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This engaging summary presents an analysis of Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, a coming-of-age novel which tells the story of two friends and the adventures they share. The timid young narrator, François Seurel, sees his life turned upside down by the arrival of the impulsive and heroic Augustin Meaulnes, and together they embark on a quest to recapture the magic of the mysterious “lost estate”. Le Grand Meaulnes has inspired two film adaptations, and was placed at number nine in the French newspaper Le Monde’s list of the 100 greatest books of the 20th century. Le Grand Meaulnes is Alain-Fournier’s only finished novel; he died during the First World War in 1914, at the age of 27.
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Henri-Alban Fournier, known as Alain-Fournier, was born in Low Berry in the Sologne region of north-central France, where he spent his childhood. His parents were schoolteachers. He initially dreamed of becoming a sailor and began studying at the naval college in Brest, before dropping out. He then studied literature, but failed the entrance examination to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure. He interrupted his studies to perform his military service. He was enlisted during the First World War (1914-1918), and was killed in 1914 during a reconnaissance mission in Saint-Rémy-la-Calonne in the Meuse department of northeast France. He was 27 years old.
Because of his premature death, he only completed one novel: Le Grand Meaulnes (1913), which has been translated into English under various titles, including The Wanderer, The Lost Domain and The Lost Estate. He wrote letters which were published after his death, in particular to his friend Jacques Rivière (French writer, 1886-1925), and in 1914 had started a play, La Maison dans le forêt (The House in the Forest), which was too short to be published, as well as a novel, Colombe Blanchet.
Le Grand Meaulnes was published in 1913 and is Alain-Fournier’s only completed novel. It describes the impact that the arrival of the mysterious Augustin Meaulnes has on the life of François Seurel, the teenaged son of a schoolteacher in the fictional village of Sainte-Agathe, which the author situates in his native region of the Sologne.
The novel was first published in the literary magazine La Nouvelle Revue Française, then as a book by the Émile-Paul Frères publishing house. It was nominated for the Prix Goncourt, but did not win. Since its initial publication over a century ago, the novel has experienced continuous success. In 1999, it was ranked ninth on the French newspaper Le Monde’s list of the 100 Books of the Century. It has sold more than five million copies in total, and is considered a literary masterpiece.
François Seurel, the 15-year-old narrator, lives in Sainte-Agathe on the premises of the school where his father teaches. One Sunday in November, a 17-year-old boy named Augustin Meaulnes arrives at the school. His mother, a wealthy widow, has decided to send him to board with the Seurels so that he can attend the classes taught by François’ father and take the exam to become a schoolteacher. The new boy is quickly nicknamed “The Great Meaulnes” by the students in the class, because he is older than them and a natural leader. François is used to spending a lot of time alone, but Augustin’s arrival disturbs this quiet routine and marks the beginning of a new life for him. Augustin likes setting out on adventures and playing with everything he comes across. For example, the first time he meets François, he suggests lighting the fireworks he has just found in the Seurels’ loft.
One day, Meaulnes decides to surprise the class by harnessing a horse to go to meet François’ grandparents, the Charpentiers, at the Vierzon train station, even though the task has already been entrusted to another student. However, Augustin does not come back that day. In the evening, a man brings the Seurels back their carriage without a driver, but Meaulnes does not return until four days later. François is the only person he tells about what happened to him.
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