Bonjour Tristesse

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Bonjour Tristesse
BonjourTristesse.jpg
First English edition
AuthorFrançoise Sagan
CountryFrance
LanguageFrench
PublisherÉditions Julliard (France)
John Murray (UK)
Publication date
1954
Published in English
1955

Bonjour Tristesse (English: "Hello Sadness") is a novel by Françoise Sagan. Published in 1954, when the author was only 18, it was an overnight sensation. The title is derived from a poem by Paul Éluard, "À peine défigurée", which begins with the lines "Adieu tristesse/Bonjour tristesse..." An English-language film adaptation was released in 1958, directed by Otto Preminger.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

17-year-old Cécile spends her summer in a villa on the French Riviera with her father Raymond and his current mistress, the young, superficial, fashionable Elsa, who gets on well with Cécile. Raymond is an attractive, worldly, amoral man who excuses his serial philandering with an Oscar Wilde quote about sin: "Sin is the only note of vivid colour that persists in the modern world." Cécile says, "I believed that I could base my life on it",[2] and accepts their languorous lifestyle as the ideal of privileged status. One of its advantages for Cécile is that her father, who has no intellectual interests, does not care if she studies or not. Another is that he gives her leeway to pursue her own interests, with the assumption that she will be an amusing addition to the superficial social gatherings he favors. In the next villa to theirs is a young man in his 20s, Cyril, with whom Cécile has her first sexual romance.

Their peaceful holiday is shattered by the arrival of Anne, whom Raymond had vaguely invited. A cultured, principled, intelligent, hard-working woman of Raymond's age who was a friend of his late wife, Anne regards herself as a sort of godmother to Cécile. The three women all have claims on Raymond's attention; the remote, enigmatic Anne soon becomes Raymond's lover, and the next morning she announces their engagement. Elsa moves out, then Anne tries to take Cécile under her wing. She tells Cécile to stop seeing Cyril and get back to her schoolbooks. Horrified at this threat to her lazy life as her father's darling, especially when contrasted with the romance between Raymond and Anne, Cécile devises a plan to prevent the marriage, while nevertheless feeling ambiguous about her machinations.

With the idea of making Raymond jealous, Cécile arranges for Elsa and Cyril to pretend to be a couple and appear together at specific moments. When Raymond predictably becomes jealous of the younger Elsa as the result of Cécile's scheming, he eventually pursues Elsa once again. But Cécile has misjudged Anne's sensitivity, with tragic results. After seeing Raymond and Elsa together in the woods, with Raymond brushing pine needles off of his suit, Anne tearfully drives away, and her car plunges from a cliff in a suspected suicide.

Cécile and her father return to the empty, desultory life they were living before Anne interrupted their summer, though eventually reminiscing about Anne and the impact she had on their lives. Cécile lives with the regret of knowing that her manipulations led to Anne's death.

Characters[edit]

  • Cécile, a wealthy and careless seventeen-year-old girl
  • Raymond, her middle-aged father, a notorious partier and ladies' man
  • Elsa, Raymond's latest mistress at the beginning of the novel
  • Anne, an old friend of Cécile's mother, who mentored Cécile after she withdrew from Catholic boarding school
  • Cyril, a young man who lives near the house Raymond rents for the summer

Reception[edit]

An early brief review of Irene Ash's English translation (John Murray, 1955), in The Times of 19 May 1955, describes it as "An unusual little fiction ... written by a 19-year-old girl from the Dordogne ... a nice piece of precocity".[2] The reviewer in The Spectator of the same date said "Bonjour, Tristesse, which has achieved remarkable celebrity by virtue of its subject-matter and its authoress's age, is a vulgar, sad little book".[3]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Camper, Fred (1999). Bodies in Motion
  2. ^ "The Old Adversary (book reviews)". The Times. 19 May 1955. p. 13. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  3. ^ Metcalf, John (19 May 1955). "New novels". The Spectator. p. 31. Retrieved 23 February 2016.