Travel log Maigret's journeys in France
Le notaire de Châteauneuf
Paray-le-Frésil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - 2 - 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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Châteauneuf-sur-Loire Loiret(45) - Centre
Châteauneuf is a typical French provincial town with a lively, small town center. The rest of the town is rather unadorned: the usual, somewhat unkempt, French houses, the characteristic covered marketplace and a nice cathedral.
The town is situated on the shore of the Loire, but the river runs utterly alongside the town so that one doesn't note its presence when visiting the urban center.
The remarkable thing is that when you descend the small streets to the riverbank, crossing the blue painted bridge over the Loire, suddenly there is no more trace of habitation. Only fields, pasture and trees all around. This is rather exceptional, most cities along the Loire have expanded on both sides of the river, Châteauneuf hasn't.
After strolling around a little in the center to get an impression of the town I start looking for the Place des Douves where Me Goussard's study should be. It's easy to find. Although I have never seen it before the house seems familiar, it corresponds with the image I shaped in my mind while reading the story.
La Grande Rue (mainstreet) early 1900's La Grande Rue, September 2003
I enter the study's reception and present myself to the secretary. I elucidate my project and ask if it would be all right for me to take some photos of the outside of the house. The secretary hesitates and tells me that she can't give permission without consulting the notary. But Me Goussard will be out all day. She inquires if I can come back the next day. I explain to her that this is rather difficult because it would turn upside down my time-scheme for this trip. She installs me in the waiting room and promises that she will try to reach the notary on his cell phone. Five minutes later she returns and confirms that Me Goussard doesn't mind but that he insists on meeting me first. There goes my schedule!
We make an appointment for the next morning.
Me Olivier Goussard jr. - the grandson
At 10.15 a.m. the following day I find myself once more in the waiting room of the study.
Five minutes later Me Goussard comes to greet me and invites me into his office. He starts with apologies for making me return today but he clarifies that, because of the family's connection with Simenon in the past and because of his grandfather's role in Le notaire de Châteauneuf he absolutely wanted to meet with me, out of curiosity and sympathy. He thought it would be more pleasant and friendly to meet in person than giving a distant consent over the phone through his secretary. French charm is so intelligible!
Olivier Goussard, named after his grandfather, points out that of course he doesn't know nearly as much about the Simenon-connection as his father Jean Goussard. "You should absolutely have a word with him", he says. He calls his father who was the former notary of Châteauneuf and is now retired. As it is a splendid day, Jean Goussard is not at home. He gives me his telephone number and insists that I should call him later that day to set an appointment.
Official notary sign
The house
He tells me that the family used to live in this house until the 1970's, then they moved elsewhere in Châteauneuf because the study enlarged and more space was needed for offices. He shows me around the house and explains how it was divided in his grandfather's time.
The entrance to the notary's study was in the rue Gambetta. Chairs in the hallway for the waiting clients and a counter where the "comptable" (book keeper) was installed and where the clients had to pay for their consultation with the notary or for e.g. the purchase of a property. In those days all dealings were paid with ready money.
The first door on the right, now the office of Me Goussard, gave entrance to the workplace of the clerks. In this room of 5 by 5m 6 clerks stood working, upright, on high desks,
Front-fa�ade of the Goussard's notary study and residence.
(The small round window is an "oxes-eye", it allowed the first clerk to see the clients arriving)
first clerk (Jean Vidier in the story) in the middle of the room overseeing his subordinates.
The second door to the right was the one to the office of the notary himself. And that was the whole study of Me Goussard at the time.
In the second part of the house the private rooms of the family were to be found: the drawing-room, the kitchen and on the left side of the hallway the spacious dining room. The family-entrance was at the end of the hallway, to-day the way in to the study. Upstairs, on the 1st floor (2nd in the US) the bedrooms were to be found, and most likely the notary's private study. On the 2nd floor, the servants quarters. Behind the dinning room, but only accessible through the garden, were the stables.
When I ask Olivier Goussard if his grandfather, as a person, resembled Me Motte - the notary of Châteauneuf from the story, he mentions his smile: "Un beau sourire" (a nice smile). Simenon also reports this smile, maybe somewhat less idealized.
Maigret's attitude towards the notary in the story is clearly characterized by appreciation with, here and there, a little sparkle of amusement because of a particularity or a humorous detail. It is not inconceivable that Simenon by drawing the persona of Me Motte, used his perception of Me Goussard's character and magnified some of the more nonconforming traits he observed.
Olivier Goussard tells me that his grandfather was very amused by Simenon's decision to bless the notary with three lovely daughters. In fact, so he tells me, my grandfather had three sons, Jean, Etienne and Paul. Again an illustration of how Simenon handles his sources of inspiration. How he observes and absorbs reality and turns and twists it into imaginary settings, that are so close to authenticity.
Me Goussard can show me an other witty specimen of this sense for realism.
In the story Maigret, walking from the cottage on the bank of the Loire to the house of the notary, observes at the gate of the notary's property two stone posts.

"Il s'arrêta devant le portail, entre les deux bornes de pierre souillées des pipis de tous les chien du quartier."
"He stopped in front of the gate, between the two stone posts soiled with the wee-wees of all the dogs in the district."

He takes me outside the gate and points my attention to the stone post: "Voilà" he says, "et les chiens..., après tant de générations, font toujours la même chose. "
(And the dogs..., after so many generations, still do the same thing.)
"The dogs still do the same thing"
In the garden, which is a lot smaller than depicted in the story, the notary shows me where the stables for the coach horses used to be, the poultry-house and the rabbit-hutch. In the old days it was very common for citizens, even in town, to keep their own livestock of small animals. That way, in an era with no refrigerators, a nice and fresh piece of meat on the diner table was guaranteed. Of course the animals were cared for, slaughtered and prepared by the servants.
Go to Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - 2
Paray-le-Fr�sil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - 2 - 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)