Introduction by: Adam Gopnik
Translator: Robin Buss
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
For François Seurel, the fifteen-year-old narrator of The Lost Estate, life with his schoolteacher parents in the rural French village of Sainte-Agathe is simple and uneventful—until the arrival of seventeen-year-old Augustin Meaulnes. With his prepossessing smile and his gift for finding slightly daring kinds of fun, Meaulnes captivates François and quickly becomes the most popular boy in town, known to his peers as “the great Meaulnes.” Yet Meaulnes, so sure of his path toward the affections of others, soon literally loses his way on a solitary excursion through the countryside. By accident, he happens upon a partly ruined manor house where a strange but enchanting wedding celebration is underway. As the party progresses, he meets Yvonne de Galais, a girl of otherworldly beauty. Abruptly, the party breaks up, and Meaulnes returns in confusion to Sainte-Agathe, only to discover that he cannot retrace the route to the manor house, which he now associates with perfect happiness.
Disoriented by his experience and still fascinated by Yvonne, Meaulnes resolves to somehow find her. In the deeply symbolic and elegiac tale that emerges from these peculiar events, Meaulnes and François begin an absorbing quest in which they seek not only to find the lost estate, but also to preserve their fleeting innocence, to rediscover themselves, and, if they can, to find a transcendent, purifying love.
Interwoven in their quest, however, is a haunting, unspoken awareness that searches for perfection are fated to fall short of their goal; friendship can lead to betrayal; idealized passion can end in sordid, fleshly reality; and the purest dreams of charmed youth can be contorted by the cruel force of experience. Written only a brief time before the Great War that would forever change European civilization—and which would kill Alain-Fournier—The Lost Estate can be read as a final backward glance not only at the ebbing childhoods of its characters, but also at a world of delicacy and grace fated for destruction.
A narrative that stands at the tipping point between youth and adulthood, fantasy and reality, a simpler time and onrushing modernity, The Lost Estate is a poignant evocation of the evanescence of one’s most dearly held visions. Characterized by piercing insight and a mood of almost unutterable yearning, it stands as one of literature’s greatest stories of unfulfilled desire. Alain-Fournier’s novel captures the ache of adolescence and the torment of vanishing memories and reveals in moving fashion the simultaneous necessity and impossibility of finding one’s dreams.
ABOUT HENRI ALAIN-FOURNIER
The son of a country schoolmaster, Henri Alban Fournier was born in La Chapelle-d’Angillon, France, in 1886. He eventually adopted the pen name Alain-Fournier to distinguish himself from an admiral who shared his name. In his youth, he became well acquainted with the ways of the French peasantry, which he later lovingly evoked in his fiction. His early exposure to Symbolist works like Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande also influenced him powerfully. At eighteen, he briefly met an enchanting young woman named Yvonne de Quièvrecourt, with whom he became obsessed and whom he was later to immortalize as Yvonne de Galais in The Lost Estate. Published in 1913, The Lost Estate was to be Alain-Fournier’s only finished novel. The following year, Alain-Fournier was killed in action less than two months after the beginning of World War I. His body remained missing until the early 1990s.