The Unmade Bed

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

In a conversation reported in Les Nouvelles Littéraires shortly after the publication of Le Lit Défaut (The Unmade Bed), Françoise Sagan took up her usual complaint: critics do not take her seriously. Basically, they are uncomfortable in speaking of her as a writer; they regard her rather as un accident qui se prolonge (an accident which endures). Whenever she publishes a new novel, there is a printing of 200,000 copies followed by translations into many languages, and then by paperback editions. It is a commercial event which has stunned the critics since the publication of Bonjour Tristesse in 1954, and frequently in recent years. According to Sagan, now that The Unmade Bed is on its way to becoming a success, the journalists can return to writing about how many cars she has: an old Mercedes for carrying the dogs and cats; a Lotus which hugs the road; and an Austin Cooper for doing errands.

The Unmade Bed bears many similarities to Sagan’s other novels. The principal characters come from the glittering, wealthy, urbane society of Parisian show business. They are the beautiful people, an exclusive world the Parisians call le tout-Paris. Beatrice Valmont, the heroine, is an actress of stage and screen at the peak of her career. Edouard Maligrasse, her lover, has written two plays for the intellectual theater that have been highly successful. Both are incredibly handsome, envied, and fawned over, and their mere presence makes any occasion an important event. And, of course, they are constantly in the unmade bed.

What is different in this novel is that Beatrice falls in love with Edouard, who already loves her, and remains in love at the end of the novel. The whole work is taken up with the development of this emotional state. The story begins with the resumption of an affair broken off five years earlier. Handsome young Edouard had been deeply hurt by the rupture, but had remained enamored of the beautiful actress. For Beatrice, Edouard had distinguished himself by his prowess as a bedpartner, but she easily forgot him for others who were waiting in the wings. When destiny brings them together again, they stay in bed for ten days—“a truce with time”—before Beatrice insists on returning to the real world, the world of the theater and the movies.

Driven by ambition and concern for success in her career, Beatrice has for years compartmentalized her life. Hardheaded and clear-thinking about her work, for her amusement and relaxation she reverts to her animal qualities. This actress, who admits to being thirty-five but who is somewhat beyond that age, has indeed slept with nearly all of the prominent men of her acquaintance, a fact which both she and they acknowledge and which makes possible a continuing and close relationship. With her men, she is in control, and all recognize her expertise in this area of endeavor. What is astonishing to the reader is her insatiable appetite for sensuality, with hardly a day passing without explicit references to its occurrence. Beatrice, nevertheless, thinks constantly of respectability and public approval, and finds it necessary to...

(The entire section is 1298 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Booklist. LXXV, September 15, 1978, p. 157.

Kirkus Reviews. XLVI, September 1, 1978, p. 2008.

Macleans. XCI, October 16, 1978, p. 67.

Observer. October 29, 1978, p. 34.

Publisher’s Weekly. CCXIV, September 11, 1978, p. 76.