Early Life

The son of elementary schoolteachers, in close relationship to Charles Péguy (1873-1914), friend and brother-in-law to Jacques Rivière (1886-1925), the future literary editor of La Nouvelle Revue Française, Henri Alain-Fournier (1886-1914) was already known before the war as a journalist and columnist. His fame was mostly owed to Le Grand Meaulnes (1913), however, which was to become a classic among French novels. Drafted by the army in August 1914, he was promoted to lieutenant in the 288th Infantry Regiment and fought in the battle of the Marne before being transferred to the sector of Saint-Rémy-la-Calonne (Hauts-de-Meuse). He was reported missing together with twenty soldiers of the 23rd company on 22 September 1914 as the result of an engagement with the enemy.

Posthumous Recognition

It was not until 1991 that the common grave where those men had been buried by the Germans could be found. Thanks to archaeological excavations, it is now almost certain that Lieutenant Fournier died in action after being surrounded by German grenadiers, shot in the chest in retaliation for the attack on a German ambulance carried out by the neighboring 22nd company. In 1992, Alain-Fournier and his men were laid to rest in the cemetery of Saint-Rémy-la-Calonne, commemorated by a war memorial erected in the clearing where they fell. As much as Le Grand Meaulnes embodies a longing for childhood and lost dreams, its author, too, has become a symbol for the irretrievable annihilation of many promising talents in French literature. Colombe Blanchet, Alain-Fournier's second novel and written in the same vein as the first, remains unfinished.

Laurence Campa, Université de Paris Ouest-Nanterre

Section Editor: Alexandre Lafon

Translator: Maurice Cottenceau