Le Grand Meaulnes (Penguin Modern Classics)

ISBN: 0141182725
ISBN 13: 9780141182728
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

Clare

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.

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.

Claudia

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...

Lorna

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...

Jim Coughenour

Alain-Fournier's novel evokes a lost world, not only the inevitable loss of childhood but also a lost world of fiction, specifically 19th century boy's fiction: adventure stories full of treasure, mysterious maps, mysteries barely glimpsed, adolescent hero worship, and love that knows nothing of lust. David Copperfield; Kidnapped; Kim. A year after it was published, its young author disappeared into the carnage of the first world war, buried in a mass grave. Unlike Swann's Way (also published in 1913), The Lost Domain remains on the far side of the cataclysm, a world that can only be experienced in tremulous fantasy. Love is the way we recognize what is lost.I can't remember reading a book where my response was so divided. For the first 100 pages I was entranced by its magic, and then I was impatient with its slow, preposterous, sentimental development. By the end I was incredulous – the story is inane, ludicrous, sentimental, but the way in which it's told is a conjuration.

Realini

Le Grande Meaulnes, by Alain –FournierI loved this book, which will make me pay more attention to The Le Monde top of 100 best novels…up to know I placed emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon critics’ lists of The Guardian and TIME…Le Grande Meaulnes is “one of France’s most popular novels…much loved yet little read”F. Scott Fitzgerald borrowed its title for The Great Gatsby (some think even the characters).All the life of the author was influenced, moved round a single afternoon, when he met Yvonne, which is the name of the main female character in Le Grand Meaulnes.He talked with her, but then could not see her for years, even if had become obsessed, hired a private detective, and learned that Yvonne got married…“From the Special Christmas issue of The Economist:“In the novel, 17-year-old Augustin Meaulnes is sent to board at a country school. There he befriends François Seurel—the bookish son of the local schoolmaster and the novel’s narrator—and earns the admiration of his schoolmates, who bestow on him the title le grand. Months later Meaulnes stumbles upon a tumbledown chateau where a bizarre wedding party has assembled, its guests in lavish historical costume. There he encounters a beautiful young woman, but afterwards he finds it impossible to locate the strange estate, and the mysterious girl. Before his search comes to an end, a bungled suicide will leave one character disfigured; a brief affair in Paris will lead a young woman to the streets….”To finish on a lighter note, there is this passage with made me laugh:“” un chien de race melee, qui repondait au nom AGACANT de Becali (!!)…sans avoir d’aptitude pour autre sport”

Mark

"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.

Micky

I had to give up after 150 pages, just couldn't handle reading any more of this rubbish. I read a plot synopsis which reassured me that I was right to give up - it descends into the kinds of ridiculous plot contrivances that really annoy me.I don't think translation has anything to do with it. Whatever the langauge, the story and prose are still going to be the same, as well as having the same unrealistic, flat, expository dialogue suitable for children.Other annoyances:• Lead character is 'Great' for what exactly? This books just declares his greatness and expects us to be as gushy about him as the dull narrator is.• Lead character falling in love with a 'most beautiful woman ever', having only just met her.• Not much character development.• There is nothing mysterious about the Lost Estate.• Nauseating romanticism.

Adam

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.

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.

Simon Mcleish

Originally published on my blog here in September 2002.The Catcher in the Rye has been an important novel in the lives of many of its readers, helping to re-define ideas of what teenagers are like in the English-speaking world. To a French person a generation or so earlier, Le Grand Meaulnes, which is also about growing up, might well have had a similar effect. A further similarity between Alain-Fournier and J.D. Salinger is that the one novel amounts to virtually their entire output, though in the case of the French author this was because of his tragic early death on the Western Front rather than the reclusiveness of Salinger's later years.The narrator of the novel is Francois Seurel, the son of a schoolmaster. He is approaching the end of his education when a new pupil arrives at the school. Augustin Meaulnes quickly becomes the leader of the boys in their wildest escapades in the countryside around the school. On one of these adventures Meaulnes becomes lost and ends up at a ruined country estate which is being prepared for a bizarre wedding. (This is why a filmed version of the novel was entitled The Lost Domain.) There he meets a young woman and falls in love, but once he returns to the outside world he is unable to find the chateau again, even though he becomes obsessed with the search.There are three things which mark Le Grand Meaulnes out as a classic. The first is its evocation of childhood, particularly the magical nature of some of our experience in that period which often produces nostalgic feelings in later life. The second is in the symbolic nature of the domain itself, which is really the same thing: it stands for that which is left behind on entering adulthood, something which we can never find again no matter how hard we search. The third reason, also connected, is the relationship between Seurel and Meaulnes. This is one of idealistic hero worship on Seurel's part; there aren't quite homoerotic overtones, but it comes close (and of couse, as narrator, Seurel would be able to censor the story as he chooses). It is something typical of adolescence; though one would usually expect one of them to be younger than the other, here Seurel is given a slight infirmity which makes his hero worship of a contemporary more credible.Le Grand Meaulnes has rather suffered for non-French readers for two reasons. Alain Fournier's untimely death meant that he didn't generate the international reputation during his lifetime that he might well have done; it is easy enough to believe that he might have produced work equalling the front rank of twentieth century French novelists. The other problem is that two key phrases are difficult (if not impossible) to translate. One is crucially the title, because "grand" is being used to carry far more than its dictionary translations, "big" or "great". The choice made here is to keep the French title (also marred for English speakers because the character's name is nearly phonetically equivalent to "moan"); this can only be off-putting. Other titles which have been used are The Wanderer, which is rather vague, and The Lost Domain, which introduces the other untranslatable phrase. This is "domain", used of the run down chateau and (crucially) the world it evokes in itself and as a symbol. The problem is again the baggage which goes with the word; the literal equivalent "country estate" has different connotations in English. For Alain-Fournier, it also designates an unreal world beside our own, like that Faerie of George MacDonald. In this domain the normal rules do not quite apply; once experienced, it is never forgotten, remaining an influence for ever. This is what Alain-Fournier has to say about childhood, and he uses the domain as a symbol to do so.Salinger provided Holden Caulfield with a mission - to proclaim that adults are not always right, that teacher does not always know best. Alain-Fournier's characters are gentler, less iconoclastic. Even though they do things against the wishes of adults, the novel is from a world long before the kind of cynical teenage rebellion documented by Salinger. Since Salinger's picture of the teenager has gone on to become so dominant in modern culture, Le Grand Meaulnes has something of the air of a period piece. Yet as an evocation of the magic of adolescence, it remains an unsurpassed classic.

Frances

I, ok. I don't think I am smart enough to have enjoyed this book. To see the beauty in this novel.Is it because it's the quintessential French novel, and I'm not French? Like, at all?Is it because I CANNOT STAND BOOKS WHERE A SIMPLE CONVERSATION WOULD HAVE SOLVED EVERYTHING?This, at the end of the day, was just dull. "The Great Meaulnes" was, in fact, just a boy who refused to commit and instead gloried in wallowing in self-pity.Yawn.

Bogna

I read "Le Grand Meaulnes" at school when I was ca 16, the book stood in its own category, the impression it left hard to describe. And then it disappeared - from my life, but strangely enough, also from public interest in Poland. I remembered it again after coming back home from Duino two years later, and wanted to get it, to go back, to decipher it better, but nobody I asked knew it. I kept looking in libraries, book-shops, in vain, not even on the internet for a long dozen of years did anything appear.And then, I entered perchance into one of these book-exchange bazaars here in Warsaw a few years ago, and there it was: "Le Grand Meaulnes", by Alain-Fournier, waiting for me! A Polish edition from 1938, thick, yellow, and stamped all around by various libraries it had belonged to over the 70 years of its existence.I was afraid to read it again, afraid of a disappointment and disenchantment. It took me nearly half a year to start. But my anxiety was needless, it got me even more enchanted - "Le Grand Meaulnes" has the capacity to grow with the reader.The book's own fate seems to go along the mystery it presents, drawn slowly and with delicate sincerity by the Author. The tragedy of the main character, though painted in pastel colours, reveals in fact a different tragedy, quiet and even more pastel. Enough said.A few months after I had read it, I turned on the Polish radio, Programme 2, and heard Iwona Smolka, a well known middle-aged literary critic, starting the programme she has every week with Tomasz Burek and Piotr Matywiecki, also critics and writers, more less thus: "the book we are going to discuss today is not just a classic novel that one has read at the age of 17 and was fascinated though one could not understand, this narrative stayed in memory and has been carried there until one needed to go back and live the adventure of the characters again, seeking to understand. And one does go back and the adventure revives". I trembled, and I was not mistaken.

Helynne

Although Le Grand Meaulnes (sometimes translated as The Wanderer or The Lost Estate) was written in 1913, which was more in the decadent or modernism era, this lovely, mysterious novel falls definitely into the category of late Romanticism. Just one year after publishing his one and only novel, young Henri Alain-Fournier was killed in a World War I battle at Epargnes in 1914. The literary world is so much the poorer for his loss as well as for the loss of many more novels he surely would have written. The title character in Le Grand Meaulnes is a 17-year-old student, Augustin Meaulnes, who arrives at a boys' school in rural France, about 1910. Meaulnes is worldly and charismatic, and soon has all the boys wanting to be his friend. The narrator of the story is Meanlnes's best friend Francois Seurel, a sickly 15-year-old boy upon whom Meaulnes seems to have a healing effect. Francois carefully chronicles all the elated and brooding emotions of his moody new friend. One day, Meaulnes takes a cart and horse from the school and disappears for three days without explanation. When he returns, Meaulnes seems dazed and forlorn. He relates to Francois how he accidentally stumbled upon a beautiful old house--what he will later call "the lost domain" --in the middle of a forest. Meaulnes sneaked into an engagement party that was going on there. The party had a dreamy, surrealistic feel to it until Meaulnes heard from the sad, young groom that the wedding was off because the fiancee fled. Meaulnes also met and talked to beautiful Yvonne de Galais, the sister of the would-be groom. But before he could really get to know her, she disappeared and he had to stumble his way back to the school. The original 1960s film version of this novel is a beautiful tribute to the spirit of Alain-Fournier's story. As Meaulnes tells in flashback his experience at the lost domaine, the footage is shot in a blurred style, like a Monet painting, to indicate his dreaminess and confusion during his disoriented and ethereal state. (I have also read that the 2006 film version is disappointing; too bad!) The events that subsequently continue to bring together and pull apart Meanlnes, Yvonne, Franz, and his would-be bride Valentine, and various "bohemian" youth of the region continue in Francois's narrative for the next three years until the story comes to its melancholic conclusion. This is beautiful piece of writing in terms of coming-of-age, adolescent angst, and the typical Romantic search for the unattainable ideal. Highly recommended.

Simon

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.

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