will bring to life for you around the likeable Inspector Maigret.

The entire novel was then to be published in the newspaper as a serialised story from 10 December. 

If that wasn't a marketing coup! It was one of those stories that Simenon was known for. He was not only a writer, he also knew how to market himself. The story has a flavour because he didn't choose just any newspaper, but the one that was adopted by the Germans as their propaganda paper. And no matter how you look at it, the fact that Simenon was unaware of this fact would not have been a plausible excuse in the second year of the occupation.

Anyone who has read his memoirs would expect him to go into this coup. But the author hardly says a word about the circumstances surrounding the writing of this Maigret novel:

I knew that I had written a novel in Fontenay-le-Comte at the very beginning in a small house by the sea near a window. Looking at the chronological list of my books, I learnt that it was »Le voyageur de la Toussaint« (»Arrival of All Saints«) and that it was followed by three Maigrets: »Signé Picpus« (»Maigret contra Picpus«), »L'inspecteur cadavre« (»Maigret and his rival«), »Félicie est là« (»Maigret and the maid«), all four novels written in the summer, then, the following spring, »La fenêtre des Rouet« (»The window of the Rouets«).

It is officially stated that the novel was due in June 1941 - how this corresponds to the campaign launched by the newspaper is a matter of speculation. Perhaps the election was already over before it actually began.

That would be a move that would certainly suit a propaganda paper like »Paris-Soir«. It is not enough to honour Simenon in these times.