The Wanderer

by Henri-Alban Fournier

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Summary

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François Seurel’s father is head of the middle school and one of the higher elementary classes at the Sainte-Agathe village school, and his wife teaches the younger children. François lives in the school with his parents and his sister Millie and attends classes with the other pupils. He never plays much with the village boys, however, because of an infection in his hip.

When François Seurel is fifteen years old, Augustin Meaulnes enters the school. With his arrival, a new life begins for Seurel, for Meaulnes banishes his contentment with his family and his love for staying home. As his hip continues to improve, Seurel begins to spend more time with Meaulnes in the village. Even life at the school becomes livelier, for Meaulnes always draws a crowd of people around him in the evenings.

The adventure begins one Christmas Day, when Meaulnes sets out for the railroad station to meet Seurel’s grandparents, Monsieur and Madame Charpentier. When the grandparents arrive, Meaulnes has disappeared. Three days later, he casually takes his seat in the classroom where Monsieur Seurel is conducting a lesson. No one knows where he has been, and he claims when questioned that he himself does not know. Sometimes at night, in the attic room they share, Seurel awakens to find Meaulnes pacing the floor, fully clothed, eager to reenter a mysterious world he had once glimpsed briefly. Meaulnes promises to take Seurel along the next time he leaves on a journey.

At last, Meaulnes tells Seurel the story of the adventure he had when he ran off from the school. It had been a very cold December day, and Meaulnes had lost his way; with darkness falling, he found that his horse was lame. He wandered to a cottage, where he was fed, and then he stumbled on until he found a barn in which, cold and lost, he fell asleep. The next day he wandered a long distance, until that night he came to a manor where small children and old people were merrily planning a wedding feast. Tired and cold, Meaulnes crawled through a window and climbed into a bed, where he slept all night. The next day, thinking that he was one of the wedding guests, some strolling players invited him to eat with them. Then Meaulnes discovered the reason for the feast. Frantz de Galais, the son of the man who owned the manor, had gone off to fetch his fiancé for their wedding.

All that first day, Meaulnes danced and played with the other guests. The next day, he met a beautiful girl with whom he fell in love. Although she declined to see him again, she promised to wait for his return to the manor. Inquiring about the strange girl, Meaulnes learned that she was Yvonne de Galais, Frantz’s sister. Frantz returned to the manor without his bride, and he dismissed all the guests. Meaulnes joined the crowd of children and old people as they dejectedly walked and rode away from the manor. He fell asleep in a cart, and when he awoke he found himself near the Sainte-Agathe school.

Meaulnes’s story seems unreal to young Seurel, but the arrival of a strange boy at the school brings the story to reality. The boy, who is dressed as a gypsy and who reminds Meaulnes of the Bohemians he saw at the manor, steals the map Meaulnes has been making to find his way back to the manor. Meaulnes and Seurel learn that the boy is young Frantz de Galais, who in a fit of despair after losing his sweetheart has run...

(This entire section contains 1195 words.)

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away with a band of gypsies. The boys promise that they will help Frantz if they can, but one night Frantz disappears. Meaulnes finally goes to live in Paris; after he leaves the school he writes only three letters to Seurel.

Months pass. Seurel finishes his school days and goes to visit relatives in another village. There he hears that a mysterious manor is not far off. Seurel eagerly takes up his friend’s quest. His cousins, he learns, know Yvonne. The manor was razed after Frantz’s disappearance, but his sister often comes to visit Seurel’s cousins. One night, she arrives, and Seurel tells her that Meaulnes hopes someday to find her again. Seurel learns from his aunt that Frantz’s fiancé was afraid to marry him because, as the daughter of peasants, she was certain that such great happiness could not come to her. She is now in Paris, working as a dressmaker. Seurel recalls his promise to help Frantz if he can. First, however, he intends to find Meaulnes and bring him to Yvonne de Galais.

When Seurel finds Meaulnes, the adventurer is packing his clothes to go on a journey. He abandons his plans, and he and Yvonne are married, but there is something mysterious in their lives that keeps them from being as happy as Seurel had expected them to be. One night, Frantz appears near the village. Seurel meets with him and listens to his complaints of loneliness and sorrow. The following morning, Meaulnes leaves Yvonne, who is pregnant, to go on another adventure.

Seurel is now a teacher at the Sainte-Agathe school. For months he and Yvonne await Meaulnes’s return. After her baby is born, Yvonne dies, leaving Seurel with an untold sadness. He searches through his friend’s old papers and finds a diary that tells him why Meaulnes was so troubled before his disappearance. While Meaulnes was living in Paris, he had met Valentine Blondeau, who became his mistress. Valentine often spoke of her former lover, whom she had deserted because she feared to marry him. When she showed Meaulnes her lover’s letters, he realized that Valentine was the fiancé for whom Frantz de Galais had never stopped searching. In anger, Meaulnes told her that he would leave her, and Valentine cried that she would then return to Paris to become a streetwalker. After returning to his mother’s home, where Seurel had found him, Meaulnes began to feel remorse for his treatment of Valentine.

Seurel, reading the diary, realizes that Meaulnes must have been packing to go in search of Valentine when Seurel brought the news that Yvonne had been found. He decides that Meaulnes deserted Yvonne to go on the same quest.

As Yvonne’s daughter grows into a lovable, pretty child, Seurel often visits to play with her, but she does not allow him to possess her affections completely. She always seems to be waiting for someone. One afternoon, while playing with the little girl, Seurel notices a burly stranger approaching. As the man comes nearer, Seurel recognizes Meaulnes. He tells Seurel that he has brought Valentine and Frantz together at last. With tears in his eyes at the news of his wife’s death, Meaulnes takes his daughter into his arms. Seurel watches the father and daughter play together, and the schoolmaster smilingly imagines that he can envision Meaulnes arising in the middle of the night, wrapping his daughter in a cloak, and silently slipping off with her on some new adventure.

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