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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515

Cecile is a seventeen-year-old girl who is indulged by her careless father, Raymond. He keeps a string of young mistresses whom he doesn't really care about and allows Cecile to do whatever she wants while he's distracted. For example, she regularly goes to Paris to pass the time partying with...

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Cecile is a seventeen-year-old girl who is indulged by her careless father, Raymond. He keeps a string of young mistresses whom he doesn't really care about and allows Cecile to do whatever she wants while he's distracted. For example, she regularly goes to Paris to pass the time partying with friends. She tries to seduce older men. She left boarding school to pursue a life with more pleasure.

Cecile, her father, and his mistress Elsa travel to the Mediterranean. Cecile says her father rented "a large, white, isolated, beautiful villa" there. They spend time soaking in the water and enjoying the sun. After six days, Cecile meets Cyril. They spend time together and he offers to teach her sailing. She says that she preferred friends of her father until she met him.

Things change when Anne visits. Unlike her father's young mistresses, Anne is older, worldly, and a friend of Cecile's departed mother. She tries to make Cecile more grown up. She recommends that she gain weight and that she do work while they're there for the summer. She wants Cecile to resume her education.

One night, in Cannes, Cecile notices that her father pays more attention to Anne than to Elsa. She threatens to tell Elsa of their private talk, and both Anne and her father react with anger. They promise to tell Elsa the next morning. Cecile tells Elsa, who cries and says she'll come pick up her bags. Cecile feels like she's lost an old friend.

When Anne catches Cyril and Cecile together, she forbids them from continuing to see each other. She says that Cecile is seventeen, and she won't let her ruin her life. She talks to Anne's father, and he agrees that they shouldn't see each other again and that Cecile should do work during the summer. When Elsa comes to get her bags, Cecile tells her that Anne and her father are getting married.

Cecile then schemes with Cyril and Elsa to break up Anne and Raymond. She coaxes Raymond into being jealous of a fake affair between Elsa and Cyril. When he approaches Elsa and takes her into an embrace, Anne sees and is devastated. Cecile suddenly realizes that she wasn't just scheming against some entity and understands that Anne is a human who grew through the stages of life and loved her father.

Cecile begs Anne to stay, but she leaves. Raymond is devastated at her going as well. They plan to contact her and bring her back but then find out that her car went over the edge of a cliff. It was a dangerous area where she went over, but they can't be sure that she didn't choose to do so, though a nurse says it was the sixth accident there that summer. When Cecile sees Cyril again, she realizes that she never loved him.

At first, they both mourn Anne, but eventually, Cecile and Raymond go on with their indulgent lives, though they don't rent the same villa again. Cecile says that sometimes late at night she thinks of Anne and feels sadness.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 898

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 evident that Raymond is falling in love with Anne, the ugly side of Cécile’s character reveals itself. One of the complexities of the novel is that the reader never knows whether Cécile is simply jealous of Anne, or whether she is angry at Raymond for having betrayed their philosophy of uncommitted pleasure-seeking by falling in love. During the time that Anne and Raymond grow closer, Cécile begins a relationship with Cyril, a twenty-six-year-old law student whom she met on the beach and who falls in love with her. Although he is substantially older and seduces her rather forcefully into losing her virginity, there is the strong sense that she is superior to him in many respects: She is more intelligent, a better strategist, and less sentimental. Most important, she is able to avoid falling in love, which she views as a serious weakness, whether for herself or for others.

The narrator’s dilemma is acutely defined by the two older women in the novel: Elsa, the unthinking 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. When Anne and Raymond decide to get married one evening, after having abandoned Elsa and Cécile in a nightclub so they could spend the night together, Anne begins to feel as if she has the right to act the role of mother to Cécile. In particular, she forbids her from ever seeing Cyril again and tells her to concentrate on preparing for her exams.

Furious at this invasion of her freedom and intent on destroying the relationship between Anne and her father, Cécile invents a diabolical plot. She manages to talk Elsa and Cyril into pretending to be lovers by convincing Elsa that in this way she will win back Raymond. Raymond is fooled, and he becomes so jealous that he decides to meet secretly with Elsa. Anne discovers the two of them together and abruptly leaves the house in her car, while Cécile realizes the damage she might have caused and begins to regret it, albeit too late. As Cécile and her father are in the process of writing a letter of apology to Anne, the telephone rings: Anne died in an automobile accident on a particularly treacherous road along the Mediterranean coast. Members of the hospital staff believe that it was just an accident, but Cécile and Raymond immediately suspect that they might have caused Anne’s suicide.

In the final chapter, Cécile and Raymond are back in Paris, where they slowly resume the life of leisure and irresponsibility that had been interrupted by the tragic events of the summer. Cécile, however, cannot suppress her guilt concerning Anne’s death, causing the “sadness” of the book’s title; there is a strong suggestion that her life will never again be exactly as it was before. Although she is likely to continue living for the selfish pursuit of pleasure, she will forever be aware of the potential consequences of her egotistical and deliberately shortsighted attitude.

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