Henri Alain-Fournier was lost in the early days of World War I; like the artist August Macke, he was cut down in youth and his artistic potential comes down to us in this youthful novel of great promise.
The story centers around François Seurel, whose father runs the local boys' school and his friend, an older boy, Auguste Meaulnes . Tall and commanding, Meaulnes is soon the class leader, and gets the nickname "Le Grand Meaulnes" which translates perhaps as "Meaulnes the Great" --hard to put into English. One day, the headmaster sends a student off to the railway station to fetch a visiting relative, and Meaulnes, not chosen for this excursion, bolts out the window and presumably tries to hire a faster horse and carriage and beat the other student to the station. But Meaulnes gets lost, or goes in another direction deliberately, and fails to return that evening.
What happens next is filled with mystery and possibly magic or delusion. Meaulnes tries to find "the lost domain"--a mansion where he meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman. But the way is hidden from him, the map incomplete, and Meaulnes desperately tries to find his path again. The tone of somber mystery is dark and magical, and evokes a mood of ineffable sadness and delight. The novel is like reading a fairy tale mixed with a romantic novel, and we can only guess what Alain-Fournier would have done had he lived.