Bonjour Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse

by Francoise Sagan

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Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

Set against the translucent beauty of France in summer, Bonjour Tristesse is a bittersweet tale narrated by Cécile, a seventeen-year-old girl on the brink of womanhood, whose meddling in her father's love life leads to tragic consequences.Freed from boarding school, Cécile lives in unchecked enjoyment with her youngish, widowed father — an affectionate rogue, dissolute and promiscuous. Having accepted the constantly changing women in his life, Cécile pursues a sexual conquest of her own with a "tall and almost beautiful" law student. Then, a new woman appears in her father's life. Feeling threatened but empowered, Cécile sets in motion a devastating plan that claims a surprising victim.Deceptively simple in structure, Bonjour Tristesse is a complex and beautifully composed portrait of casual amorality and a young woman's desperate attempt to understand and control the world around her.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9782266195584
Publisher: Distribooks, Inc.
Publication date: 05/15/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 153
Sales rank: 807,626
Product dimensions: 4.32(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.42(d)

About the Author

Françoise Sagan (1935-2004) was only eighteen when her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, was published. Her other novels include Incidental Music, A Certain Smile, and The Painted Lady.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow. The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow. Today it envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, and sets me apart from everybody else.

That summer, I was seventeen and perfectly happy. At that time "everybody else" was my father and his mistress, Elsa. I must explain this situation at once, or it might give a false impression. My father was forty, and had been a widower for fifteen years. He was young for his age, full of vitality and liveliness. When I left my convent school two years before and came to Paris to live with him, I soon realized that he was living with a woman. But I was slower in accepting the fact that his fancy changed every six months! But gradually his charm, my new easy life, and my own disposition, led me to fall in readily with his ways. He was a frivolous man, clever at business, always curious, quickly bored, and very attractive to women. It was easy for me to love him, for he was kind, generous, gay and fond of me. I cannot imagine a better or a more amusing companion. At the beginning of the summer I am concerned with now, he even asked me whether I would object to having Elsa along on our summer vacation. She was his mistress of the moment, a tall, red-headed girl, sensual and worldly, kindly, rather simple-minded, and unpretentious. One might have come across her any day in the studios and bars of the Champs-Elysées. I readilyconsented, for I knew his need of a woman, and I knew, too, that Elsa would not get in our way. Besides, my father and I were so delighted at the prospect of going away that I was in no mood to object to anything. He had rented a large white villa on the Mediterranean, for which we bad been longing since the spring. It was remote and beautiful, standing on a headland jutting over the sea, hidden from the road by pine woods. A goat path led down to a small, sunny cove where the sea lapped against rust-colored rocks.

The first days were dazzling. We spent hours on the beach giving ourselves up to the hot sun, gradually assuming a healthy golden tan — except for Elsa, whose skin reddened and peeled, causing her intense agony. My father performed all sorts of complicated exercises to reduce a rounding stomach unsuitable for a Don Juan. From dawn onward I was in the water. It was cool and transparent, and I plunged wildly about in my efforts to wash away the shadows and dust of Paris. I lay stretched out on the sand, took up a handful and let it run through my fingers in soft, yellow streams. I told myself that it ran out like time. It was an idle thought, and it was pleasant to have idle thoughts, for it was summer.

On the sixth day I saw Cyril for the first time. He was hugging the coast in a small sailboat and capsized in front of our cove. I had a wonderful time helping him to rescue his things, during which he told me his name, that he was studying law, and was spending his vacation with his mother in a neighboring villa. He had a typically Latin face — very dark and very frank. There was something responsible and protective about him which I liked at once. Usually I avoided college students, whom I considered brutal, wrapped up in themselves, particularly in their youth, in which they found material for drama, or an excuse for their own boredom. I did not care for young people; I much preferred my father's friends, men of forty, who spoke to me courteously and tenderly — treated me with the gentleness of a father — or a lover. But Cyril was different. He was tall and almost beautiful, with the kind of good looks that immediately inspires one with confidence. Although I did not share my father's intense aversion to ugliness — which often led us to associate with stupid people — I did feel vaguely uncomfortable in the presence of anyone completely devoid of physical charm. Their resignation to the fact that they were unattractive seemed to me somehow indecent. For what are we looking for if not to please? I do not know if the desire to attract others comes from a superabundance of vitality, possessiveness, or the hidden, unspoken need to be reassured.

When Cyril left he offered to teach me to sail. I went up to dinner absorbed in my thoughts of him, and hardly spoke during the meal or noticed my father's nervousness. After dinner we stretched out in chairs on the terrace as usual. The sky was studded with stars. I gazed upward, vaguely hoping to see a sudden, exciting flash across the heavens, but it was early in July and too soon for shooting stars. On the terrace the crickets were chirping. There must have been thousands of them, drunk with heat and moonlight, pouring out their song all night long. I had been told they made the sound by rubbing their legs together, but I preferred to believe that it came from the throat, guttural, instinctive like the howls of cats in heat.

We were very comfortable. A few tiny grains of sand between my skin and my shirt kept me from dropping off to sleep. Suddenly my father coughed apologetically and sat up.

"Someone is coming to stay with us," he announced.

I shut my eyes in disappointment. We had been too happy; it just couldn't last!

"Hurry up and tell us who it is!" cried Elsa, always avid for gossip.


Bonjour Tristesse. Copyright © by Francoise Sagan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary

Upon its U.S. publication in 1955, Bonjour Tristesse was an immediate international sensation, and one of the top selling books of that year. Its commercial success was partly due to its controversial portrayal of a privileged young woman with precocious attitudes toward love, sex, and morality. In fact, it was a jaw-dropping affront to the American values of the Eisenhower Era. No less sensational, perhaps, was the fact that its equally precocious eighteen-year-old author was barely an adult herself. Such cynicism, aggression, and world-weariness in a teenager -- and a young girl, at that -- were not just inappropriate, they were deeply unsettling.

Nearly a half-century later, Cecile's casual friendliness with her father -- and her acceptance of his morally dubious social life -- may not be deemed healthy by child advocates, but it is hardly a stunning revelation. Sagan's depiction of Cecile as a pouting teenager and jaded ingenue is all too familiar in an age where "been there done that" seems to have replaced teenagers' respect for boundaries. Yet Bonjour Tristesse still appeals to the modern reader. Its impeccably crafted, artfully told tale continues to surprise. Sagan's moody voice is the perfect foil to the novel's glamorous setting. Her characters' languorous lifestyle belies the rage and angst simmering beneath the surface. And Cecile's wistful recollections of happier times lull readers into a state of rosy nostalgia -- even as she relates the bone-chilling details of her plot to undermine the adults who want to control her destiny. But perhaps the primary reason that this story resonates today is the truth it holds aboutchildren who grow up too quickly -- and about parents who never grow up at all. There is something heartbreakingly familiar about the combination of Cecile's insouciance and self-loathing and in her defense of her father's libertine ways. Left to her own devices, Cecile -- like most teenagers -- chooses play over hard work; indulgence over restraint; carelessness over responsibility. A more fortunate teenager would be guided by example. Yet Cecile's father's juvenile behavior is the only example she has. It is no wonder she will do anything to maintain the life set out for her by the only parent she knows. It is tragic that this struggle ultimately costs her the only true parent she has ever had.

Nearly fifty years ago, readers of Bonjour Tristesse were shocked by Cecile's foray into the adult world of sex and deceit. But that is no longer solely the domain of adults, and we no longer find her behavior shocking. Instead we ache for this young woman who, too soon, finds herself in the grown-up world of disillusionment, regret and sadness.

Topics for Discussion
  • Francoise Sagan was eighteen when she wrote Bonjour Tristesse; Cecile, her narrator, tells the story as a remembrance, a woman looking back on the summer of her seventeenth year. What do you think is the time span between that summer and the present? Does Cecile seem older than eighteen to you? If so, in what ways?

  • In explaining her attraction to Cyril, Cecile asks, "What are we looking for if not to please? I do not know if the desire to attract others comes from a superabundance of vitality, possessiveness, or the hidden, unspoken need to be reassured." Does Cecile's attraction to Cyril come from confidence or insecurity? What about her father's seductions of Elsa and Anne?

  • Cecile says to her father, "You're not the type of man to interest Anne. She's too intelligent and has too much self-respect." Yet Anne is interested. Why would such an intelligent and poised woman be attracted to a scamp like Raymond? What does Anne's attraction to him say about her?

  • Early in the novel, Cecile interrupts her narrative: "I realize that I have skipped over an important factor: the nearness of the sea with its incessant rhythm. Nor have I mentioned the four lime trees in the courtyard of my convent school and their perfume…" She goes on to list a number of detailed memories about life with her father. Why are these details important to her story? As you reread the entire passage, examine how Sagan flows from one image to another. What is the effect of this stream-of consciousness writing?

  • Not long after the above-mentioned passage, the four members of the household descend to the beach for the first time together. Cecile describes the "triangle" formed by the two women and her father, who is at the apex. She describes her father's "resolute stare" as he gazes at Anne and the way he plays with the sand. How do these detailed scenes compare with her less imagistic passages? What is the effect of the "rhythm" that Sagan establishes in the novel, alternating between one type of writing and another?

  • Does Cecile's hedonistic life with her father sound appealing to you? How do you think it resonated with readers in 1955? Do you find her relationship with her father shocking? Does it seem incestuous to you, as some critics have claimed?

  • Do you think Cecile's self-centered, careless approach to life and relationships was typical of other wealthy teenaged girls of her era? Do you find Cecile's cynical attitude toward love to be outrageous in this day and age? Can you name other female characters in literature who faced similar circumstances with the same kind of rebellion?

  • To Cecile, Anne is a savior and a threat. She is a protective mother figure with Cecile's best interest at heart, as well as a manipulator who wants to control her and her father and rob them of their happy lifestyle. How accurate is either portrayal? Do you think Cecile and her father would be happy living with Anne? Would Cecile end up enjoying the cultivated, ordered life that Anne would impose on her?

  • After she loses her virginity to Cyrile, Cecile returns to the villa to find Anne sunning herself outside. Cecile sits down and tries to light a cigarette, but her hands are shaking too hard to strike the match, so Anne does it for her. What does this scene reveal about Anne's personality and her feelings toward Cecile? Do you think Anne knew what had just happened to Cecile? Why does Cecile think this incident was "symbolic?"

  • Do you think Raymond really loves Anne, or is she, like Elsa, merely a diversion for him? Is she a challenging conquest whose allure would disappear as soon as she is conquered? Would their relationship have lasted? If Anne was the narrator of this story, how do you think she would describe Cecile?

  • By the end of the novel, do you feel sorry for Cecile? Given her upbringing, how responsible is she for her actions? Who do you think is responsible for Anne's death -- Cecile, Raymond, or Anne herself?

  • When Anne discovers Elsa and Raymond, she runs to leave the villa. Cecile begs her to stay, and asks Anne to forgive her. Just before she drives away, Anne places her hand on Cecile's cheek and says, "My poor child." What does Anne mean by this?

  • After Anne leaves, Cecile and Raymond each compose a letter to her, "two works of art, full of excuses, love and repentance." If Anne had not been killed, do you think those letters would have won her back?

  • What do Cecile's relationships with the other characters reveal about how she changes over the course of the novel? Does she grow more or less mature? More or less jaded?

  • Do you consider Bonjour Tristesse to be an example of feminist literature? Why or why not?

  • What do you think of the novel's opening paragraph? How does its meaning change after you have read the entire novel? What do you think Sagan means by the "complete egoism" of sorrow? About the Author: Born Francoise Quoirez in Cajarc, France in 1935, Francoise Sagan was only 18 when her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, was published. Sagan was one of the first celebrity writers for Cosmopolitan in the seventies, and is known to have lived quite a scandalous life in France, forming the group "La bande Sagan" with Juliette Greco. Sagan is also the author of Incidental Music, A Certain Smile, A Fleeting Sorrow, Lost Profile, and The Painted Lady, all of which are out of print in the United States.

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    Bonjour Tristesse 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I have rarely been so engrossed in a book as I was reading 'Bonjour Tristesse.' Although it was full of sorrow, it was very beautiful and bitingly realistic. It felt great empathy and even inspiration.