Le Grand Meaulnes

( 1 )


The only novel by a brilliant young man who was killed in action in 1914 at the age of twenty-seven, it is a masterly exploration of the twilight world between boyhood and manhood, with its mixture of idealism, realism and sheer caprice.

But that is not its only magic - there is a magic of setting, of narrative, of the haunting beauty of the heroine, of the inexplicable elusiveness of the 'lost domain' itself...

Alain-Fournier's ...

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Le Grand Meaulnes

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The only novel by a brilliant young man who was killed in action in 1914 at the age of twenty-seven, it is a masterly exploration of the twilight world between boyhood and manhood, with its mixture of idealism, realism and sheer caprice.

But that is not its only magic - there is a magic of setting, of narrative, of the haunting beauty of the heroine, of the inexplicable elusiveness of the 'lost domain' itself...

Alain-Fournier's first and only novel, published in 1913, frequently translated as The Wanderer or The Lost Domain.

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What People Are Saying

"A classic of immaturity and adolescence...hopelessly..., Greece and even magic."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9783849141097
  • Publication date: 11/22/2012
  • Language: French
  • Pages: 196
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

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Chapter One


He appeared at our house on a Sunday in November 189...

    I still say 'our' house though it is ours no longer; nearly fifteen years have passed since we left the neighbourhood, and we shall not be going back to it.

    We lived on the premises of the secondary school at Sainte- Agathe. My father, whom I called Monsieur Seurei just like the other boys, was in charge of the upper form where you qualified for a teacher's certificate. He taught the lower form as well, leaving the younger boys to my mother.

    It was a long red building standing on the edge of the village. It was draped in virginia-creeper and had five door-windows opening on a very large courtyard used as a playground and partly roofed over as a shelter in bad weather. There was a wash-house on one side, and a huge gateway gave direct access to the village. A smaller gate on the north side of the courtyard opened on the road to the railway station three kilometres distant. To the south, gardens, fields, and meadows stretched away to the boundaries of the commune. This was the setting in which the most troubled and most precious days of my life were lived: an abode from which our adventurings flowed out, to flow back again like waves breaking on a lonely headland.

    Some pencil checking the rota, or the decision of some inspector or Prefect, had landed us there, and towards the end of the summer holidays, one day long ago, a farmer's cart, preceding our household goods, set us down, mymother and me, before the rusty little gate. Some children who had been stealing peaches in the garden scuttled off through a gap in the hedge . . . My mother – we called her Millie – the most meticulous housewife ever known, hurried indoors through rooms littered with dust and straw and came to the despairing conclusion, as she did whenever we moved, that our furniture couldn't possibly be fitted into such awkward spaces... So out she came to share her woes with me, and while she lamented she kept rubbing away at my childish features with a handkerchief to remove the grime of the journey. Then back again to make an inventory of doors and windows that would have to be blocked before the place was habitable... As for me, I stood there on the gravel of this alien courtyard under a wide-brimmed straw hat adorned with ribbons, just waiting, or at most making a tentative survey of the well and the playground.

    At least that is how I now 'imagine' our arrival, for no sooner do I try to recapture my state of vague expectation on that first evening in our courtyard at Sainte-Agathe than memory conjures up other states of expectation: I see myself, both hands pressed against the bars of the main gateway, anxiously on the look-out for someone who will be striding down the village street. And if I try to visualize the first night I had to spend in my attic room between the store-rooms, my mind evokes other nights: I am no longer alone in the room; a tall shadow moves across the wall, to and fro, restless and friendly. The whole peaceful setting – the school, old Martin's field with its three walnut trees, the garden which after four o'clock was invaded by women visitors – is in my thoughts for ever disturbed, transformed once and for all by the presence of one who completely unsettled our adolescence and who, even when gone from us, gave us no respite.

    And yet we had been there ten whole years when Meaulnes first came on the scene.

    I was fifteen. It was a cold Sunday in November, the first day which had in it a presage of winter. All day Millie kept fretting at the tardiness of the delivery wagon from the station which was to bring her a hat for the turn of the season. She had sent me to Mass alone, and right up to the sermon, from my seat among the choir boys, I had been craning my neck in the hope of seeing her come in with her new hat on.

    In the afternoon too I had to go to Vespers by myself.

    'Besides,' she said to appease me, brushing my Sunday suit with her hand, 'even if they'd brought it I dare say I'd have had to spend the whole of my Sunday making it over.'

    Our winter Sundays often took the same pattern: in the first light my father would set out for some far-away misty pond to fish for pike from a boat, while my mother, shut away till nightfall in her dusky room, made over her humble toilettes. If she kept out of sight it was for fear some lady of her acquaintance, as poor as herself for that matter and as proud, should catch her at it. And I, home from the afternoon service, could only wait in the chilly dining-room with a book till she opened the door to reveal the results of her labours.

    On that particular Sunday there was a commotion in front of the church which delayed my return. A christening had drawn a group of children under the porch. In the Square several of the village men in firemen's uniform had stacked their rifles and stood shivering with cold, stamping their feet while Boujardon, the corporal, got more and more entangled in the intricacies of drill...

    Then, abruptly, the pealing of the baptismal bells left off – as though someone issuing a joyous summons to a fête had become aware of a mistake in the date, or the parish. Boujardon and his troop, arms now shouldered, went off at a trot with the fire-engine, and I watched them turn into a side street followed by four little boys, their thick soles crunching the twigs on the frozen ground. I didn't dare follow them.

    And now no sign of fife remained in the village except for the Café Daniel. There, over their glasses, men were engaged in heated discussion; one could hear the muffled rise and fall of voices. So, hugging the low wall of the courtyard which isolated our house from the village, I made my way back to the gate, feeling guilty at being so late.

    The gate stood open, and I knew at once that something unusual was happening.

    And in fact outside the dining-room door – the nearest of the five door-windows which gave on the yard – a grey-haired woman was bent forward trying to see through the curtains. She was tiny and wore an old-fashioned black velvet bonnet. Her face was thin and refined but consumed with anxiety. At sight of her some strange apprehension made me halt on the first step in front of the gate.

    'Where in the world can he have got to?' she was saying, half aloud. 'He was with me not two minutes ago. He'll have inspected the place already – he may have taken himself off...'

    At each pause in her monologue she would give three little taps on the window-pane – blows that scarcely made a sound.

    For no one had come to let this unknown visitor in. Millie's hat, I thought, has arrived at last and, lost to the world in the depths of the red room, beside a bed strewn with old ribbons and feathers out of curl, she's sewing away, ripping, rebuilding her dubious headgear... Indeed no sooner had I gone into the dining-room, followed by our visitor, than my mother appeared, both hands supporting on her head a structure of wire, silk, and plumes, all still a trifle unbalanced... She gave me a smile, her blue eyes looking tired from so much close work in the twilight, and called out, 'Look! I've been waiting to show you...'

    Then, catching sight of a stranger in the big arm-chair on the other side of the room, she broke off in confusion, snatching off the new hat which, during the whole of the ensuing interview, she hugged to her bosom like an inverted nest.

    The woman in the black velvet bonnet, holding an umbrella and a leather handbag between her knees, had begun to explain her presence, nodding the while and making with her tongue the noises appropriate to a lady paying a call. She had recovered her poise and, once she began speaking of her son, assumed an air both superior and mysterious which aroused our wonderment.

    They had driven over from La Ferté-d'Angillon, fourteen kilometres distant from Sainte-Agathe. A widow, and extremely well-off – so she led us to understand – she had lost the younger of her two sons, Antoine, who had died one night after bathing in a polluted pond with his brother on the way home from school. She had decided to place the elder boy, Augustin, en pension with us, as a student in the upper form.

    And now she was singing the praises of this new boarder she offered us, no longer the insignificant little person I had seen at the door peering through the window with the distraught and imploring look of a hen whose wild changeling is missing from the brood.

    What she told us, with great complacency, about this son of hers was more than surprising. To please her he would trudge beside the river, bare-legged, for miles and miles just to fetch her the eggs of moorhens and wild ducks which he found in the rushes... He also set out bow-nets... The other night he had found a snared pheasant in the woods...

    I who scarcely dared go home with a rent in my smock gave Millie a look...

    But she was no longer listening to our visitor; she even made a sign for silence, and laying her 'nest' on the table with great care, got up noiselessly as if to take someone by surprise...

    For overhead, in an odd room where we had dumped some half-scorched fireworks left over from the last Fourteenth of July, an unknown footstep, very sure of itself, was coming and going, shaking the ceiling. Then the steps retreated through the vast and murky lofts towards the disused assistant-masters' rooms where we spread linden leaves out to dry and apples to ripen.

    'I heard it before,' Millie said in a whisper, 'in the downstairs rooms. I thought it was you, Francois, home from church...'

    No one replied. We were now all three on our feet, with beating hearts. The attic door at the top of the kitchen stairs had opened. Someone came down, walked through the kitchen, appeared in the doorway of the dining-room, and stood there in the dusk.

    'Is that you, Augustin?'

    It was a tall youth, about seventeen. It was too dark to make out much more than his peasant's hat of felt pushed back on his head and a black smock tightly belted in like a schoolboy's. But I could see that he was smiling...

    He caught my eye and before anyone could ask for an explanation he said, 'Coming out to the yard?'

    For a moment I wavered. Then, as Millie said nothing, I picked up my cap and went over to him. We went out through the kitchen and walked across the yard towards the sheltered part already deep in shadow. In the fading light I glanced up at his angular face with its straight nose and faintly shadowed upper lip.

    'See what I found in your attic,' he said. 'Didn't it ever occur to you to have a look in there?'

    He held out a little wheel of blackened wood wound about with frayed fuses – the 'sun' or perhaps the 'moon' of last July's display.

    'There were two that hadn't gone off. We'll set them off just the same,' he added placidly, as if this would do till something better turned up.

    When he threw down his hat I saw that he was close-cropped like a peasant. He was showing me the two fuses with paper wicks which the flame had bitten into, seared, and then abandoned. He stuck the nave of the wheels in the gravel, produced a box of matches – this to my astonishment, for we were not allowed matches – and stooping carefully held a flame to the wicks. Then, taking my hand, he pulled me quickly back.

    Coming out of doors with Madame Meaulnes – terms of pension having been discussed and agreed upon – my mother saw two great bouquets of red and white stars soar up from the ground with a hiss. And for the space of a second she could see me standing in a magical glow, holding the tall newcomer by the hand, and not flinching... Once again she had nothing to say.

    And that evening a silent companion sat eating at the family table, his head bent over his plate, paying no heed to three pairs of eyes that saw nothing but him.

Excerpted from Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier. Copyright © 1913 by Henri Alain-Fournier. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Part 1
1 The Boarder 11
2 After Four o'clock 17
3 'I used to take a great delight in standing at a basket-maker's...' 19
4 The Flight 23
5 The Carriage Returns 26
6 A Tap on the Window 30
7 The Silk Waistcoat 34
8 The Adventure 39
9 A Halt 42
10 The Sheepfold 45
11 The Mysterious Domain 47
12 Wellington's Room 51
13 The Strange Fete 53
14 The Strange Fete (continued) 56
15 The Meeting 61
16 Frantz de Galais 67
17 The Strange Fete (conclusion) 72
Part 2
1 Pirates 79
2 The Ambush 83
3 The Vagabond at School 87
4 A Link with the Mysterious Domain 92
5 A Man Wearing Espadrilles 96
6 A Dispute behind the Scenes 99
7 The Bandage is Removed 103
8 The Police! 105
9 In Search of the Lost Trail 107
10 Wash Day 113
11 I Betray my Friend 116
12 Three Letters from Meaulnes 120
Part 3
1 The Bathing Party 127
2 At Florentin's 131
3 An Apparition 139
4 I Bring the News 145
5 The Outing 150
6 The Outing (conclusion) 154
7 The Wedding Day 161
8 A Signal from Frantz 163
9 In the House 167
10 Frantz's House 171
11 A Conversation in the Rain 177
12 The Burden 181
13 The Exercise-book 187
14 The Secret 189
15 The Secret (continued) 194
16 The Secret (conclusion) 199
Epilogue 204
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2013

    I first read this book in my 20's. I am not approaching 70. It

    I first read this book in my 20's. I am not approaching 70. It remains my favorite. The movie was released in thte 1970's and remained true to the book. Exceptional in beauty. Probably the most beautifully filmed movie I have ever seen.

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    Posted January 6, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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