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Le Grand Meaulnes

   
 

AWOL in France

   

 

  

 

François Seurel, the young protagonist in Henri Alain-Fournier's 1913 novel, Le Grand Meaulnes, says that the arrival of Augustin Meaulnes marked "the beginning of a new life."  This modern French work captures the dream-like aura of childhood with a nostalgic and exquisite delicacy, describing a time where everyday events take on almost supernatural qualities and hours lingers on endlessly.  Periods of youth remembered as if they belonged to someone else, when one is overcome by a feeling that goes beyond mere nostalgia.  Partly set in the beautiful French countryside of la Sologne, Le Grand Meaulnes is also an evocation of a simpler pastoral life that has long since disappeared.

Seurel is a shy boarding school student when he meets the charismatic and good-looking Augustin Meaulnes.  Meaulnes is called quite simply 'le grand Meaulnes' by the other students.  The intense nature of the ensuing friendship changes both their lives in ways both subtle and obvious.  Seurel's fascination with Meaulnes only intensifies after his friend disappears for three days.  Upon his return, Meaulnes recounts having chanced upon a glorious old estate and a wedding party where he fell instantly in love with a beautiful young woman.  This woman in the novel, Yvonne de Galais, is based upon another real Yvonne that Alain-Fournier had been infatuated with and the novel is autobiographical in many ways.  The ethereal otherworldly quality of Meaulnes's description, as well as its utopian sensibility, mark Seurel, and the reader, indelibly.  

Meaulnes is haunted by what he has seen and becomes possessed with the idea of meeting the young woman again.  Alain-Fournier's novel creates a landscape of mystery and beauty with a languorous, intoxicating quality that is perhaps the same mystery that lies at the heart of our most powerful attractions. 

Le Grand Meaulnes is Alain-Fournier's only novel.  Like many young men of his generation, the author was killed on the battlefields of World War I, making this lovely story of lost love and friendship all the more poignant.

 

Read: Le Grand Meaulnes, Henri Alain-Fournier

 

Tags:  literature  france  

 

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