Bibliography  Reference  Forum  Plots  Texts  Simenon  Gallery  Shopping  Film  Links

Maigret of the Month: La Guinguette à deux sous. (Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine) - 1

11/01/04 –
Whilst visiting Jean Lenoir, a young condemned criminal, in the Santé prison, Maigret ascertains from him some details of a crime that took place a few years before in Paris along the Canal Saint-Martin. Lenoir and his friend Victor Gaillard resorted to blackmailing the perpetrator of this crime, until the latter disappeared, only to surface again later at a popular weekend spot along a stretch of the upper river Seine some twenty six miles south of Paris.
By chance, overhearing a conversation, Maigret is spurred on into becoming involved in an investigation that moves back and forth between Paris and mainly an area of the river Seine between Morsang-sur-Seine (Essonne) and Ponthierry (Seine-et-Marne).
It was in 1928 that Simenon discovered this part of the river whilst he was spending six months exploring some of the canals and rivers of France in his first boat the Ginette. For him it became a favourite area, returning to it during the summers of 1930 and 1931 in his second boat the Ostrogoth, writing there five Maigret novels and one other, two lengthy short stories, as well as five novels under pseudonyms.
During the late summer of 1931, Simenon sailed his boat to Ouistreham (Calvados) in Normandy, where in October he wrote the novel La Guinguette à deux sous.
Having overheard the name of this guinguette, and on an impulse, Maigret, in a taxi, follows someone who he soon learns is Marcel Basso, ending up just beyond Morsang-sur-Seine. He finds himself among a group of people of middle-class background whom, for their own entertainment, are enacting a mock village wedding and Maigret is asked to join in. At weekends in the finer weather, the group are in the habit of visiting this part of the Seine, but as Maigret learns gradually that behind the façade of some of them there lurks greed, blackmail, debt, infidelity, jealousy and the shadow of murder. Maigret is befriended by one of the group, the amiable and seemingly predictable, but enigmatic James, an Englishman working in a Parisian bank. In Paris, both of them take to meet in the Taverne Royale (in reality at 25 Rue Royale in the 8th arrondissement), which James considers as his "bolt-hole".
A fatal shooting at the guinguette puts Maigret in a stronger position to conduct his enquiries, but progress is slow even with members of his team to help him. In Paris he attends to his daily routine, which is punctuated by short messages sent by his wife who is on holiday at her sister's home in Alsace and where Maigret should have been but for his curiosity in locating this particular guinguette.
Even at a leisurely pace, Simenon creates the atmosphere of the locales, be they in the countryside or in Paris, and the characterisation of the people involved, without the narrative flagging. It is almost as if the pace is measured by James, who is content in his home or elsewhere, with a drink in his hand, to watch time pass. At times, Maigret is irritated by James's lackadaisical air, but is not without a certain affection towards him.
Finally with patience and luck, Maigret is able to act on some of the factors in the inquiry, to bring together certain people and to clear up the matter, enabling him to catch a train to Alsace in order to join his wife on holiday.
Note: Une guinguette is defined as a suburban tavern or café where it was possible to drink, eat and dance in the open usually at weekends and public holidays. Many were located near a river and were popular from the end of the nineteenth century until the end of the 1930s. In many guinguettes the music for dancing was provided by a coin operated mechanical piano (the forerunner of the juke-box).

In the film CASQUE D'OR (1952) (the English release was entitled GOLDEN MARIE) directed by Jacques Becker and set in 1898, the opening scene has a group of friends in four rowing boats coming along a river (filmed at Annet-sur-Marne) to land close to a guinguette where they enjoy a drink and dancing. On this occasion the music is provided by a few local musicians and Becker evokes the atmosphere of a summer Sunday in an open-air buvette by the river. Becker adapted his film from the real life Marie-Amélie Hélie, (nicknamed "Casque d'Or" on account of the colour of her hair and the way it was piled up in a large roll similar to the shape of an old Spanish helmet) who ran a group of petty criminals in Paris. In the film Marie is Simone Signoret and her lover, Manda, Serge Reggiani.
In another film, JOUR DE FÊTE (1949) by Jacques Tati, there is scene where François, the postman (Jacques Tati) joins in the dancing in the village café, where there is a mechanical piano that he deliberately kicks when it malfunctions.
Twenty odd years ago, Claude Menguy, a long time specialist collector, friend of Simenon and an expert on the author's work and life, researched the area along the river Seine that Simenon describes in this novel in an endeavour to locate the places that the author mentions, especially la Guinguette à deux sous. Not only did he explore the area on both sides of the river, but met some of the inhabitants and consulted local records. With the help of certain older members of the community and families he was able to put together a good record of what the area was like when Simenon moored his boat there in the summers of 1930 and 1931. Also he consulted the author and his first wife, Tigy, concerning certain facts.
(The boundary between two départements runs through this area. It was from the 1st of January 1968 that the département of Seine-et-Oise was divided into six, including Essonne — refer to 1/11/04, information from Jérôme).

Map, together with the basic information of the various locations, from the research by Claude Menguy (published in Traces N° 7, Université de Liège, Centre d'Études Georges Simenon, 1995, pages 191 to 224) of the area described by Simenon in his novel La Guinguette à deux sous. (Map simplified and adapted by Peter Foord).

• 1) L'Auberge du "Vieux-Garçon". This inn on the right bank of the river near Morsang-sur-Seine was where Maigret, James and several others stayed during the weekend when the mock village wedding was enacted. In reality, the patron of the inn during part of the 1920s and 1930s was Isidore Fauzé.
Le Four à Chaux. This was the main place along the bank where Simenon chose to moor his boat, the Ostrogoth, for some weeks in the summer of 1930, and where he wrote three of the first Maigret novels, starting with Pietr-le Letton, as well as other novels under pseudonyms.
• 2) "La Heurtinière", being the then residence of Monsieur and Madame Heurtin. In the novel this villa was named "Mon Loisir" and belonged to Marcel Basso and his wife. The Heurtins were friends with Simenon, but were annoyed, apparently, when the author gave their name later to a murder suspect in the novel La Tête d'un Homme.
• 3) Near Seine-Port, the restaurant "La Réserve", better known in the 1930s as "Chez Marius" after the proprietor Marius Guillemot. When Maigret first arrives, his taxi driver mentions this establishment as a possible place where he could stay.
4) Barrage et Écluse de la Citanguette (Weir and Canal). There was a mention of this when a need arose to find a place from which to telephone.
5) Le pont de Sainte-Assise (Sainte-Assise bridge). The group travelling in their carriages had to cross this bridge in order to reach the left bank of the river.
• 6) Buvette-épicerie de l'écluse de la Citanguette (Café and grocery). This establishment served the barge traffic near the canal. According to Claude Menguy's contacts in the community, a certain Madame Gaudry, who owned this café / grocery at one time, on Sundays was in the habit of playing the accordion so that her customers could dance. There was no evidence that this establishment ever had a mechanical piano that the guinguette in the novel possessed, nor was it in sight of "Mon Loisir" on the opposite side of the river.
• 7) Hôtel-Restaurant du "Beau-Rivage". This establishment was a favorite place for anglers in the fishing season and at some time a patron ferried people across the river from St-Fargeau to Seine-Port and back. It possessed a terrace and a large garden.
• 8) La Gare. The railway station mentioned as having a telephone.
• 9) Cantine Picketty. At the beginning of the 1920s, two brothers, Maurice and René Picketty came from Italy in order to take charge of working the Sand Quarries. When these quarries were worked out, they were flooded and became Les Lacs de la Guiche. In 1927 the brothers also were given the commission to construct villas in the area around the hamlet of Villers. Simenon became friends with Maurice Picketty and the villa project was similar to the one the author described in his Maigret novel Monsieur Gallet, décédé (Maigret Stonewalled). The Cantine Picketty was a canteen set up for the workers in the quarries and the villa building site.
• 10) Buvette Picketty. This Café and one other structure on this site was established by the brothers, the second acted as an office for the work in the quarries and the construction site, the office being demolished much later when the quarries were flooded. On Sundays the Buvette became a place where people could dance, with music provided by a mechanical piano, so geographically this was La Guinguette à deux sous in Simenon's novel. But from the facts of his research, Claude Menguy came to the conclusion that the author, for different reasons, created the structure of the guinguette in the novel from a mixture of three establishments. These were the Buvette-épicerie de l'écluse de la Citanguette (Café and grocery), the Hôtel-Restaurant du "Beau-Rivage" and the Buvette Picketty (as on a Sunday).

Photograph attributed to Hans Oplatka (1931) showing a group on the terrace of the Auberge du "Vieux-Garçon". They are, from the left, Georges Simenon and the patron of the inn, Isidore Fauzé, both standing, with two gendarmes (in light coloured kharki uniforms) and garde champêtre Gallet (in a dark uniform), seated. (Reproduced in the magazine / digest The Strand, October 1947, Volume N° 114, Issue N° 682, page 42).

Translations The first English translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury was published in 1940 and is somewhat wayward in comparison with Simenon's French text. All reprints have Geoffrey Sainsbury's translation, but in 2003, to coincide with the Simenon Centenary, Penguin Books (U.K. ISBN 0-14-118733-6) published in paperback a new translation of this novel by David Watson under the title The Bar on the Seine. It is good to have another translation which is closer to the author's text, but at times David Watson uses current phrases and words that don't quite go with Simenon's 1931 text. Unlike certain authors writing at the same time, these early novels by Simenon have not dated, as he has the ability always to convey his ideas in a selective and succinct way, with any period details adding to the interest of the narrative.
Also with some translations, additions and errors occur, as follows:
Simenon's French text (from La Guinguette à deux sous, 1st edition, Fayard, 1931, pages 17 and 18):
…Quant au canal Saint-Martin, il n'avait pas rendu moins de sept cadavres.
Et l'histoire des faux bons se compliquait, exigeait des démarches multiple. Ensuite, il fallut conduire Mme. Maigret en Alsace, chez sa soeur où, comme chaque année elle allait passer un mois.
Paris se vidait…

English translation by Peter Foord:
…As for the Canal Saint-Martin, it gave up no fewer than seven corpses.
And the business of the forged bonds became complicated, demanding numerous proceedures. Then he should have taken Madame Maigret to Alsace, to her sister's home where, as every year, she spent a month.
Paris was emptying…

English translation by Geoffrey Sainsbury (from The Guinguette by the Seine published in Maigret to the Rescue, 1st edition, Routledge, 1940, page 145):
…As for the Canal Saint-Martin, it had produced a crop of six corpses that year.
The forged bonds gave more and more trouble, and then, when the case was finally wound up, the inspector hurried off to Alsace with Madame Maigret, who always spent one of the summer months there with her sister.
He only spent a couple of days there himself, but he promised to take his holiday as soon as possible—or at any rate a weekend.
Day by day, Paris emptied…

English translation by David Watson (from The Bar on the Seine, Penguin Books UK, 2003, page 6):
…As for the Canal Saint-Martin, it had thrown up no less than seven corpses.
The forged bonds turned out to be a complicated case, involving many lines of enquiry. Then he had to drive Madame Maigret to her sister's in Alsace, where she stayed for a month every year.
Paris was emptying…

These are small details, but an example of "padding out" of the author's text, as well as an unintentional error, the supposition that Maigret could drive, which he never learned to do, although his wife did later near to his retirement.

Peter Foord, UK

Maigret of the Month: La Guinguette à deux sous. (Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine) - 2

11/05/04 –
This was the first Maigret that I read (a Belgian friend got me interested in the stories while I was living near Washington, DC) about 10 years ago and I wasn't overly impressed at the time. I had bought several HBJ paperbacks and reading the rest of them (I don't remember which ones) made me into a M fan. I thought this story was rather slow moving given all the rowing back and forth across the river and the lack of modern communications and I couldn't work out how M came to his conclusions. I've read it again more recently and I have a higher opinion of it now than I did at the beginning but I wouldn't call it one of my favorites, but it's not all that bad.
One of the interesting things about the M series is the passage of about 40 years between the first and the last. Not only is there a difference in Simenon's writing over time but the difference in police technology and equipment is tremendous. There is also the difference in everyday life as well and this is also reflected. One of the things that caught my attention is the number of married men who have mistresses in the different stories in a supposedly Catholic country. Another insight into French life of the times.


Maigret of the Month: La Guinguette à deux sous. (Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine) - 3

11/07/04 –
While reading "La Guinguette à 2 sous", I wanted to find "la tavene royale" where James and Maigret drank their Pernod. I wondered where it was located.
Simenon wrote in Chapter 4, entitled "Les rendez-vous Rue Royale" that the "colonnade de la Madeleine" can be seen from the Taverne Royale. Today there is the restaurant Maxim's in the rue Royale but I cannot find any brasserie with a terrace. Do you know or have any old Michelin Guide Rouge that mentions a "Taverne Royale" in Paris?
In the book, James is always drinking Pernod. The company Pernod was created in 1928 by merging three companies. At that time, the liquor used for the Pernod was distilled in Montreuil in the suburbs of Paris. The company Pernod is located Rue des Pyrénées in the 20th arrondissement. Another company making the anise drink, Ricard, was founded in 1932. Both of them following the interdiction against drinking absinthe in 1915.


La Taverne Royale
11/10/04 – Replying to Jerome's question as regards the location of this establishment (11/7/04), I mentioned in my entry for "La Guinguette à deux sous" (11/1/04) that it was at 25, Rue Royale (8e arrondissement). Jerome mentions Maxim's, which opened in 1899 and is at N° 3, Rue Royale close to the Place de la Concorde. La Taverne Royale was on the same side of the street, but near the Place de la Madeleine and so the colonnade of this church most likely would have been in view. I can find reference to this brasserie in the 1920s and 1930s, but nothing since.

Peter Foord, UK

La Guinguette à deux sous
11/19/04 – Ah, at last we have gotten to the "Guinguette à Deux Sous". Of all the early Maigrets, this one defines what is unique about Simenon's style. It is every bit as ambiguous and uncertain as a real-life investigator would have felt. And, it describes a slice of French life that has long since disappeared.
I have only read this book in French, and judging from the published English translations, it's just as well. Though both the published (Watson) and unpublished (Foord) ones are better than Sainsbury. I think Watson did OK, by and large, but the "drive" verb is wrong, and Foord's "as every year, she spent a month" is very close in feeling to the original. Watson's "thrown up" is very jarring for an American, who has to think of vomiting when he reads it. On the other hand, Foord has I think misread "fallut" which in this context simply means "had to" -- in this case, "had to take Mme. Maigret..."

Oz Childs
More on La Guinguette à deux sous
at Guido deCroock's Maigret's Journeys in France


Home  Bibliography  Reference  Forum  Plots  Texts  Simenon  Gallery  Shopping  Film  Links