Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The title Bonjour Tristesse (hello sadness) is a quote from a poem by Paul Éluard that opens the novel and sets the tone for the bittersweet narrative to come. The narrator, Cécile, seems older than her years, unable to concentrate on activities, such as schoolwork, that are alien to the sophisticated high society to which she already belongs. At the beginning of her story, she identifies strongly with her father, Raymond, sharing his love of beauty and pleasure, but also acutely aware of the superficiality and transience of the world of the idle rich in which both of them live.

The narrator’s dilemma is acutely defined by the two older women in the novel: Elsa, an unreflective sybarite whose life is given meaning by sports cars and nightclubs; and Anne, her dark, serious, and contemplative counterpart, whose very presence seems to call into judgment the lives of the other characters.

After Anne arrives at the Riviera summer house where Cécile, Raymond, and Elsa are vacationing, the relationship between Cécile and Anne quickly becomes complex. Anne seems to bring out the worst in Cécile, who 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. There is something possessive about Cécile’s affection for her father. The...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

According to Judith Graves Miller, the foremost expert on Sagan in the United States, Sagan’s commitment to feminist issues accurately reflects her degree of political engagement in general: She often speaks out on an issue and then distances herself from the debate rather than remain associated with it for an extended period. Her most visible participation in the feminist movement occurred in 1971, when she signed the Manifesto of the 343, a famous document signed by women, many of them well known in French society, claiming to have undergone abortions; by doing so, they placed themselves in danger of immediate arrest and imprisonment. This very effective protest drew national attention to the issue and was one of the factors leading to the legalization of abortion in France.

Although Sagan herself has shown limited, though genuine, interest in feminist issues, her work has much to offer to the field of feminist literary criticism. Bonjour Tristesse first of all gave voice to the alienation of postwar youth; had Cécile been a young man instead of a woman, however, the novel undoubtedly would not have had the impact that it did. Cécile’s sexual sophistication and worldliness, the loss of her virginity (which she celebrates), and her powerful manipulation of the adult world that surrounds her were, for contemporary readers, nothing short of shocking. The well-known Catholic novelist François Mauriac wrote an editorial in the conservative...

(The entire section is 512 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Cismaru, Alfred. “Françoise Sagan: The Superficial Classic.” World Literature Today 67 (Spring, 1993): 291-295. A critique of Sagan’s concept of freedom, this article tries to find the reason for Sagan’s obsession with worldliness and frivolity. Cismaru speculates that the source of much of Sagan’s inspiration is her own repressive, petit-bourgeois background.

Miller, Judith Graves. Françoise Sagan. Boston: Twayne, 1988. The first full-length critical study of Sagan in English, and an excellent one. Miller examines the phenomenon of Sagan as a public figure and analyzes her works partly as attempts to blur the boundary separating fiction and autobiography. Includes a useful chronology and a selected bibliography.

Poirot-Delpech, Bertrand. Bonjour Sagan. Paris: Herscher, 1985. Although published in French, this coffeetable-sized book is a fascinating Sagan iconography, with photographs and other documents from all periods of her life. Even an English-speaking reader will appreciate those aspects of Sagan’s much-publicized private life that are copiously displayed in these pages.

Updike, John. “Books.” The New Yorker 50 (August 12, 1974): 95-98. Updike devotes the regular book review column of The New Yorker in this issue to Sagan, on the occasion of the publication in English of Scars on the Soul. It is a useful insight into the appreciation of one of America’s foremost novelists for Sagan’s work, especially as Updike’s own fiction displays some degree of affinity with hers.