I read Le Grand Meaulnes by chance. On the final day of a long weekend break in York, following habit I sidestepped into a branch of Oxfam and browsed the literature section. Generally I pick up anything in a near mint condition that takes my fancy (avoiding dedications or annotated copies). On this occasion I stretched to a fiver, for Twelth Night, Pericles and a thin French novel in the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics line (in the cool blue covers of the nineties, not the silver). Probably it was picking up Francois Mauriac’s Therese in similar circumstances a decade earlier that tipped me into taking the novel, being in complete ignorance of the work or of Alain-Fournier.
It took another three years to get around to reading it (I haven’t read my two Shakespeares yet).
And wow! The dreams, the fantasies that we harbour into adulthood – the enigmatic, heroic companion, the wandering into a neverworld of fog and coming out at the threshold of a chateau of curdled, crumbling grandeur, in the midst of a costume ball. The girl, that one will lose, then search for across the earth, eventually win after all seems lost and finally leave behind in order to follow a quixotic honour.
Whatever it is that we dream of, that we want as a romantic adventure within our lives, Alain-Fournier nails. Meaulnes is heroic; he transcends his background, surroundings, circumstances. His dream he will live and follow. Seurel is content to support and observe him (the hero) and in turn allows his own life follow its natural course.
That’s enough for now; the companionship between a dull boy and a enigmatic hero is a reoccuring theme: Brideshead in 20th century English literature and Seurel and Meaulnes are mirrored in Grass’ Cat & Mouse: for Meaulnes here read Mahlke.