“The novel that I have carried in my head for three years,” Alain-Fournier wrote in 1905, “was at first only me, me, and me, but it has gradually been depersonalized and enlarged and is no longer the novel that everybody plans at eighteen.” That novel, The Wanderer, written and revised over a period of six more years, is the major work of the author, who fell in battle at Saint-Remy in 1914. Although The Wanderer is surely more than a romantic autobiography, aspects of the author appear in the three important male characters: the meditative, passive François Seurel, the adventurer Augustin Meaulnes, and the despairing lover Frantz de Galais. Like each of them, Alain-Fournier was a romantic idealist, a dreamer, a child-man not entirely able to come to terms with adult responsibilities. Precisely for this reason, his childlike vision of reality gives the story a psychological dimension beyond its trappings of sentimental fantasy.
Seurel, the narrator, is the most timorous of the three heroes; he experiences life vicariously through the more intense activities of the others. When he must act to assist his beloved friend Meaulnes, however, he does so decisively. “Admiral” Meaulnes is bold in dreams but indecisive when he needs to act, and his will is paralyzed by guilt. While living in Paris, he betrays Valentine Blondeau (as in real life Alain-Fournier deceived Jeanne B.), and for that reason—and because he has betrayed Yvonne’s brother, who truly loves Valentine—he cannot accept the pure love of Yvonne de Galais. Toward the end of the novel,...
(The entire section is 649 words.)