Françoise Sagan World Literature Analysis
Like her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, many of Sagan’s works feature men and women of the leisure class who display a casual attitude toward love, money, and worldly pleasures, while revealing their narcissism and spiritual bankruptcy. One of her better-known novels is Aimez-vous Brahms? (1959; English translation, 1960), in which a character named Paula is unfaithful to her longtime lover when she becomes infatuated with a much younger man. In La Chamade (1965; English translation, 1966), Lucie lives a life of luxury with Charles, a wealthy bohemian type who supports her; she then falls in love with Antoine, a man whose modest circumstances and real-world concerns symbolize the reality from which she has always been sheltered.
It is significant that in her first novel and other works, the characters who live a life artificially surrounded by money, material possessions, and casual relationships (sexual and otherwise), frequently pay a price for their narcissism. Sagan’s works function, therefore, as social commentary, often with a strong satirical and even at times tragic dimension. The effect of her social commentary is, however, mitigated and complicated by the fact that there is rarely any long-term consequence for the selfish, scandalous behavior she portrays. The world of her characters is influenced by existentialism, and Sagan claimed existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre as an important influence. In this worldview, people are to be judged by their actions, not their thoughts or beliefs; furthermore, there is no God, and therefore no eternal consequence for people’s actions. Human beings exist in the world and are constantly challenged to find a reason to live besides the mere pursuit of physical gratification.
Sagan was always aware of the dangers associated with wealth and glamour, and she addressed those dangers prophetically in her first novel. The manner in which the frivolous, pleasure-seeking world of her characters leads them inevitably toward tragedy and emptiness is a remarkably clear-sighted commentary on the mechanism of popular culture. Since many of her novels became best sellers, especially Bonjour Tristesse, they are both examples of and reflections on popular culture in the twentieth century.
First published: 1954 (English translation, 1955)
Type of work: Novel
A teenage girl, Cécile, is vacationing in the south of France with her father and his lover, when an old family friend arrives unexpectedly and disrupts the harmony of the household by falling in love with Cécile’s father.
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...
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