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Penguin Classics Lost Estate [Paperback]

Alain Fournier , Robin Buss

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Book Description

June 26 2007 Penguin Classics
"The Lost Estate" is Robin Buss' translation of Henri Alain-Fournier's poignant study of lost love, Le Grand Meaulnes. This "Penguin Classics" edition also contains an introduction by Adam Gopnik. When Meaulnes first arrives at the local school in Sologne, everyone is captivated by his good looks, daring and charisma. But when Meaulnes disappears for several days, and returns with tales of a strange party at a mysterious house - and his love for the beautiful girl hidden within it, Yvonne de Galais - his life has been changed forever. In his restless search for his Lost Estate and the happiness he found there, Meaulnes, observed by his loyal friend Francois, may risk losing everything he ever had. Poised between youthful admiration and adult resignation, Alain-Fournier's compelling narrator carries the reader through this evocative and unbearably poignant portrayal of desperate friendship and vanished adolescence. Robin Buss' translation of Le Grand Meaulnes sensitively and accurately renders Alain-Fournier's poetically charged, expressive and deceptively simple style. In his introduction, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik discusses the life of Alain-Fournier, who was killed in the First World War after writing this, his only novel. Henri Alban-Fournier (1886-1914), better known by the pseudonym Alain-Fournier, was born in La Chapelle d'Angillon, the son of a country school-master. He was educated at Brest and Paris, where he met the original Yvonne, who left a lasting impression on his life and work. Le Grand Meaulnes was published in 1912. Alan-Fournier joined the army as a Lieutenant in August 1914, and was killed in action on the Meuse less than a month later. Les Miracles, a volume of poems and essays, appeared posthumously in 1924. If you liked Le Grand Meaulnes, you might enjoy Gustave Flaubert's Sentimental Education, also available in "Penguin Classics". "I read it for the first time when I was seventeen and loved every page. I find its depiction of a golden time and place just as poignant now as I did then." (Nick Hornby).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classic; 1 edition (June 26 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141441895
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141441894
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13.5 x 1.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 200 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #213,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"I read it for the first time when I was seventeen and loved every page. I find its depiction of a golden time and place just as poignant now as I did then." -Nick Hornby

About the Author

Alain Fournier was born in La Chapelle d'Angillon in 1886. Le Grand Meaulnes was published in 1912. Les Miracles appeared posthumously in 1924. Alan Fourneir was killed in action on the Lesuse in 1914. Robin Buss is a writer and translator who works for the Independent on Sunday and as television critic for The Times Educational Supplement. He is part-author of the article 'French Literature' in Encyclopaedia Britannica and has published critical studies of works by Vigny and Cocteau, and three books on European cinema, The French Through Their Films (1988), Italian Films (1989) and French Film Noir (1994). He has also translated a number of volumes for Penguin Classics. Adam Gopnik is a New Yorker staff writer and author of the recently published Paris To The Moon.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lost Classic Dec 18 2007
By Z. E. Lowell - Published on
John Fowles once wrote that this novel (Also known as Le Grand Meaulnes and The Wanderer) "belongs to, and is the finest example of, a category of fiction that has no name, but exists." You could, as some do, describe this as a novel about youth and growing up, yet I think this might be a bit misleading. It's also a touching love story, a tale of friendship, and a tragedy about the pursuit of lost dreams.

The story begins to unfold as Meaulnes, a popular newcomer at a small village boarding school, sets of on an impulsive errand which he hopes will secure his reputation among his peers. Like most journeys (both literary and real) which have life-changing results, Meaulnes has no idea what he is getting himself in for. Losing his way in the French countryside, Meaulnes by chance happens upon a lavishly surreal wedding party where he briefly mets a beautiful young woman with whom he falls madly in love. After the party suddenly and tragically breaks up, Meaulnes again loses his way, finding himself back at school with no idea how to get back to "the lost estate" and his love. Meaulnes' obsession with finding this young woman and the happiness he knew only briefly compose the heart of this novel. I won't give too much away, but Meaulnes' quest is complicated by friendship and honor, with heart-breaking results.

This is a very moving story, and one which certainly everyone can identify with. Reading this book is like experiencing a bittersweet, haunting dream of childhood innocence. How sad that this was the only novel Alain-Fournier ever wrote; he was killed in World War I. I have to thank Penguin Classics for reissuing this beautiful classic, which has remained largely unknown in the English speaking world for far too long.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunted with Longing May 3 2008
By Flippy - Published on
You can read Proust's "Swan's Way" or Tolstoy's "Childhood, Boyhood, Youth" to get a sense of the wonder of childhood, its illusions, dreams and longings. But if you want a bit of mystery, a bit of the dreamlike with your longing for childhood, this is the book.

I discovered this book by accident. I was in the French section of my university library, restlessly searching for something to read, something with life to it. I found an earlier Penguin translation by Frank Davidson. It was like discovering an unknown treasure buried amongst the known classics.

The first part of this book deals with the discovery of the "Estate", the second part takes on Meaulnes search for his dream girl. It is a small piece but haunting. There are passages you want to return to again and again. This is the book for anyone who wants to reclaim some memory of innocence and simplicity in their lives. It is a golden world, a time before World War I (Alain-Fournier, the author was sadly killed in action on the Meuse in 1914), right after the fin-de-siecle.

The book has a beautiful, albeit melancholic tone to it. I won't say more but that it reminds me of the feeling you get when you listen to Debussy piano pieces. If you want something less heavier than Proust and Joyce, something with depth but also wondrous, pick this beautiful work up. This is a rainy, Sunday afternoon read.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A French "Catcher in the Rye"... Feb. 2 2009
By John P. Jones III - Published on
For a certain generation of Americans, J. D Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" was the quintessential youthful "coming of age" novel. For the French, perhaps of a slightly earlier generation, this novel is. Other reviewers came by this book via John Fowles. I did via Simone de Beauvoir, specifically in the first volume of her autobiography, "Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter," where it is repeatedly referenced. Of one of her first boy friends she says that "the novel that Jacques loved above all others... Le Grand Meaulnes." Concerning another friend, Zaza, de Beauvoir says: "... she had read Le Grand Meaulnes three times over: she had never been moved so much by any other novel."

This is the only novel of Alain-Fournier, who was killed in action in September, 1914, so early in the war that it pre-dated the trench system, which is the enduring image of the First World War. His novel is set in the fin-de-siecle countryside, in a region fittingly called today "Centre", yes, the very heartland of France, near George Sand's "The Berry." The novel is told through the eyes of the youthful Francois Seurel. The person who is called "Le Grand Meaulnes" arrives at Francois's father's small schoolhouse to become a boarder. Meaulnes is slightly older, tall, and has had a couple experiences in the world, earning him the "Grand" moniker, and he serves as a "mentor" to others, particularly Francois. He is the "leader of the pack." A central scene involves a grand "fete," a party at a mysterious chateau. Much of the novel involves efforts by Meaulnes, and others, to find, and return to this idyllic setting, hence the theme of a sense of youthful innocence and loss. There are adults in the novel, but mainly they serve only as a backdrop for the youthful action. Alain-Fournier's style resembles an impressionistic painting, like the one of Sisley which adorns a cover to one of the editions--it is always a bit out of focus, teasing the reader with light and shadows of the events described. The central themes involve first loves, youthful commitments, and betrayals, and the sorrow, disappointments and losses that are inevitable as one attains adulthood.

I tried hard to make allowances for over a hundred years of difference with the present, and even a different culture and standards, but I could only give the novel a 4-star rating despite its "classic" status, and even though it is an essential read for anyone wanting to understand the French culture. Youthful infatuations, well, yes, I've had a few, but this novel carried them to an unrealistic third power. In addition, there are too many coincidences and unlikely chance encounters. Finally, without truly issuing a "spoiler," the actions of Meaulnes towards the end of the novel seem to overcome any plausible or even implausible motivation, and seem difficult for any French youth to admire and emulate.

John Ardagh has written an excellent book, with numerous pictures of the settings, entitled "Writer's France," which is also available through Amazon. Ardagh investigated the settings of Alain-Fournier's youth, including his birthplace at La Chapelle-d'Angillon, on the "edge of the melancholy forest and lagoons of the Sologne" as well as the school scenes set in Epineuil, near Sand's Nohant. Ardagh says that Alain-Fournier used parts of each area as background for his novel. Also included in this book are pictures of a couple chateaux that were used as models for the one in the book and there is even a picture of the modest schoolhouse, still extant, even with the ivy.

Finally, what of the actual fate of Alain-Fournier? Yes, he was killed in action in September, 1914, but what were the circumstances? Such is the fame of the author in French society that Alain Denizot undertook an extensive examination of these events -- and it was from the era of not only trench-less warfare, but when French soldiers would wear red pants into battle. He published his findings in "L'Enigme Alain-Fournier" which at present is only available through In the next to last paragraph of the book he said: "Presently with the handshake of Mitterrand and Kohl at Douaumont, the reconciliation is incompatible with the episode in the woods of St. Remy." Basically Denizot was saying that in the era of French-German reconciliation, you don't want to know, and for those who have idolized this novel, and the author, the same is also almost certainly true.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wanderer Aug. 19 2010
By R. S. Erlewine - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful lyrical story that I've gone back to read a half-dozen times since I first read it nearly 50 years ago. I think the earlier English title, "The Wanderer", is a better emotional fit than "The Lost Estate," which makes me think it's a story about disinheritance. But the title hardly matters, the book is the experience and it's probably best to have no expectations about what it's going to be like.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lost and Found Oct. 6 2009
By C. Ebeling - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A century after its debut, Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier stands as a classic not only of early 20th century French literature but also of the universal theme of adolescence as a lightening rod for restlessness, passionate energy, Romantic vision, the search for meaning and love, and the invention of the self. Augustin Meaulnes embodies it all from the moment he arrives as a 17-year-old student at a provincial French boys' school in the 1890s. Francois, the younger classmate who narrates Augustin's story, describes a dashing, charismatic leader who likes to live large, hence the nickname "Le Grand." When Meaulnes carries a scheme so far that he becomes lost in the wintry countryside, he returns days later a markedly changed person haunted and exhausted by a peak experience he can barely explain. Eventually he reveals to Francois what happened as he wandered in the wilderness and the hidden estate he came upon. He is desperate to recapture what he found there but attempts to locate the place are unsuccessful, giving him and Francois, who takes up his friend's cause, an emotional mission like seeking the lost grail.

The narrative is fluid, vivid and nuanced, a testimony to the translator of this Penguin edition. I regret I did not study French and have not read this in its original language, but this version has a grounded, natural expressiveness that does not feel removed from another tongue. The novel captures provincial French culture and its values on the cusp of the 20th century, particularly illustrating the perspective of what defines childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Francois serves as an ideal foil to Augustin providing gentle shading around the large outline cut by his friend.

Penguin is to be commended for including a spoiler warning at the outset of Adam Gopnik's critical introduction. I read it as an afterward and it proved to be a pleasant conversation working out the experience of reading this classic, putting it in historical and artistic perspective.

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