Form and Content
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...
(The entire section is 603 words.)