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On this day in 1886 was born Alain-Fournier (the pseudonym of Henri-Alban Fournier), author of the strange and wonderful novel Le Grand Meaulnes.
The book has had a cult following – Scott Fitzgerald admired it so much he imitated its title and some of the story in The Great Gatsby, and Jack Kerouac in On the Road has his hero Sal Paradise carry the book on his travels across America.
The bittersweet story of adolescent friendship, betrayal and disappointment is drawn partly from the author’s own life experience. Alain-Fournier, who was killed aged 33 at the start of the First World War, met by chance in Paris a beautiful young woman named Yvonne to whom he briefly spoke. His quest to find her again became an infatuation; he eventually discovered that she was Yvonne de Quievrecourt who had later married and had children. They corresponded before he was sent to the war.
In his novel, the hero Augustin Meaulnes meets by chance a beautiful young woman called Yvonne de Galais whom he searches for and longs to find again. The plot is intricate and the mood one of sadness and yearning for lost dreams and friendships. John Fowles claimed it informed everything he wrote. “I know it has many faults,” he said, “yet it has haunted me all my life.”
Here is a taste:
“I don’t even know who you are” she said at last. She spoke each word in an even tone, with the same emphasis on every one, but saying the last in a softer voice . . . then her face became impassive again; she bit her lip a little and her blue eyes stared into the distance. “And I don’t know your name either” Meaulnes replied.
They were following a path in the open and, some distance away, could see the guests gathering around a house isolated in the open countryside. ”That’s Franz’s house” the young woman said, “I have to leave you . . .” She paused, looking at him for a moment with a smile, and said: “My name? I’m Mademoiselle Yvonne de Galais.“ Then she was gone.” Trans: Adam Gopnik,
Today I ask that I will always be grateful for friendship.