Le grand Meaulnes

ISBN: 0543896161
ISBN 13: 9780543896162
By: Alain-Fournier

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About this book

À la fin du XIXe siècle, par un froid dimanche de novembre, un garçon de quinze ans, François Seurel, qui habite auprès de ses parents instituteurs une longue maison rouge - l'école du village -, attend la venue d'Augustin que sa mère a décidé de mettre ici en pension pour qu'il suive le cours supérieur : l'arrivée du grand Meaulnes à Sainte-Agathe va bouleverser l'enfance finissante de François... Lorsqu'en 1913 paraît le roman d'Alain-Fournier, bien des thèmes qu'il met en scène - saltimbanques, fêtes enfantines, domaines mystérieux - appartiennent à la littérature passée, et le lecteur songe à Nerval et à Sylvie. Mais en dépassant le réalisme du XIXe siècle pour s'établir, entre aventure et nostalgie, aux frontières du merveilleux, il ouvre à un monde d'une sensibilité toujours frémissante, et qui n'a pas vieilli.

Reader's Thoughts


Apparently this novel is big in France while it's not very well-known in the English-speaking world. The author died in World War I at the age of 27. Childish and flawed, it's nonetheless fascinating, mysterious, whimsical and magical. Set in the provinces of France, it is primarily the story of two young men who met at school and are friends. There is a light and plaintive touch to the writing and I think it is very special, for its obvious flaws in structure and characterisation; but some of that gives to its fairy-tale nature also.


"Man, this book is so French." That's the recurring thought I had as I read The Lost Estate. It seems many critics over the years have responded to this book as a elegy on the loss (or, more specifically, the leaving behind) of childhood. This is entirely accurate, of course, but to me it seems even moreso a classic French meditation on sadness.This is not to say that French authors have a lock on depressing books, but aside from the works of Alexandre Dumas and Stendhal, most of the other French novels I'm familiar with (e.g., Les Misérables, Candide, Madame Bovary, The Immoralist, The Stranger, Nausea, The Mystery Guest) are filled with despair, ennui, or some combination of the two.Which is also not to say that I didn't enjoy The Lost Estate. On the contrary, it's beautifully written (or should I say translated, in this case by Robin Buss) and skilfully evokes that drained, empty feeling one gets when a certain thrilling childhood experience is revisited in adulthood, only to discover that the thrill is no longer present. But the sadness is there, in the book, almost from the beginning and, perhaps even more oddly, during Meaulnes's pivotal experience at the ethereal château de Galais. Perhaps it is because we hear Meaulnes's personal account of this lost estate (albeit through François's narration) only after he has already returned and is trying to find his way back to it that the story itself is suffused with sadness. But even as we read about the children playing in the lawns, the sumptuous feast, the lake outing, or Meaulnes's first glimpse of beautiful Yvonne at the piano, it's as if Meaulnes is despairing of his adventure even as he lives it. This cloud over the proceedings is what led me to my second recurring thought while I was reading this book: "Why do the French have to be so gloomy?" Again, I can't really support this thought with empirical evidence so much as a general feeling about French novels, film (from Contempt to Of Gods and Men), and philosophy (Foucault and Derrida). This gloom that so pervades the book led me to wonder why Meaulnes was so intent on returning to the estate and finding Yvonne. From what I could tell, his idealized vision of that place and the girl he found there seemed to crumble even before he was finished completing it. So then I thought to myself, Perhaps one must be French to truly appreciate Meaulnes's predicament. I have a Russian colleague who contends that someone who isn't Russian can't truly understand a book like Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita . You may understand the plot, the characters, even the novel's themes, but there's something fundamentally Russian about the book that cannot be deciphered by a non-Russian. Perhaps this isn't true (after all, human experience is subjective and, as a Russian, he can't possibly know what it's like for a non-Russian to try to decipher The Master and Margarita), but it raises an interesting point. One might say that the point of literature is for a writer to convey a certain experience to a reader who has never had that experience; but are there some experiences, or modes of feeling, that cannot cross certain boundaries, despite the skill of the writer who attempts to cross them? I don't know. But I do feel as if I failed to understand something very important lurking within The Lost Estate. And perhaps the reason why I failed to understand it is because I'm just not French.

David Rain

Alain-Fournier was the pseudonym of a French writer, real name Henri Alban, who died in the First World War at the age of twenty-seven. The narrator of this, his only novel, is a young boy, the son of a schoolmaster in provincial France in the late nineteenth century. The story begins when a new pupil comes to the school, the extraordinary Augustin Meaulnes. Taller than the other boys, stronger, more daring, Meaulnes seems destined for adventure, and adventure soon comes when he absconds from school and discovers the mysterious “lost domain,” deep in the countryside. There, guests gather for a strange and enchanting party, and Meaulnes meets the beautiful Yvonne de Galais, who is to beguile him for the rest of the book. Thus begins one of the great romantic novels of adolescence and a brilliantly magical fable, filled with mystery and longing. A great many writers have citied this book as a favourite, notably John Fowles, in the preface to the 1977 revised reissue of his novel The Magus (1966), who claimed that he sought, in this justly celebrated novel about the mysterious goings-on on a Greek island, to create the same effect of enchantment achieved by Alain-Fournier. (Interestingly, Fowles says that he missed a trick: he should have made his main character a teenage boy, instead of a young schoolteacher). In English translations, Le Grand Meaulnes (the narrator’s bantering term of affection for his intrepid friend, as in “The Great Meaulnes” or “Meaulnes the Great”) now usually appears under the French title, but has been known in the past as The Wanderer or, more commonly, The Lost Domain.

John Mark King

** spoiler alert ** This book really caught me by surprise. At first, it seemed like a typical coming-of-age story about a young boy who befriends a new kid in town who is wild, adventurous and unpredictable to the extreme. Then, it became a sad treatise on the damage free spirits can inflict on those they love...I read into it that we are often so overcome by the pursuit of our happiness, that we are often let down when we actually catch her. Finally, the book revealed itself to me for what it truly was, a tender story of one young man's complete devotion to a friend and the tragedy of guilt, betrayal and lost love.


It gets an extra star for the gormanghast-esque whimsical party section, but the rest of the book didn't quite do it for me. It has that odd pacing of books from the late 1800s where you're not always sure what has just happened, although I am willing to blame the translation. It has some lazy devices including a really boring narrator and a whole end section told by means of a diary. It definitely took me to life for a provincial French young boy, but on reflection, perhaps I'm not that interesting in the lives of provincial French young boys...

Claire McAlpine

Impossible to read without some comprehension of the short life and ambitions of Alain-Fournier and thanks to an excellent introduction by Hermione Lee, we are given that context through which to read his story.It is a story of a childhood and adolescence told through one who observes, follows and understands. His friend Meaulnes, the dreamer, the adventurer runs away from school and encounters a grand estate in the throes of festivity and meets a beautiful girl, thereafter he is consumed by both and tries to find them.It is a nostalgic read, somewhat melancholy, infused with an air of pending tragedy - and reminiscent of the life of the author. It is symbolic, not just of the end of childhood and romantic notions, but also the end of an era of narrative style, published at the same time as Proust's Swann's Way, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time.Swann's Way would come to be seen as one of the great pioneering landmarks of the modernist movement, Le Grand Meaulnes as the end of a romantic tradition. To some readers, later in the century, Le Grand Meaulnes felt like a cul-de-sac, a direction no longer possible after the war; they dismissed it as old-fashioned, escapist, and insufficiently experimental. To others, the novel felt, itself, like a lost domain, the domain of nostalgic, rural writing, romantic yearning, and childlike purity. - Hermione LeeMy complete review here at Word by Word.

M. Christine

Bought this for the Edward Gorey-illustrated cover. I should never read an introduction of a book, but I did read this one by Fredrika Blair (translation by Francoise Delisle), which bulked up my expectations. But I'm okay with it now, as I approached reading knowing the historical context of Alain-Fournier. English translation delights with ambient language of sparkling youth in playground fights, summer picnics, traveling shows, and of a journey to recapture a fleeting euphoria of love at first sight. What motivates the irrepressible character Meaulnes? To find an elusive, ethereal girl that he encounters in the midst of a magical party he crashes during one of his many stints as a scalawag adolescent (scalawag in the Tom Sawyer sense). Or is it the chase or quest or the churn of energy catapulting a boyhood into life. So glad I read The Goldfinch just before, as they inadvertently echo similar themes in polar opposite contexts. Lucky me.

MJ Nicholls

Le Grand Meaulnes is supposed to be untranslatable, and this translation by French classics legend Robin Buss doesn’t convince me otherwise. The novel hinges upon the titular Meaulnes being such a charming force of character in a lower-class school, his name echoes down the ages and his antics and adventures make him a much-beloved geezer in the province. Doesn’t quite work. But the narrator François is certainly smitten and describes Meaulnes’s first love in fits of florid descriptive prose worthy of Huysmans. Alain-Fournier (who died in the First War after this was published) seeks to capture the end of adolescence in a wistful and romantic way, and many passages in this short-chapter novel succeed at creating a dreamy forgotten arcadian paradise that might raise a tear or two, depending how pleasant your past was. But the novel lacks cohesion or credible characters, so the end result is a hotchpotch of moments within a sentimental bildungsroman frame, with a lapse or two into melodrama.


A fantastic illustration of how poisonous nostalgia can re-shape your reality for the worse. The protagonist of "The Lost Estate" wants to relive a particular event from his adolescence so badly that his present is dedicated to manipulating reality in order to meet his romantic vision of the past. While this sounds heavy, the writing is deceptively light and simple, and hits the right note for a perfect coming-of-age adventure tale. The melodramatic elements of the book mask, or maybe support, the message looming in the background of all the action: even when you can go back, you can't really go back. Beyond the plot mechanics, there's much to be gleaned for anyone prone to romantic exaltation of the good old days. The almost soap opera-like story and twists drew me in, but the evocative writing and bittersweet bummer atmospherics are what made the book great. Recommended for 30-something sadsacks with a penchant for wistful introspection.


An elegy to lost love, an evocation of the sad inevitability of time, in the form of a modern chivalric romance: a questing youth stumbles upon an engagement party that seems an enchanted otherworld, falls in love therein, tries forever to return, but is foiled by the slow, dread entanglements of the everyday world and his own failings—he finds the woman, but never again the enchanted moment. The tale is told with an almost minimalist delicacy. Magical and melancholy.Favorite quote: Weeks went by, then months. I am speaking of a far-away time—a vanished happiness. It fell to me to befriend, to console with whatever words I could find, one who had been the fairy, the princess, the mysterious love-dream of our adolescence—and it fell to me because my companion had fled. Of that period…what can I say? I’ve kept a single image of that time, and it is already fading: the image of a lovely face grown thin and of two eyes whose lids slowly droop as they glance at me, as if her gaze was unable to dwell on anything but an inner world.


There is a time for every book. This one I read it to late, way to late, but somehow it managed to captivate me so much that I felt I traveled back in time, at a stage of my life where everything was possible, where I used to create an image of a girl and fell deeply in love with it, and project that image on every desirable girl that I would meet in my way.Augustin Meaulnes was a lucky guy: the context in which he meet he's love doesn't need any kind of idealization. The mysterious, magic world in which miss Yvonne de Galais lived it was more than an imagination could build, even a great one, like Meaulnes had.(Only a madly in love teenager could imagine a story like this. And indeed, Yvonne de Galais had a real model. The author, Alain Fournier, was deeply in love with a certain.. Yvonne de Quiévrecourt!)The most passionate novels are those in which the author tells his own story, in wich he reveal the experiences who marked his life in a direct or indirect way. One of the proofs is Alain Fournier's story about a dreamer and his love.


How these characters will haunt me...not a scary kind of haunting, just a gentle shiver of my shoulders haunting. Written by a young man who was killed in WWI, this is, as critics have said, a sentimental novel of love and friendship that only a young man could write, an author who was not jaded by life. Francois meets Augustin, 'le grand Meaulnes,' at school and is immediately intrigued by the mysterious classmate. I kept being reminded of DEMIAN and his pull on Sinclair's imagination. But there aren't the ominous undertones here...there's more of a fairy-tale atmosphere with hidden kingdoms and disappearing princesses. Francois so wants to be like his friend. Francois even falls in love with the girl Augustin loves: the beautiful, doomed Yvonne. Yvonne's brother, Frantz, figures in the other triangle Augustin barges into, with Valentine, the sad girl who leaves Frantz at the altar.Francois is a watcher, a Wallflower...he participates in life as a supporting cast member. But without him, the story would fall apart. I love how, finally, he sees le grand Meaulnes as a sad visionary, never satisfied, always running after a wisp of a dream, leaving those who really love him behind. I just felt that shiver...


I first heard this story dramatised as a radio play and came to the novel only recently. Whilst I had found the original dramatisation overblown and melodramatic I found myself deeply enjoying Fournier's work. My translation seemed mostly sympathetic with some interesting footnotes on the tenor of the original french.On one level the novel has a certain magical quality - particularly in it's descriptions of the "domain" and party as discovered by le Grande Meaulnes. There is a lyrical, enchanted quality very similar to fairy tale and indeed, as the reader we are invited to wonder if this is a construction of Meaulnes himself, his friend Francois (whose viewpoint dominates the book) or Fournier. I felt that at points Fournier is pointing towards a different, grimier story underneath the romance and beauty. The passages concerning Meaulnes' diary entries in Paris and the scene of domestic violence as he leaves on his search for Frantz are cleverly constructed through the viewpoint of Francois who is caught between wishing to portray his friend as the hero of a great romance whilst also acknowledging the possiblity, never fully fleshed out, that he is unworthy of this accolade.As in many coming of age novels, we catch Francois on the cusp of growing up - leaving the once all consuming adulation of his friend behind him and finding that the world of adults (unlike that of romance) is full of contradiction, lack of sentiment and mishap. As ever, the question is whether Francois will allow himself to grow up.

Nancy Oakes

One of the few books to which I have given 5 stars in a long while, Le Grand Meaulnes is likely one of the best books I've read in a very, very long time. Set in France of last century, the story is narrated by one Francois Seurel, the son of the local schoolmaster. Seurel's father takes in a new boy, Augustin Meaulnes, who is also known as "le grand Meaulnes." He's the kid in every group who is fearless and who is looked up to by all of the other kids, and he and Francois become very close friends. On one occasion, he becomes lost, and wandering around in the forest, comes across a very strange scene: in front of a neglected-looking, rather large house, he finds children of all sorts, dressed up in finery of bygone times. It is here that he meets a mysterious girl and falls in love. The festivities end somewhat abruptly; Augustin is given a ride home and once back at the school, he cannot put together where he had just been. He becomes obsessed with finding not only the house, but the girl as well, and this quest lasts into his adulthood. An amazing piece of writing, it is a book to be read and re-read. The characters are alive and vivid, and you can feel what they feel throughout the novel. It is humorous at times, sometimes tragic, but has something that will most likely resonate with anyone with a soul or a memory of your first love. HIGHLY recommended; an incredible book.


Oh, this book. Where do I even start? It's known to most English speakers as "The Lost Estate" or "The Wanderer", but actually translates to "The Great Meaulnes". From what I understand, you either love this novel or hate it. It is one of the few books I've given 5 stars to, but it deserves each one as I absolutely adore it. It is told by a young (and maturing) Francois Seurel about a childhood friend (Meaulnes) who turned out to have one of the biggest impacts on his life. First love, coming of age, mystery, enchantment, loss - it's an emotionally whimsical roller coaster (or it was for me) set in France before the first World War. It was a mix of somber and tragically beautiful, and reminded me a lot of earlier romanticism. Many will say that the translation of this book doesn't do it justice, but the translation by Robin Buss (The Lost Estate) managed to get the point across just fine with me! This book made me feel and think so many different things that it truly burrowed its way into my soul. Yes, it's one of those books. Give it a try.

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