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The Lost Domain: Le Grand Meaulnes Centenary Edition
Frank Davison; Hermione Lee; Alain-Fournier
Oxford University Press, 2013
208 pp., 19.95
The Elusive Magic of Alain-Fournier
On September 22, 1914, the French writer Henri Alban Fournier, who went by the demi-pseudonyme Alain-Fournier, was reported missing in action near Verdun. He had published, barely a year before, a successful first novel, Le Grand Meaulnes. In 1959, translator Frank Davison chose to present Le Grand Meaulnes as The Lost Domain, a version Oxford has reissued in a centenary edition to commemorate the novel's publication and to mark the death of yet another promising writer lost to the Great War.
The novel begins ominously:
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.
The narrator is François Seurel, a solitary 15-year-old who lives in a village schoolhouse. His father teaches the older boys, while his mother has the children in the "lower form." Born with a bad knee, François is quite content to spend his free time reading novels, until the day "he" appears. This mysterious visitor is just a country boarder, the 17-year-old Augustin Meaulnes, come to finish off his schooling.
Upon arrival, Augustin takes the liberty of rummaging about the attic. He finds some fireworks left over from Bastille Day celebrations and invites François to help set them off in the courtyard, with no regard for parental oversight:
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 stand in a magical glow, holding the tall newcomer by the hand, and not flinching.
From that point, François' life is changed, as Augustin introduces a rebellious spirit to the setting of his new friend's happy but rather dull childhood.
This passage summarizes what makes ...