Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to The Wanderer, on which his fame principally rests, Alain-Fournier (ah-LAN FEWRN-yay) published stories, poems, and essays. His correspondence with Jacques Rivière (collected by Alain-Fournier’s sister, Isabelle, in a posthumous edition) is especially noteworthy; indeed, it is generally regarded as among the most valuable cultural documents to come out of France at the beginning of the twentieth century. As a painstaking record of the growth of a novel and the evolution of an aesthetic, these letters are comparable to the journals of André Gide; as a scrupulous exercise in psychological introspection and as meditations on and records of the contemporary arts in the Paris of the belle époque, they are of inestimable value. Similarly, Alain-Fournier’s letters to his family and to his friend René Bichet are distinguished by the same arresting qualities that inform The Wanderer: an ability to describe impressions suggestively and economically, a keen and nostalgic sense of what is irretrievable in human experience, and a lucid and discriminating appreciation of human character.

In addition to the letters are the stories, poems, and reviews edited by Jacques Rivière under the title Miracles (1924). Most of these works bear the earmarks of Alain-Fournier’s early infatuation with the French Symbolists, and they betray the hand of an apprentice. There are, however, an equal number of pieces in this collection—especially “Le Miracle des trois dames”—that prefigure the tempered artistry of The Wanderer. Finally, Alain-Fournier produced unfinished sketches for a play, “La Maison dans la forêt,” and a novel left incomplete at the time of his death.

Alain-Fournier Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alain-Fournier’s novel The Wanderer is universally regarded as one of the signal achievements of French fiction in the first half of the twentieth century. In a review that appeared on April 19, 1953, in The Observer, the eminent English critic Sir Harold Nicolson claimed, “Were I asked what was the most impressive novel published in France during my own lifetime, I should answer ’Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes.’” He concluded his evaluation of Alain-Fournier’s novel with the following critical judgment: “Certainly I should place this novel among those which every literate person should have read.”

Scholars of French literature have demonstrated an indefatigable interest in this writer. In volume 6 of A Critical Bibliography of French Literature (1980), Alain-Fournier—along with Marcel Proust, Gide, and a handful of other writers—is accorded a separate chapter of eighteen double-columned pages. The quarterly journal of the Association des Amis de Jacques Rivière et Alain-Fournier is devoted to essays, notes, and reviews on the lives and works of these two authors. In Paris, there is a famous bookstore called Au Grand Meaulnes, and the local high school, or lycée, in Bourges is named for Alain-Fournier. In 1967, a film version of Le Grand Meaulnes, directed by Jean-Gabriel Albicocco from a screenplay by Albicocco and Alain-Fournier’s sister, Isabelle Rivière, was released in France (it was released in the United States as The Wanderer in 1969); the film has gone on to become a veritable object de culte among discriminating French moviegoers. Another film version, directed by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe, was released in France in 2006. In short, on the level of both critical appreciation and popular response, The Wanderer has achieved the status of a classic in modern French fiction.

Alain-Fournier Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cancalon, Elaine D. Fairy-Tale Structures and Motifs in “Le Grand Meaulnes.” New York: Peter Lang, 1975. Provides a stimulating discussion of an important element in Alain-Fournier’s novel.

Ford, Edward. Alain-Fournier and “Le Grand Meaulnes” (“The Wanderer”). Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999. Discusses Alain-Fournier’s life and his interest in primitivism, arguing that Le Grand Meaulnes is a primitivist novel. Explains the novel’s structure, the literary influences that shaped Alain-Fournier’s work, and the novel’s influence on other writers.

Gibson, Robert. Alain-Fournier: “Le Grand Meaulnes.” London: Grant & Cutler, 1986. Brief yet excellent in-depth study of the novel is the work of a scholar many consider to be the leading authority on Alain-Fournier in the English-speaking world.

Gibson, Robert. The End of Youth: The Life and Work of Alain-Fournier. Exeter, England: Impress, 2005. Gibson, who published his first biography of Alain-Fournier in 1953, reassesses the author’s life and work based on newly discovered information. Includes new material about the two great loves of Alain-Fournier’s life, Yvonne de Quièvrecourt and “Simone,” the leading boulevard actress of her day, as well as many letters from Alain-Fournier’s friends and fellow writers, a compilation of his work as a literary gossip columnist, the complete drafts of his second novel, and the plays left unfinished when he went off to war in 1914.

Gurney, Stephen. Alain-Fournier. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Presents an informative general introduction to the life and work of Alain-Fournier.

Turnell, Martin. The Rise of the French Novel: Marivaux, Crèbillon fils, Rousseau, Stendhal, Flaubert, Alain-Fournier, Raymond Radiguet. New York: New Directions, 1978. Discussion of important French authors devotes a chapter to Alain-Fournier, providing biographical information as well as analysis of The Wanderer and Miracles.

Ullmann, Stephen. “The Symbol of the Sea in Le Grand Meaulnes.” In The Image in the Modern French Novel: Gide, Alain-Fournier, Proust, Camus. 1960. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. Chapter examining sea imagery in Alain-Fournier’s novel is part of a larger work on the use of symbolism by four important modern French novelists.