The Wanderer (Le Grand Meaulnes)

Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, is a novel originally written in French but translated into English by Francoise Delisle, is an emotionally evocative story of adolescence, coming of age, and tragic love. One might think this to be a typical adult French love story but the writer, who himself was young at the time this was written (26), makes this tale full of excitement with all of the trial and tribulations of adolescent love. When translated into English the title was changed from Le Grand Meaulnes to The Wanderer, which still confuses me to this day. The story takes place in the French country side in the late 1890’s. Throughout the entire novel the author does not give the exact date but rather tantalizes the reader as in the very first sentence of the book “He arrived at our home on a Sunday of November, 189. . . I still say ‘our home’ although the house no longer belongs to us” (19).  The book is narrated by the 15 year old François Seurel, a typical French school boy in a small country village. Much of the story takes place in the small school house of which François’s parents are the teachers. His life is very much routine and monotone, until the arrival of 17 year old Augustin Meaulnes. This mysterious young man breaks the calm and quiet life of the schoolhouse with his rather peculiar and fascinating personality. “But some one has come who has taken from me these peaceful, childlike delights. Some one has blown out the candle which lit up for me the gentle motherly face bent over the evening meal. Some one has extinguished the lamp around which, at night, we were a happy family, when Father had fixed the wooden shutters over the glass doors. And he was Augustin Meaulnes…” (28) This earns him the name “Le Grand Meaulnes” by the other students. “But  Many of the students however do not take kindly to this new arrival, so Meaulnes befriends Francois who he ends up living with in the schoolhouse. But as abruptly as he arrives, Le Grand Meaulnes vanishes, returning a few days later a new man. He speaks of his adventure only to Francois, an adventure of finding a mysterious mansion in the middle of the wood and falling in love with the rich and beautiful Yvonne de Galais at what appears to be a wedding. The only problem is that he knows not how to find the mansion or his love again. Try as they can, the two young lads cannot find the mysterious mansion until one day when a gypsy arrives in the village. This is no ordinary gypsy however; it is Frantz de Galais, relative of Yvonne. It was Frantz’s wedding that was going on in the mansion when Meaulnes met Yvonne however his fiancée, Valentine, refused to marry him and he ran off to become a gypsy. The three young men swear an allegiance to one another to always help each other when called upon. Frantz gives Meaulnes the address of Yvonne in Paris and the three part ways, Frantz for the nomadic life of a gypsy, Meaulnes for Paris to find his love, and François remaining at school. A year and a half later Meaulnes returns having failed to find Yvonne de Galais. However in his absence François has managed to locate the mysterious mansion and Meaulnes finally is reunited with Yvonne. As is customary with French young love, Meaulnes asks for Yvonne’s hand in marriage. But the adventure, trial, and tribulation of Meaulnes’s life does not end for on his wedding day Frantz de Galais returns and calls upon Meaulnes to help him find his own bride, Valentine. Although madly in love with Yvonne, Meaulnes keeps the promise he made so long ago and leaves his newly wedded wife to find Frantz’s lost fiancée. During his absence, Yvonne gives birth to a baby girl and dies shortly after. A year after her death, Meaulnes returns having fulfilled his promise to Frantz to find his wife no longer on this earth and his daughter in the care of François. Le Grand Meaulnes does not disappoint. He takes his daughter and once again disappears, moving on to his next adventure. This a great novel for any adolescent teen male, however I would recommend that if one can to read it in the original language because the text loses some things in translation.

Le Grand Meaulnes Cover Art

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