Sunday, September 22, 2019

65. The Wanderer by Alain-Fournier (Le Grand Meaulnes)

I bought this book at a church bazaar, I believe, for 40 cents, based on its nice Edward Gorey cover, thick pages and sense that it would have lots of nice walking in the woods.  It turns out to be a classic of French literature, a Sorrows of Young Werther in the Parisian countryside.

It's hard for me to be fair to this book.  It fails the Bechdel test utterly and in this day of #MeToo, twitter and a total re-examining (to put it mildly) of the domination of the male protagonist in literature, it was hard for me to absorb the romantic mopings of the titular character who completely fucks shit up for himself and the women in his world because he feels indebted to an even more mopy and romantic young man in his pursuit for ideal love.

The story is from the more stable son of the schoolteacher. In their weird world of older boys still going to school everyday and having rivalries and minor adventures, a new alpha dog Meaulnes arrives.  He becomes the leader and one day gets lost after stealing a cart. He ends up at a mysterious manor that is preparing a massive party to welcome home a son and his bride.  He briefly meets the son's beautiful sister Yvonne with whose romantic vision he falls in love.  The son's bride never shows for reasons we learn later and the son then abandons the family and runs away to wander the land as a minstrel, he too yearning for his lost bride.

The plot is actually kind of interesting and woven together in an elegant way such that you can ignore the many coincidences that make it more of a fairy tale.  And there are really beautiful and evocative scenes of rural life in this part of France.  But man, this is some cliched romantic stuff.  These young men are around 17 or 18 and they are constantly weeping and filled with remorse and then sudden elation (but tinged with the potential for sadness like rain on a summer day).  This was written in 1913 and takes place just before the turn into the 20th century, so it is probably responsible for much of the notion of French romanticism.  And these young men didn't have TV or even radio, so you get it. It is very much of its time and so my superior condescension is weak sauce.  And I did actually enjoy most of it while reading it.  It's just that both Meaulnes and son are basically total dicks and the women suffer because of their obsession with romantic ideals (the son ruins his entire family with his spoiled whims, putting them in debt so they have to sell all their possessions and he is portrayed as some kind of wonderful, unique character; Meaulnes runs off after him leaving his bride and the women he yearned for pregnant and alone so of course she dies leaving him a baby daughter to represent his love when he comes).  It's not a good look.

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