Le Grand Meaulnes
(also published as The Lost Domain and The Wanderer) •
Meaulnes is not well known outside France, but to the French the name is a sort of shorthand for the lost innocence of youth.
The heavily symbolic story follows the narrator from the time Augustin Meaulnes arrives at his village day school. Meaulnes is a natural leader and the two become fast friends, setting off on the kind of schoolboy adventures that seemed more possible in the days of horse-and-wagon travel. On one such excursion Meaulnes meets a beautiful, doomed maiden, happens into a costume ball, and glimpses a whole other world that looks like a fantastic dream. After he has departed by lamplight, the enchanted realm seems to vanish off the face of the earth. Separately and together, Meaulnes and the narrator search for years to uncover its secret and rescue the girl.
Sound like a fairy tale? It is. But Alain-Fournier wrote with such poetry that you feel it all—the stomp of sabots (wooden clogs) on packed snow, the dismal ache of looking through a window in the rain, the thin bravado of young men going off to war when they should be going fishing.
A good translation can make all the difference in your experience of a book written in a foreign language. Look for the one by Frank Davison, which poignantly captures the wistfulness and nostalgia of the original.