Travel log Maigret's journeys in France
Arpajon / Avrainville - 2
La nuit du carrefour - 1
Paray-le-Frésil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
Home Page - summary of works - Travel log (main page) - La nuit du carrefour - 1
Avrainville
Sometimes it is impossible to find the right person, or the right information. In this case, in Avrainville, people were obliging but rather uncaring about the subject of my project. The novel "La nuit du carrefour", that is set in the immediate vicinity of the village was know to them, but nobody had read it. To me this was kind of surprising.
Right outside of the village center of Avrainville I found a house on a small estate that could well have been the Three Widows House. There was the gate, the well, the modest park and the manor house itself.
The mansion at Avrainville that resembles the descripition of the house of The Three Widows so match, only... it's in the wrong spot. The gate of the mansion
It was however situated on an unlikely spot and I was convinced this could not be the house. It wasn't, as the gentleman who came out of the house when I started taking photos, explained to me. He was very interested in the project and tried to help me out. He told me about the ruins of the dove tower that used to stand nearby the crossroad on the spot where the Three Widows House should have been
The village of Arainville is a haven in the frenzied area south of the capital. It is tranquil, by French standards showily tidy and the church and the other older buildings are beautifully restored.
In a bystreet I find the "Mairie" (municipal Hall) with next to it, as usual, the school. It still looks like on the old postcard from the early 1900's.
The children posing on the postcard, in front of the school, are probably since long deceased. The awareness that the children now playing on the pavement in front of the small school building must be their grand-grand children gives me an odd sensation.
The church of Avrainville
Early 1900's: school and municipal Hall 2003: school (behind the fence) and municipal Hall (white building in the background)
There is no inn or hotel in Avrainville and only one small restaurant. In the well-patronized Pizzeria Carla, where I savor the excellent "pizza d'Avrainville" (merguez - spicy lamb sausages -, goat cheese, potatoes) with a glass of lovely chilled rosé wine, nobody can tell me anything about an inn in the village in former times.
At the bus stop in front of the church two teenage boys are waiting. When they see me they want to know why I am taking pictures. In their black jeans and leather jackets and both with a rather original shock of hair - to say the least - they look a bit frightening and sturdy. But when I explain what I am doing they are the first persons in the village I talk to who seem really interested in the project. They want to know all about it. The name Simenon does not ring a bell but of course they know Maigret, from the telly.

The "supposed" former inn at Avrainville
The boys tell me they suppose that the large house diagonally opposite the church used to be an inn. According to them sometime in the past it was repainted but they remember before there was a sign "auberge" (inn) on it.
This will stay an enigma but I assume it is not of real importance. First of all because the position of the presumed inn does not really match up with the description in the novel and secondly because since I know of the existence of the "Château d'Avrainville" I evolved to an alternative hypothesis.
The field Maigret runs through during the pursuit of Mme. Goldberg's murderer. In the distance the N20.
The Château d' Avrainville
On the D26, coming from the crossroad, on the left hand side, not more than 200 meters from the village center, stands a remarkably beautiful building in a nicely kept park. It is not so much a real "château", rather a very large estate house.
The house now belongs to a doctor but used to be the property of the Merle family.
And this gives us at once the connection between Simenon and this area.
Eugène Merle was the proprietor of a left-wing newspaper "Frou-Frou" (rustle) and a satiric periodical "Le Merle Blanc" (The White Blackbird - see his surname "Merle" = blackbird). In 1925, right after he left the service of the marquis de Tracy, Simenon worked for Eugène Merle, writing for his two publications.
Merle was a notorious figure in Paris society circles. At the Sunday-lunches he organized in his château in Avrainville he invited top-politicians and other important people. Simenon participated in these gatherings and stayed in the château frequently.
At these Sunday-lunches he was inducted into the real ways of the world. In his own words he began to distinguish "le côté pile du monde du côté face" (the seamy side of the world from the visible side).
Simenon says about these gatherings:
The XVIIth century "Château d'Avrainville",Property of Simenon's employer Eugène Merle.
"Tout ce qu'on nous racontait était faux. Je voyais des directeurs de journaux, des ministres, parfois même des premiers ministres comme Édouard Herriot, qui échangeaient des clins d'œil en parlant de toutes leurs combinaisons. Ce qu'ils pouvaient rire des communiqués, des déclarations qu'ils allaient donner dans la presse du lendemain. A Avrainville, j'ai fait mon apprentissage de la politique. Il m'en a dégouté une fois pour toutes.".

("Everything that we were told was false. I saw directors of newspapers, ministers, sometimes even prime ministers like édouard Herriot, exchanging winks while talking about all their conspiracies. How they laughed about their announcements and declarations that they were going to give to the press the next day. In Avrainville, I did my apprenticeship on the political scene. It disgusted me once and for all.")
Yet, Simenon admitted that it was Eugène Merle who incited him to start writing novels.

"Eugène Merle a aussi encouragé ma vocation de romancier. Car je m'étais mis petit à petit à écrire des romans populaires."

"Eugène Merle also encouraged my vocation to become a novelist. Because little by little I started to write popular novels."

Being acquainted with Simenon's habits, we can be sure that also during his stays at the Château d'Avrainville, he walked a lot and explored the area. It was out of these memories and impressions of the landscape and the surroundings that he drew the décor for "La nuit du carrefour".

The Château d'Avrainville was certainly no inn or hotel. It was a private estate. But its position corresponds entirely with the spot where the inn is situated in the novel. After all, this was where Simenon stayed while in Avrainville.
My hypothesis is that in the novel the author replaced the château by an inn, that would better fit in with the story.
Paray-le-Frésil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
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