Why the classic French novel 'Le Grand Meaulnes' still resonates with readers

By Tiphaine Samoyault (En attendant Nadeau)

'Le Grand Meaulnes', the only novel by French writer Alain-Fournier, who was killed in one of the first battles of the First World War, has just been published as part of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade collection by Gallimard. This is usually a sign that a book has been accepted as a French classic even though, ironically, Alain-Fournier's novel is now no longer widely studied in French schools as was once the case. Some may be surprised that this well-known text, which has been translated into English many times, was not already part of the Pléaide collection. Others may wonder at it becoming part of this hallowed series of books at a time when it has fallen out of favour. Whichever one's view, Tiphaine Samoyault argues that this novel of lost youth has an appeal that remains relevant to the modern reader.

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The novel Le Grand Meaulnes was first published in France in 1913, a year that also saw the appearance of artistic masterpieces such as the ballet Rites of Spring by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky and Du côté de chez Swann, the first volume of Marcel Proust's celebrated À la recherche du temps perdu 'In Search of Lost Time'.