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"...the forsaken city, your lost love, endless night, summer, fever...",
This review is from: The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In a new translation for the Penguin Classics imprint Alain-Fournier's book Le Grand Meaulnes has been retitled as The Lost Estate with the former title in brackets. I don't know why it is so difficult to stick to the French title, which is obviously Alain-Fournier's preference. I suspect the involvement of marketing managers.
I read this as an adolescent and was swept away by it's romanticism and feeling of another time. Coming to it in what I laughingly call my prime I am less swept away as swept into the corner. So much still resonated for me - but I was also more critical. It is true that Le Grand Meaulnes himself is absent for a good deal of his own feast and it is Francois Seurel, the 15 year-old narrator whose life is upset and enchanted by the slightly older Meaulnes. It is Meaulnes who rides away one day, returning a few days later with his story of wandering the countryside and coming upon a beautiful old chateau where hundreds are gathered to celebrate the return of Frantz de Galais, a young aristocrat who is bringing his fiancée to be married, and meeting there the love of his life, the beautiful Yvonne, sister of Frantz. Something has gone wrong with the marriage plans, however, and Frantz flees in the middle of the night, with his companion a man dressed as a Pierrot. There follows a series of shocks and village disturbances ending in a death and a birth.
Seurel himself is embroiled in the heart-break and this is as much his story as that of Meaulnes, who is part-spectre - a boy and a man acted upon who fades in and out of view by virtue of Seurel as narrator, and never makes himself entirely manifest. He is somehow always unknown, a mystery, his motives clouded.
Is this, then, the consummate romantic view of adolescence discarded, broken-off, and maturity gained? Well of course it is absolutely and delicately, almost magically that story in its tragic epitomy. Is it also disjointed, fatalistic, and annoyingly unsatisfying? Yes, it is that too. Our beautiful dreams are dust.