He gave me his copy to pack away in one of the boxes I loaded up into the car and once I’d arrived in the Dordogne countryside I started reading it.
It is a simple story about the transition into adulthood, first love, leaving behind youthful promises, but also captures French village life in the early 1900s.
But having told French friends I was reading it I realised that Le Grand Meaulnes has a similar resonance to them as The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye have in the English language.
It seems clear that Alain-Fournier’s novel must have influenced both F.Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger, as the battle against adult responsibilities underlies all three books.
Le Grand Meaulness is told through narrator Francois Seurel, whose days at school in central France are turned upside down by the arrival of Augustin Meaulnes.
Soon named le Grand Meaulnes, both for his physical size and apparent strength of character and presence, he is soon idolised by many of the schoolboys.
And this image is further strengthened when he disappears for three days and upon his return is a changed character.
He tells Francois of the time spent in a chateau, where children danced, music played and there was plenty to eat and drink.
It is here at The Lost Estate that Augustin first sees the beautiful Yvonne de Galais, as she prepares for the arrival of her brother and new bride, but unfortunately news arrives that the young couple have cancelled the wedding.
Guests soon head home and Augustin gets a ride back to the school but in the confusion is unsure of the direction he takes, sees a man being carried through the woods and wonders if he will ever see Yvonne de Galais again.
Francois and Augustin work together to try and find the mysterious chateau, and come to realise who the injured man is, but slowly their paths diverge as they take their first steps into adulthood.
Alain-Fournier, or as he was christened Henri Alban Fournier, grew up in central France, in Epineuil-le-Fleuriel in the Cher, where you can visit a museum that recreates the school he served in and which formed the backdrop of the novel.
Le Grand Meulnes was published in 1913 but like many of that time Alain-Fournier was killed in World War One, on the Meuse in 1914.
Knowing this you understand why the book is still remembered by many French readers today – its story of disappearing youth was soon reflected in the trenches of northern France.
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