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I think you have put it very well. I read a good deal of it a few years ago in French (which was a bit of a struggle), but left it behind in France at the end of the summer and never finished it. It had left a very good impression so I was looking forward to reading it in English and actually getting to the end. But I was strangely disappointed, or perhaps more accurate to say I had to revise my original impression of the book. First time around I was quite drawn in to the finding of the estate, Meaulnes adventures there,and his love for Yvonne. This time all that seemed, not to put too fine a point on it, rather contrived, implausible (as you say) and indeed silly. Of course once you have read the ending you can see that perhaps it was meant to be an unrealistic dream that could not survive in the light of day, hence Meaulnes transfer of his affections to a girl more firmly rooted in the real world. But Meaulnes did not seem at all great to me, just a rather immature adolescent who did not know his own mind. Francois, on the other hand, became for me the real point of the book -- as you say, he has feelings for Yvonne that he can't express and of course the whole experience is filtered through his observing consciousness, and affected by his great love and admiration for Meaulnes. So that made it all much more interesting for me. And also I really loved the whole background and setting, which I thought wonderfully evocative of provincial France. So I'm glad I re-read it and found out what happened in the end!


Well: many of my points have been (much better) put by Harriet and Cornflower, but something about the structure of the book seems to encourage a rambling response, so I shall ramble a bit (but with numbers, for an appearance of coherence!).
1. This reminded me a great deal of James's The Turn of the Screw, partly the plot (can we believe the story? Is it all true? Partly?) and partly the unsettling turns in the story: the dressed up children who were in charge, the sudden animosity between the boys and Meaulnes/Francois, the ambush, Ganache. . . The story seems to take place in darkness and/or obscurity, and Turn of the Screw certainly does too.

2. I agree with Harriet about Meaulnes: why's he so great? The preface mentioned A Separate Peace and Phineas, and I expected such a character, but, except for his height, A-F doesn't seem to establish his outstanding character very well.

3. Lastly, I do feel that this is a young work, as Cornflower said, and it's almost as if the book's whole universe was controlled by the children in the book: the writing is uneven, sometimes lovely, often wooden and oddly muted; the adults are incredibly biddable: did you notice that no adult objects to anything a children/young person wants to do? Meaulnes's decisions, all of them, seem hot-headed and short-sighted--typical teenage stuff, and since they are decided upon and approved by a purely youthful audience, that makes perfect sense. However, it also moves the book out of the realm of deeply affecting tragedy and into the realm of book that. . .. well, I can't quite describe it. Makes me want to say, "GROW UP!"? (Note: I feel the same about Wuthering Heights.) Makes me realize how the author might've revised his work if he'd survived WWI? Innnnnteresting book, and I'm glad I read it!

4. Anyone wonder about the plot that gets so side-lined, Frantz and his Valentine? They end up happy. . . so, what?


I'm still reading this book so I haven't read your post and Harriet's comment very carefully. My initial thoughts are that it has a fairytale feel to it, particularly in describing the strange fete at the mysterious Domain and that I like the attention to detail in the descriptions of places and people. I wonder if will hold my attention to the end because it does seem rather elusive.

Simon S

Most upset as amazon and the royal mail have lost my copy twice 'because of the weather' and couldnt get it from the local waterstones. But have ordered the next one. Sounds like this one was an unusual mix.

Dark Puss

I unreservedly loved this book.

My inability to articulate why will no doubt infuriate Cornflower readers, but I'll try. It was for me a romantic story devoid of sentimentality, a rare combination. It had magical and dreamlike aspects which I felt suited the subject matter well and that provided an enabling environment for the implausibility that others have commented upon. Clearly a teenage fantasy in many respects and none the worse for that; it is as worthy a subject matter as any other and I never felt the desire to say "grow up" as did Becky. I thought that it wonderfully described the selfishness and loneliness that obsessive love can inspire, and the selfless and unrepayed sacrifices that true friends can make. The way the boys interacted at the school was very reminiscent of my own experiences and nicely observed as you might expect from a writer for whom it was recent history. I thought the way it ended absolutely excellent. I agree with Harriet that it is really a book about Francois and also that it beautifully evokes rural France.

For me this was the best CBG book I have read, and I finished it quickly (probably too quickly to write fluently about it - well that's my excuse!). More books like this please!


Well fancy Dark Puss being the one who has liked it best so far! Perhaps his memories of his own boyhood made a contribution? It will be interesting to see if the chaps like this one better than the girls.

Deborah Lawrenson

I've long been fascinated by this book, or rather what Cornflower refers to as its "conjuring trick" - what is it about this awkward, flawed narrative that nevertheless provides such a memorable read? By that, I don't even mean the whole book, just the magical party - so evocatively staged in the landscape - and its poignant and mysterious loss.

I first read it aged about sixteen and that was the episode that filled my imagination until I re-read it years later. At which point I realised that the haunting start slipped away and it became a different story from the one I'd hoped to find. For me, it's about an adolescent's yearning and romantic hopes, and the way that becoming an adult either puts them out of reach or reveals their naivety. Perhaps the trick is in the way it appeals to our younger selves.

Added to that is another powerful layer of sadness and loss: we read knowing the author's own youthful dreams were destined to be lost on the battlefields of the first world war.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

I'm afraid I'm another person who wasn't very impressed by this book.

My Penguin classic copy of the book has a note on the translation which I think sums it up:

"...the typical Fournier sentence, with its subordinate clauses separated by commas, giving a nervous feel to the writing.."

I'm not sure "nervous" is the right word, I found it annoying! The writing just didn't flow very well in places. I don't know enough about the French language to know if this is a more natural way of writing things in French, perhaps as John Fowles states it is just "untranslatable".

I also agree with many of the others above. Meaulnes wasn't very great!

Overall, I got little pleasure from reading this book. I think it is probably best read in French, preferably at a young age.


I have mixed feelings about the book. As I was reading I was really enjoying it--I guess the language didn't bother me. Perhaps I put it down to being a work in translation. I liked the dreamy quality to the story, the descriptive sections were wnderful--at least the first two parts. But I was disappointed in Meaulnes. I thought he let down both women--epsecially his wife. It felt like he chose Frantz, who seemed such an uneven charaacter, over his wife. Is that a guy thing? Maybe his redemption comes in how he raises his daughter? I thought Francois was the more admirable of the two. I think I'm still working out what I feel about it and maybe it will call for a reread at some point. Unfortunately my Penguin edition had no introduction or analysis, which I found disappointing. It's interesting to read everyone else's thoughts--hopefully they will help clarify my own. In any case--interesting book that is open to lots of discussion.

Barbara MacLeod

I really liked it - different country and a different age.

The story is about the Meaulines with his "adventurous heart" as narrated by a young man to whom he was very close.

Are these stories of the adventures of young men who must go on quests and conduct themselves by a strict code of honour known as a 'medieval romance'? Does every culture have them, or is it a thing of the past? I am aware that in England they would be slaying dragons (and in Scotland slaying each other!). Is it that the French focus on love?

The notion of honour and loyalty is very strong in the story and so it was with the chivalrous knights of old. The hero in this story is not larger than life but is struggling with the great passions: erotic attraction (Meaulnes and Yvonne), brotherly love (Augustin Meaulnes and Francois). Then there is the love of friends, honour, duty, keeping one's word (Francois and Yvonne).

In trying to find out something about French chivalry I came across the expression 'le vague des passions' ('intimations of passion') where the imagination is rich, abundant and marvellous; exsistence is poor, dry and disenchanting. One has a full heart in an empty world. This idea resonated in this story. Meaulnes with his passion to find the lost estate, the girl, keeping his promises and all of this taking place in a winter landscape of freezing cold temperatures.

It seems that "le vague des passions" originated in the writing of the French writer, Francois Rene De Chateaubriand (1768-1848). And now I find: he is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature and this expression became 'commonplace' (late 18th century - early 19th century).

I wonder if Alain-Fournier had read Chateaubriand and also, would he have been aware of the story of his life? Chateaubriant who described himself as a "Knight-errant" says in (his last work) Memoires d'Outre-Tombe, "When I was a young man, and learned the meaning of love, I was a mystery to myself. All my days were adieux. I could not see a woman without being troubled. I blushed if one spoke to me.... The warmth of imagination, my bashfulness and solitude, caused me to turn back upon myself....I showed all the symptoms of a violent passion. I was absent, sad, ardent, savage. My days passed on in wild, extravagant, mad fashion, which nevertheless had a peculiar charm." This seems to describe Meaulnes.

Getting back to 'le vague des passions', it made me think about the word 'vagabond'. I see that it comes from the French vagabond and Latin vagari meaning to wander, i.e. someone who can't settle as opposed to homeless. The introduction states that for years the English translation of this book title was "The Wanderer".

To finish: the last line of the book reads that he "... wrapped his daughter in a cloak and setting off with her on some new adventure."

It seems that these French medieval tales, apparently, were often in a series. (One thinks also of Nordic and Icelandic tales.) Had he lived I wonder if this story might have formed the first part of a cycle?


Barbara--I really like your take on the story. I hadn't thought of it, but it all sort of fits.


I'm very disappointed by reactions to this novel -not that some people didn't like it, because, in the end, it's an odd construction which just won't appeal to everybody. But I found some of the critical comments rather puzzling, to say the least. I thought it was very fine, a serious novel with a big heart, and one that was always engaging. I thought the language (I read the Penguin translation by Robin Buss) was marvellous, and caught a number of subtly different moods rather well. I would like to read more of his novels, but obviously I can't!

Meaulnes is not "great" in a normal English sense - after all, it is a school nickname, not the judgement of history. He's physically big, very confident, and rather apart becasue of his independence and his intense individuality and - later - his unbearable passion, so they call him great. But you don't have to believe them! He is a wise fool, almost Shakespearean in cast, burdened by his dream and the intensity of his memory, and by a wildly exaggerated sense of self and duty, which leads him to follow all his life a dream which most of us would just abandon after a few days, and which means his childlike oath to his friend binds him in a way which which few of us would feel even as adults. He is out of proportion, driven, intense, and as a result, slightly unsocialised and impractical - nowadays, he's probably have a mild personality disorder.

The plot, someone said, was not believable, even plain silly. I do disagree with that; first, the plots of a great many novels are implausible or impossible, and it doesn't, in itself, seem to me to a relevant criterion; but here, I think, this whole novel is a fugue of memory and dreaming, and that carries its own burden of fantasy and melancholy, which I rather liked; there is the merest whiff of magic realism about it!

After re-reading the comments, especially Cornflower's and Harriet D's, another parallel occurs to me. Meaulnes is an Arthurian knight - instant love, undying devotion, but an overwhelming duty to go out into the world to right a wrong, even at the cost of leaving his wife (who, after all, lets him go, even encourages him). He is this man, too: "risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall, / The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall, / The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung, / That once went singing southward when all the world was young".

I liked it; I empathised with Meaulnes, although I fear I might be Francois Seurel.

Mr Cornflower

I was really intrigued by this book and I think the comments it has attracted have been exceptionally interesting, a real triumph for CBG. The magical, dreamlike quality that many others have mentioned was for me particularly strong - I felt almost as if I was watching one of the great French cinema classics like La Belle et la Bete. I think Barbara's reference to Chateaubriand's Memoires d'Outre-Tombe is very apt, and one could also perhaps mention Stendhal (Le Rouge et le Noir, La Chartreuse de Parme) and Flaubert (L'Education Sentimentale) as an indication of what Alain-Fournier might have achieved had he survived. Clearly the work of a young, impatient, unfinished but very considerable talent.

Dark Puss

Dark Puss usually has the minority view, although I note that the later commentators (Barbara MacLeod, Lindsay and Mr Cornflower) seem to share my very positive view of it and (no surprise) are much better at articulating why it is such an excellent book. Is it connected with memories of my own youth, who knows? Is it a "guy thing" (I am not sure what that might mean) as suggested by Danielle Torres? I doubt it but then I have no belief that books intrinsicaly appeal to a particular gender. Lindsay in particular has written exactly what I felt about the book, but so much better, and like him I do wish that we could read more of this writer's novels. I'm keeping my hopes high for the next book in the CBG series ...

Dark Puss

Dark Puss usually has the minority view, although I note that the later commentators (Barbara MacLeod, Lindsay and Mr Cornflower) seem to share my very positive view of it and (no surprise) are much better at articulating why it is such an excellent book. Is it connected with memories of my own youth, who knows? Is it a "guy thing" (I am not sure what that might mean) as suggested by Danielle Torres? I doubt it but then I have no belief that books intrinsicaly appeal to a particular gender. Lindsay in particular has written exactly what I felt about the book, but so much better, and like him I do wish that we could read more of this writer's novels. I'm keeping my hopes high for the next book in the CBG series ...


Oh well OK you guys I'm sure you are all quite right. Lindsay -- well, how could one argue with such a very astute, sensitive reading. I'm writing at greater length about this on my own blog this morning, anyway.


Barbara - you and hit on a similar theme, that of chivalry, though I see you were first! I find that an attractive model for this book, and I think your comments are very illuminating. Have you also come across the concept of "danger" - as in being "within my lady's danger", in which the knight battles the forces of darkness on the lady's behalf, anf then is rewarded with her love. Here, Meaulnes accepts the danger, but his reward is her child, perhaps?


I do so agree with Mr C that this is one of the most intresting books and interesting discussions so far. Well done, Cornflower, keep them coming!


I replied to Barbara's comment just now but it doesn't seem to have got posted?? Just to say, I hadn't seen her excellent and intriguing comments on chivalry when I wrote my own Arthurian comment - but I think its very compelling. I also offered the medieaval concept of being "within the lady's danger", which meant, of course, dealing with the forces of darkness sustained only by the memory and vision of her love, ultimately to be rewarded with the real thing - in this case, the enjoyment of the love is short lived and the danger intense, and Meaulnes is rewarded just with his daughter.


To follow up, esp on the "disappointed" comment: it's interesting how having a context for the book seems to alter one's response to it. When I am teaching, I feel responsible for offering/supplying that context to my students; when I read on my own, I am far less tied by that need, and can evaluate more freely and, possibly, off-handedly. Would I offer someone this book saying, "It's really good"? No. Would I offer it to an enthusiastic reader who had just read Catcher in the Rye, Separate Peace, and some of the Arthur books? Absolutely.


For what it's worth, if I'm aloud to crash the club, I imagined Le Grande Meaulnes as a read it, as a prophetic fantasy in light of World War I. It's romanticism crashing into modernism or youth crashing into age. The magic world in the novel does seem constructed by children because it is, I believe, innocence, and I have always read the story as one about the longing to return to innocence. If any of you are familiar with the artist Joseph Cornell (of the boxes) this was one of his favorite books. I have posted the box that I connect with this novel here - - in honor of your discussion today.

Susie Vereker

Sorry to have missed this one. Sounds interesting and has provoked an interesting response.
Busy with work at the moment. Hope to catch up next month.


Sorry--I totally didn't articulate myself well on my comment. I didn't mean to imply at all that this novel would appeal to men as opposed to women. I don't think that that's the case at all. I liked many aspects of it very much. Only in the end I was disappointed that Augustin chose to go in search of his friend Frantz, leaving his wife he had agonized over--searching for so long for her, after only a day of marriage. And then failed to get in touch with for the entire time she was expecting their child. That's what I was referring to, however, I guess I was still not really thinking it out very well. I'm sure Fournier needed to set the story up in such a way to get to his ending. In a way the chivalry explanation and the quest--having made this promise that can't be broken sheds light on his actions. Anyway, sorry for the confusion.

adele geras

I have been fascinated to read all the comments on this book! I haven't had time to read it again but from reading it round about the time I did A level French..and in French...I have a sort of dreamy, happy memory of loving it then. Perhaps I'm a bit nervous of finding it not as wonderful now, though Dark Puss and others give me hope. I will read it in English which may produce a completely different slant to the story. In my mind it's tied up with so many intense teenage-type memories. And it's provoked a lot of interesting comments, for sure.

adele geras

I didn't read this in time, I'm afraid but I still have happy memories of doing it in French just before my A levels.. It's all tied up for me with intense teenage memories and I loved it, like Dark Puss and some others. I will read it now in English to see if that provides a different slant on the story. It's produced some fascinating comments. Now I'm going over to Harriet's place to see what she has to say there...

adele geras

Oops, have written twice...thought it was my comment that has been deleted! Apologies.

Barbara MacLeod

Lindsay - I have not come across the concept of "danger". I can't help wondering if there are songs or poems about this. All I can think of, at the moment, is Tamino in the Magic Flute.

Barbara MacLeod

Help! How do you pronounce 'Meaulnes' ?

Dark Puss

I think a little like "moan".

Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

I had an interesting comment on my blog about whether I would have liked it if I had read a different translation.

I read the Penguin classic translation by Robin Buss. I wonder if many of us actually read totally different books, and whether that has shaped our feelings towards it at all?


Interesting point, Jackie. I read the Robin Buss Penguin, too, as did Mr. C. and Lindsay. Can't speak for anyone else, though.


Robin Buss was mine, too.

And Barbara, thanks for asking about the pronunciation--my French teacher colleague, who's panting to read the book now that I'm done, wasn't even 100% sure.

jo jo

i found my copy of le grand meaulnes whilst tidying up our study and decided, having had it on the shelf there for 40 years - since I was set it as a lower 6th text which I failed to get through, having a bad year with glandular fever at the time. Anyway....I thought I'd try again. It has left an impression on me ... and I'm left thinking "what genre have we here?" ...there's the nostalgia which is thickly overpowering...the fascinating story which keeps you going right to the end...and hey I find your blog, so I thought I'd share. I do find it amazing how Alain Fournier keeps it going, the main story based round such a brief encounter. But the atmosphere is terrific and I love his evocation of the weather, the countryside and the basic lives they led. Very, very sad though, and I enjoyed the comment by ted about romanticism crashing into modern realism. There's a very definite misty early 20C feel to it, isn't there! Enjoyment marks out of 10? Definitely 7 or up.


Jo Jo, thankyou so much for this. One of the strengths of an online group is the fact that anyone can have their say on a book at any time - not just on the set day - because the post and comments remain 'live',so it's great that you've taken advantage of that and given us your thoughts now.
Do join us for the next book!

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