Places: The Wanderer

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Le Grand Meaulnes, 1913 (English translation, 1928)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedSainte-Agathe

Sainte-Agathe. Wanderer, TheFrench village where Francois Seurel spends most of his childhood. His parents are the village schoolteachers and the family lives in the buildings of the secondary school, which is at the far end of the village, bounded by a road, gardens, and meadows. The schoolhouse is large and much of it remains unused. For Seurel, it is the only world he knows, as a disability has kept him from exploring the countryside with the other village boys. This changes with the arrival of Augustin Meaulnes, who encourages him to become more independent. Even at this stage, Seurel’s knowledge of the village does not extend beyond its main streets. When he and Meaulnes are obliged to enter a quarter known as the Petits-Coins, Seurel knows only one street in the area, that which leads to his mother’s dressmaker. Places beyond the village are little more than names allied to the method of transport needed to reach them. Seurel and Meaulnes, who come from some distance away, have little awareness of the area’s geography, which is why they cannot identify the mysterious domain visited by Meaulnes.

French countryside

French countryside. The landscape beyond the village is rural, a mixture of fields and woods. In winter, when the reader is first introduced to the area, it is bleak and deserted. In fact, Meaulnes is almost literally in the dark as most of his journey to and from the domain occurs either in the late afternoon or at night. Emphasis is placed on the emptiness and the difficulty of traveling; it is an inward-turning landscape. The summer landscape consists of green woodland, clear streams, and dusty roads, where people hunt and swim, cycle or walk, an outward-looking landscape. It is significant that while Meaulnes first discovered the lost domain in the depths of winter, it is only relocated in the height of summer.

Les Sablonnières

Les Sablonnières (lay sah-blawn-NYEHR). Estate of the de Galais family, comprising a house, outbuildings, and gardens, built around a courtyard, mirroring the layout of the school at Sainte-Agathe. Augustin Meaulnes discovers it when he becomes hopelessly lost in the country lanes beyond Saint-Agathe. His first view of the estate is of the spire of a turret rising above the trees, and Meaulnes assumes that it is an abandoned manor house. Closer inspection reveals that while the outbuildings and garden are run-down and derelict, the main house is nonetheless still inhabited and, unusually for winter, preparing for a festival. The freedom afforded by the festival enables Meaulnes to explore the entire domain and to meet Yvonne de Galais, the daughter of the house. When Meaulnes finally returns to Les Sablonnières to propose marriage to Yvonne de Galais, he finds that the estate is much smaller, the land having been sold to pay debts incurred by Frantz de Galais.

*Paris

*Paris. Capital of France to which Meaulnes goes in his quest to find Yvonne de Galais after finishing his schooling at Sainte-Agathe. There he looks for an address given to him by Yvonne’s brother. The house he finds is closed up, and he does not see her. Meaulnes later returns to Paris to locate Valentine Blondeau, Frantz’s fiancé, who lives close to Notre-Dame.

Le Vieux-Nançay

Le Vieux-Nançay (luh vyuh-nawn-SAY). Village that Seurel describes as his favorite place in the world; however, his description concentrates on one building: the shop kept by his uncle at the edge of the town. Also, although Seurel only discovers this after Meaulnes has left, the village is close to Meaulnes’s mysterious domain.

La Ferté d’Angillon

La Ferté d’Angillon (lah fer-TAY DAHN-yohn). Small village where Augustin Meaulnes lives with his widowed mother. Seurel visits it for the first time as an adult, having cycled from Sainte-Agathe, and his description of it is notable for including details of the village itself, rather than concentrating on the house’s interiors.

Saint-Benoist-des-Champs

Saint-Benoist-des-Champs (sah[n]-ben-wahst-day-SHAN). Hamlet whose school stands isolated at the crossroads, this is where Seurel is appointed schoolmaster. It is also within an hour’s walk of Les Sablonnières, where Seurel visits Yvonne de Galais regularly. After her death, he lives at the domain and walks to the school.

BibliographyBlair, Fredrika. Introduction to The Wanderer, by Alain-Fournier, translated by Françoise Delisle. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1953. An analysis of Alain-Fournier’s style that connects it to the impressionist and symbolist movements in art and literature. The translation of the work has been superseded by later ones.Fowles, John. Afterword to The Wanderer, by Alain-Fournier, translated by Lowell Bair. New York: New American Library, 1971. A well-known British novelist explains his enthusiasm for the novel and shows why he thinks the work must be read on its own terms and why it resists conventional critical analysis.Gibson, Robert. The Land Without a Name: Alain-Fournier and His World. London: Paul Elek, 1975. A thorough, dense, yet accessible study that reviews all previous scholarship on Alain-Fournier as well as his posthumously published correspondence. Uses the theme of the lost paradise as its organizing principle.Gurney, Stephen. Alain-Fournier. Boston: Twayne, 1987. A complete introduction to the writer and his work. Relates The Wanderer to Alain-Fournier’s poems and letters, especially the ones he wrote to his brother-in-law, who was a literary and psychological soulmate. Contains a good selected bibliography.Jones, Marian Giles. A Critical Commentary on Alain-Fournier’s “Le Grand Meaulnes.” New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1968. Reviews many important themes of the novel in detail and provides a good starting point for further discussion. Not as comprehensive as Gibson but easier to use in an analysis of the novel.
Categories: Places