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The Calculus Affair: The red dress woman & the glasses and moustache man

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Balthazar
Moderator
#1 · Posted: 3 Dec 2011 23:51 · Edited by: Balthazar
I've just noticed that two recurring background characters in The Calculus Affair re-occur more often than I remember noticing before. I'm sure many others will have spotted them before, but I couldn't find anything posted here from a forum search.

I think they first appear on page 45, on the coach to Cointrin Airport (Geneva): the woman and her husband sitting in front of Haddock and Tintin who end up getting Haddock's sticking paster on her hat and her thumb.

Then they end up on the same plane to Szohôd (page 46), again briefly getting the sticking plaster as it passes down the plane. This is probably pretty obvious, and perhaps not surprising since that coach seems to be specifically laid on to convey passengers to that flight.

But then, there's the woman again at the top of page 49, sitting in the foreground in the picture of the hotel Sznôrr's dining room. She's removed her coat and hat, but it's definitely her.

And the couple appear once more, behind Haddock in the opera house crowd, in the second-last picture at the bottom of page 52.

Have they really travelled all the way from Switzerland to the rather austere capital of Borduria just to see Castafiore perform in an opera? Or are they agents in deep cover, secretly following Tintin and Haddock, or on some coincidental mission of their own?
jock123
Moderator
#2 · Posted: 4 Dec 2011 00:23
They surface for one last fling, showing up walking in the opposite direction to Tintin and Haddock as they head for the stage door in frame 5 on p.53; I think the husband of your couple may also be looking warily over Haddock’s shoulder in frame 3 on the same page.

A prototype of your couple appear to be sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Cornavin, when Haddock trips on page 19. The lady isn’t wearing her specs, and the husband is balding, but perhaps it just shows the mastery of the art of disguise which keeps them in deep cover…?

Funnily enough I was admiring pp. 52 & 53 only yesterday: I think the scene in frame 9, with Haddock asleep, being woken by Tintin, and Snowy looking disgruntled with his muzzle bound with a hanky says so much with so little – it’s genius! The icing on the cake is the grande-dame sitting next Haddock – the expression on her face says everything about the antics which have gone on in the last hour. The fact that she is stuck behind a pillar, while the Captain slumbers with a perfect eye-line, just tops it off beautifully…!

But that’s drifting off topic slightly…
Balthazar
Moderator
#3 · Posted: 4 Dec 2011 01:15 · Edited by: Balthazar
jock123:
They surface for one last fling, showing up walking in the opposite direction to Tintin and Haddock as they head for the stage door in frame 5 on p.53

I don't think that's them. That moustached and bespectacled bloke has a bow tie, whereas our man has a green straight tie (which he's wearing on the previous page as well as on the bus and plane earlier). And I don't see her at all there. Unless they're both masters of the quick-change disguise of course, as you suggest!

jock123:
I think the husband of your couple may also be looking warily over Haddock’s shoulder in frame 3 on the same page.

Yep, that could be him, although his nose looks a little longer.

jock123:
I think the scene in frame 9, with Haddock asleep, being woken by Tintin, and Snowy looking disgruntled with his muzzle bound with a hanky says so much with so little – it’s genius! The icing on the cake is the grande-dame sitting next Haddock – the expression on her face says everything about the antics which have gone on in the last hour. The fact that she is stuck behind a pillar, while the Captain slumbers with a perfect eye-line, just tops it off beautifully…!

Yes that's lovely stuff! Whilst I think I've noticed the makeshift muzzle and the lady's disapproving expression before, I'd not noticed that subtle gag with the pillar!
jock123
Moderator
#4 · Posted: 4 Dec 2011 11:39
Balthazar:
I don't think that's them.

Ah, good point about the tie – I’d been carried away by the fact that the lady looking back over her shoulder is in a long red dress.
Actually, I think in retrospect my pair at the opera are the ones from the hotel lobby that I mentioned as prototypes: somebody is running quite an operation, with teams of middle-aged blonde ladies and their menfolk trailing Tintin across Europe!
Mikael Uhlin
Member
#5 · Posted: 4 Dec 2011 12:06 · Edited by: Mikael Uhlin
That couple appear in other albums as well. They're leaving the cinema with Tintin and Haddock in Red Sea Sharks (page 1, frame 3) and the woman is visible getting off the plane in Tintin in Tibet (page 6, last frame). And I wonder if it's them in Seven Crystal Balls (page 1), the man talking with Tintin and the woman sitting opposite them. I think I've seen them somewhere else as well but I can't find them right now. I bet they're based on some real-life persons that Hergé knew.
jock123
Moderator
#6 · Posted: 4 Dec 2011 14:36
Mikael Uhlin:
That couple appear in other albums as well.

The gentleman reading the paper over Tintin’s shoulder at the start of Seven Crystal Balls is another version of the man.

Mikael Uhlin:
I bet they're based on some real-life persons that Hergé knew.

I wonder if the man might be another iteration of Hergé’s dad or uncle?
If the Thom(p)sons are a sort of version of Hergé’s father and his brother, then this might be another, showing a more mundane version - perhaps his father and mother or uncle and aunt: a petit-bourgeois couple enjoying a life of slight gentility, going to the office or enjoying a holiday?
Mikael Uhlin
Member
#7 · Posted: 4 Dec 2011 19:08 · Edited by: Mikael Uhlin
Are they in Flight 714 as well, walking down the stairs of the airplane (page 1, second frame)?
Balthazar
Moderator
#8 · Posted: 4 Dec 2011 22:47 · Edited by: Balthazar
Mikael Uhlin:
They're leaving the cinema with Tintin and Haddock in Red Sea Sharks (page 1, frame 3)

They're certainly very similar, with the woman having the same sort of distinctive face and nose, though she seems to have lost the spectacles she had on in The Calculus Affair. (Maybe her eyesight's improved, or maybe the ones she's wearing in The Calculus Affair were fake, as part of her disguise, if we're going with the spy theory!)

A similar couple can just be seen behind Tintin and Haddock in panel 8 of page 11 of Red Sea Sharks, though she's got a different haircut and he looks a little slimmer.

Mikael Uhlin:
And I wonder if it's them in Seven Crystal Balls (page 1), the man talking with Tintin and the woman sitting opposite them.

The man's certainly similar, but the woman looks too different to me - different face, nose, hair, clothes.

In the last post of this old thread, Cigars of the Beeper speculates that the man in the theatre in Seven Crystal Balls whom Yamillah divines is called Augustus may also be the same man as the man on the train and the man on the bus/plane from The Calculus Affair. If it is him, he seems to have left his wife behind. (Maybe she only enjoys opera, and not music hall!) But as Cigars says, he may just be a recurring generic character, rather then meant to be literally the same man each time.

Mikael Uhlin:
I bet they're based on some real-life persons that Hergé knew.

jock123:
I wonder if the man might be another iteration of Hergé's dad or uncle?

It's nice to think they were based on actual people, and that they're meant to be the same people in each book. But even if Hergé wasn't being that specific or repeating them that consciously, I agree that they seem to represent the sort of respectable, petit-bourgeois people who'd have been part of Hergé's family upbringing - everything that Tintin isn't, and everything that Hergé seems to have spent a lifetime escaping from!

Maybe all these stultifyingly respectable background characters - such this couple and so many others - are more important to the "feel" of Tintin books than is often written about, in that they provide the contrast to Tintin's family-free life of adventure.

I'll need to go and look up the examples you've spotted in Tibet and Flight 714 now.
jcjlf
Member
#9 · Posted: 16 Dec 2011 14:57
This woman was already there in the Cigars of the Pharaoh! Probably she was then married to another man, much smaller and stouter as you can see on p.38.
I don't know the name of the couple in the English translation, but it could be Snowball, as in the Dutch version. This treacherous woman was with her former husband a member of the Brotherhood that organized drug traffic all over Asia.
I suppose that after a conviction and doing time in India, she divorced and remarried a much more law-abiding and more conventional husband.
However, she never moved on to another hairdresser in all these decades.
mct16
Member
#10 · Posted: 16 Dec 2011 15:34
jcjlf
I find it unlikely that it is the same woman or that Herge intended it to be, but if that is the case then it follows that she could be a spy in "Calculus Affair". Criminals, including drug smugglers, are said to be involved with the secret service - their natural secrecy, caution and underworld contacts would make them very good agents.

A bit like Muller of "Black Island" going from money forger to secret agent in "Land of Black Gold".

"Calculus Affair" in the original French
In the French version, in the scene with the sticky plaster on the coach, the man addresses the woman with the formal "vous", which is the way you would normally address a stranger rather than someone to whom you are married.

Tintin and Haddock do address each other as "vous" all the time, but then again they are not married!

Also the scene at the hotel restaurant where the woman is shown eating alone, and the way in which she and the man look at one another at the opera in the second-last picture at the bottom of page 52, has always made me think of a sub-plot in which a couple just keep meeting one another while abroad and start a holiday courtship.

Ah, the romantic in me...

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