3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
At the start of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca the narrator reminds us that `we can never go back again' as, in her dream, she wanders the winding, overgrown path to Manderley. Likewise, George Webber, Thomas Wolfe's `hero' reluctantly concludes, that `you can't go home again' at the end of his novel of the same name. And this, in essence, is the theme that haunts this elegiac tale of childhood lost and with it the innocence that often, in adulthood, we wish was ours still to claim.
The story of Augustin Meaulnes or, Le Grand Meaulnes, as he is entitled by its narrator, Francois Seurel, 15 years old at the story's opening, begins when 17 year old Augustin becomes a pupil in the school run by Francois' father. Its setting is the small village of Saint-Agathe in the Department of Cher about as close to the centre of France as you can get, in the years leading up to the Great War. The two boys quickly become friends and the older boy soon becomes the kind of hero-like figure that features, commonly, in the developing life of a post-pubescent teen-aged boy. Augustin has a charm and a certain otherwordliness absent in the other pupils with whom Francois is familiar and he is keen to enter into the adventures that friendship with Le Grand Meaulnes suggest might be forthcoming.
Instead, taking off in the dead of night, Augustin embarks on his own escapade; one that will determine the direction in which his life, and those close to him, from then on, will travel. On his return he appears distracted and preoccupied and, eventually, relates his adventure to Francois.
This is a wonderfully written, haunting, tale that will, in all likelihood, remain with the reader long after the last word is read, which accurately recalls all of the sweet pain of youth, during which dreams and life become one and the world seems replete with possibility.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
It struck me at first that the publisher, Oxford University Press, was being somewhat tight in reissuing as a celebratory "Centenary Edition" an English translation over fifty years old of this classic French novel, albeit one with a new and highly informative Introduction by Hermione Lee. Frank Davison's English version of Alain-Fournier's original French was the one I read some forty years ago when it was published by Penguin Books. Penguin issued a new translation by Robin Buss in 2007.
In fact the 1959 English version remains very good indeed and suffers from no infelicities as a result of inevitable changes in our language which take place over time and which can mar even classic, older, translations into English of works in other European languages. Davison's translation retains the delicate poetic essence of the original as far as I can judge from reading (with the aid of a dictionary) the French novel which I downloaded as a Kindle, published by '12-21'. The Kindle version offers a fascinating Introduction by Jacques Perrin which begins with an account of the discovery of the author's body in a mass grave in 1991, some eighty years after he was killed at the start of the First World War.
As for the novel itself, if you haven't read it yet, you have a treat in store. If you have read it, but not for a while, this Centenary Edition will delight you. It's a nice piece of book production and, as I've said, the Davison translation is excellent even after all this time.
The mystery of the book is contained in its title,which is untranslateable,the many shades of meaning of `grand', but it's equivalent in irony and applause is Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby,which was influenced by it a decade later.Also another small difficulty lies in the author's name(the author died in the 1st weeks of the Great War),actually named Alban-Fournier,the Alain was adopted.The apparent matter of the book is simple and myth-like.Francois Seurel, the 15 year old narrator,is living in the provincial village of St.Agathe,in the snowy, bleak Sologne,in central France,around the turn of the last century.He's the son of the villageschoolmaster, and one day a new, slightly older boy,August Mealnes,arrives at the school.His size,natural charisma and sheer, physical presence, lead to him being called "the Great Meaulnes".He's big in spirit and body-a country boy, innocent and oddly blessed,whom Francois quickly recognises as a romantic fool,a knight errant in schoolboy clothes.
Not long after his arrival, Meaulnes mysteriously disappears for 3 days. When he 1st comes back,he is tight-lipped about his absence.Eventually he confides to the star-struck Francois.Lost on a country road in the snow, Meaulnes had wandered into an old chateau, a " lost domain", a vast and beautiful country house and garden complete with stables and outbuildings.Not abandoned,it is weirdly alive with children and young people,who have gathered together for the wedding of Franz de Galais, a member of the aristocratic family who still seem to own the run-down place.Meaulnes,strangely,is welcomed by the celebrants warmly,as an old friend.Following a strange Pierrot figure in a dance through the old rooms. He sees a beautiful young girl playing the piano,and the next day sees her again, near a silver lake on the grounds.She is Yvonne de Galais, Franz's sister,and Meaulnes instantly falls in love with this frail and lovely girl. But the wedding is mysteriously cancelled,and quickly the entire party abandons the chateau; Meaulnes is taken and roughly deposited on the highway near St Agathe.
The rest of the book tells of Meaulnes's attempt to understand what has happened to him,-to return to the lost domain,the enchanted castle,to find and win Yvonne(his Daisy) and to make the vision that has changed his life part of others' lives too.He does all this,with results predictably disillusioning and oddly re-enchanting. (At the end,he marries Yvonne,but he flees her side-perhaps from guilt,perhaps from a feeling of unworthiness-for another woman,returns and is left with the daughter that she has given him before dying in childbirth.That daughter, we learn from the wizened but not disenchanted Francois,will become for Meaulnes the repository of another set of romantic desires.)
This novel although romantic,may in its treatment of it seem hard to understand.It is simply" French",reflecting the way that French life prolongs adolescence while accelerating sex: at moments the protagonists having schoolyard snow-ball fights;at other moments, frequenting fast women and contemplating suicide.The improbability of the incidents are matched by the extremity of the experiences.Some parts are far-fetched,like after Meaulnes's mysterious sojourn at the chateau,the reader is stopped cold by a long incident involving a"Bohemian" gypsy and wandering player,who turns out to be Franz,the son of the mansion,in disguise.The details of provincial life-the cold and snow,the chestnuts gathered-are as earthy and homely as a Sisley painting..But then we are off into a fantasy world where long moony trips to Paris take place with no visible means of support. Meaulnes himself is never entirely credible as a character,an odd and empty vessel: at moments a gawky schoolboy,at others as receptive a hero as Dante seeing Beatrice.His appeal to Yvonne is very hard to understand, but not to Francois.
The novel's incidents are improbable,the entanglements of the 2nd part of the book are hard to recall.But the force of the imagery-the lost chateau-is so strong that it blissfully erases the apparent point of the story.What readers recall is the force and simplicity of the fable-the lost domain of happiness,the abandoned chateau brought to life again by the presence of children,the perfect fairy princess found within it and then pursued at the cost of common sense and grown-up sexuality- and the way the fable is made credible by the voluptuous prose surrounding the dream. Fournier placed a medieval allegory of love in terms of the late 19th century realist novel.The simple story is not without tension of two parallel but counter-pointed impulses:the 1st towards the idealised erotic love(Yvonne); the 2nd towards the recapture of childhood,evoked by the lost domain,whereMeaulnes 1st sees her.The hero is torn between the two-between a desire to retake the lost domain,and a desire to conquer the beautiful unknown, to get the girl and keep her. The erotic world leads back to a state of child-hood bliss. Le Grand Meaulnes is not a coming-of- age story-though the hero marries and even fathers a child-but like The Catcher in the Rye, a refusal-to-age story,a story of a fight,seen by the narrator as Quixotic and noble,to remain within the enchanted world of childhood,and at the same time to make that enchanted world continuous with the post-adolescent world of romance and erotic love.
Le Grand Meaulnes is both a kid who refuses to grow up,Peter Pan in provincial France, and a Parsifal,pursuing his love to the ends of the earth even as she proves to be merely another girl.This gives the book its persistent poetic intensity in the midst of its strangely dated atmospherics.The intensity of LGM as imagery and fable seem to have come from Fournier's adolescent erotic experiences and the immediacy of such emotions for the author. The Yvonne of the novel mirrors Fournier's own experience of seeing a ravishingly beautiful,blonde,blue eyed young woman when he was 18 years old on the banks of the Seine."Vous etes belles",he said to her after stalking her one day.He's romanticising his own life before turning it into literature.The force of this revelation-of perfect beauty,the one true love, revealed in a glimpse and then lost,or never even held-stayed with him through the next few years,as he did 2 years of military service.When published,his book was an instant hit in 1913.In the book there is a fear of sex,an ambivalence about sexual intercourse.The intensity of the romance of childhood is married to an erotic romantic dream. Its hard to imagine tha act of sex that produces the child.Meaulnes's final image in the narrator's mind is of the same big schoolboy with a taste for adventure,not a man tempered by experience,which makes him matter to Francois and us.LGM offers a daydream which has lasted,an adolescent fantasy,a lost enchanted world published just as the lights were about to go out all over Europe.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I read this novel (in French if I remember correctly) at school well over 40 years ago and this anniversary edition prompted me to read it again. It goes without saying that the magic and romance I felt when I was sixteen has gone. But what has replaced it is a better understanding of its adult themes. By `adult', I mean aspects such as regret, the headstrong foolishness of youth which is, of course, the one thing that young people cannot grasp because of their youth.
I am also now able to appreciate where the novel sits in the canon of European literature. That sounds pretentious. What I mean is that age and distance have enabled me to read and understand more. The lush romanticism I fell for originally is now tempered by years of experience. In my first reading, I was impatient with the `ordinary' scenes of French rural life. Now I am amazed how sharply Fournier has portrayed them. I can also see how similar the opening scenes are to Flaubert's Madame Bovary which is the quintessential `anti-romantic' novel. I can also appreciate now Fournier's used of what we have come to know as magic realism. Here is the Impressionism adopted by the French painters of the time as well as the French music of Debussy and Ravel: part fairy tale, part Commedia Del Arte. It also reminds me too of the films of Jean Cocteau especially La Belle et Le Bête and Les Enfants du Paradis - all with an overlay of poverty, dirt, disease and ignorance.
To me, the title of the novel is now best rendered in English as The Lost Estate and although this edition uses the translation by Frank Davison, I am now keen to read the later version by Robin Buss. This `lost estate' can also be seen as a metaphor for the no-man's-land of adolescence.) I read the introduction by Hermione Lee with great interest and leaned about the author and his `inspiration'. However, I disagree with her conclusions in several ways. To me, the novel is not so much about growing up (although it is) as much as obsession. I was also shocked by the closing lines which made me realise that Meaulnes is as self-possessed and as selfish as his doppelganger, Fritz and that Seurel is the hopeless romantic.
I am pleased I revisited this novel and discovered many aspects I had never appreciated before. John Fowles called it "the greatest novel of adolescence in European Literature." (Coincidentally, although maybe it is no coincidence, The Magus is another novel that consumed me when I was young but I doubt I will ever devour it as avidly as I did in my twenties. There is no doubt that Fournier's novel that deserves to be read many times because, like all great works, it is far greater than the sum of its parts and each reading brings something new to the experience . It has depth breadth and resonance. I don't imagine I shall wait another 40 years before I read it again.