Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
On vacation in the south of France, Cecile and her youthful, philandering father Raymond are spending a leisurely, hedonistic summer in a rented villa. With them is Raymond’s mistress of the moment, Elsa, a beautiful, red-haired woman almost half his age whom Cecile finds entertaining but rather simpleminded and nonthreatening to her companionable relationship with her father. The three of them spend lazy days swimming and lolling on the beach, and they dance and drink at the casinos into the nights. Cecile, over-indulged by her father, is enjoying being away from school, where she has flunked a couple of her exams. Raymond is unconcerned with her lack of interest in studying to retake her exams. He acts mostly oblivious to his responsibilities as a father and is more concerned with being his daughter’s “friend” and “companion.”
When the three vacationers have been at the villa for a while, Raymond announces that he has invited an old friend, Anne Larsen, to spend time with them at the villa. Anne was a good friend of Raymond’s dead wife and has been part of their lives off and on during the fifteen years since Cecile’s mother died. Cecile likes her, even though Anne’s more conventional way of life and views on how a young girl should be raised differ considerably from the way her father is rearing her. When she learns that Anne will be staying at the villa, however, she has misgivings, especially since Elsa is also there.
When Anne arrives, Raymond acts pleased, Cecile is conflicted, and Elsa feels threatened. Elsa’s reaction proves to be well founded, because it is soon obvious that Raymond is becoming very attached to Anne. Even Cecile admits that there is much to admire about Anne: She is not only beautiful but also cultured, intelligent, and an accomplished and successful fashion designer. She brings to the villa a more principled way of living and forces the others to a reluctant awareness of the shallowness of their lives.
(The entire section is 815 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Bonjour Tristesse is Françoise Sagan’s most famous work, in part because she was only nineteen when it was published and in part because it represented an entirely new sensibility in French fiction. The title, which translates as “hello sadness,” is taken from a poem by the French surrealist writer Paul Éluard; Sagan opens the novel with this poem, and it sets a melancholy tone.
The narrator, Cécile, is an intelligent but fairly lazy seventeen-year-old, who sometimes seems to speak in the voice of a much older and more sophisticated person and at other times seems immature for her age. She has recently failed her school exams (part of the French baccalauréat, the advanced secondary school diploma that in the 1950’s still served as an important sign of social status), and she will have to take them again at the end of the summer. She clearly worships her father, Raymond, a youthful, vain, and charming playboy, who has brought his lover, Elsa, with them on their vacation. Cécile finds Elsa to be frivolous, stupid, and unworthy of Raymond. She is far more impressed by Anne, an old family friend whose unexpected arrival at the summer house soon after the start of the novel sets the plot into motion.
Anne is an accomplished, professional woman, who works in the fashion industry. When Cécile’s mother died fifteen years earlier, her father entrusted her to Anne, who was one of her mother’s closest friends. As a result, Anne had an enormous impact on Cécile’s childhood, nurturing her talent for cultural sophistication and understated elegance. Anne, who is older and darker than Elsa, presents a physical contrast, as well as an intellectual and spiritual contrast, to Elsa. Anne challenges Cécile to better herself, to study for her exams instead of spending all day at the beach, and to take everything in life more seriously than her father does. Cécile never misses an opportunity to play the disrespectful, adolescent rebel in the older woman’s presence. It becomes apparent, however, that her provocations are really a symptom, both of her admiration for Anne’s aloof superiority and of her growing jealousy.
When it becomes...
(The entire section is 898 words.)