Alain-fournier's Lost Estate


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Julian Barnes and Hermione Lee travel to France in search of the places and people which inspired his novel of adolescent love Le Grand Meaulnes. Part 1: A Childhood in Sologne.

The village school where Fournier's father taught, the holidays he spent at his grandparents' cottage and the tumbledown house in the woods nearby fed the imagination of Henri Alban-Fournier. He drew on these locations when creating his only finished novel Le Grand Meaulnes, a simply written story of love and longing as an adventuring schoolboy discovers an almost mythical lost estate lived in by a young women, which the writer published under his pen name 'Alain-Fournier'. Auguste Meaulnes' fictional quest to retrace his steps and find the woman he dreams about echoes Fournier's own romantic obsession with a young woman he encountered briefly in Paris - whom he later traced using private detectives.

The novelist Julian Barnes and biographer Hermione Lee compare Le Grand Meaulnes to Dickens, Debussy's opera Pelleas and Melisande and F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and discuss the reputation of the novel in France today.

Producer: Robyn Read

Readings by Philip Franks from a translation by Frank Davison.

Julian Barnes and Hermione Lee visit locations from Henri Alain-Fournier's childhood.

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On the first of June 1905, the 18 year old Henri-Alban Fournier (pen-name 'Alain-Fournier') saw a woman with a white parasol on the steps of the Grand Palais. He took a riverboat down the Seine, following her to her lodgings and for the next week he tried to attract her attention but a week later, by the church of Saint-Germain des Près, Yvonne de Qui退vrecourt dashed his hopes of a romance saying "we are children...what's the use ?"

A month after this encounter, Fournier's parents sent him to London, where he worked at Sandersons wallpaper factory for the grand father of the DJ Annie Nightingale. The letters he sent back to his childhood friend Jacques Rivière explain why he found English women shocking and show him working out what kind of writer he wanted to become. They exchanged views about Wagner, Dickens, the pre-Raphaelites and eventually both got jobs at the Nouvelle Revue Française.

8 years later, after tracking her with a detective, he met up with the now married Yvonne, just as he was about the publish Le Grand Meaulnes. In the novel she is re-imagined as Yvonne de Galais, first seen by the adventurer Meaulnes at a fete in a house in the woods - the lost estate.

Alain-Fournier began work on another novel and a play but war broke out and on 22 September 1914, having fought for only a few weeks, he was killed in action south of Verdun. Reported missing with 20 of his comrades-in-arms, his body was found in 1991 in a mass grave where German soldiers had buried him.

Producer: Robyn Read

Readings by Philip Franks from a translation by Frank Davison.

Julian Barnes and Hermione Lee visit locations that inspired Henri Alain-Fournier's work.