Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1298
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 conduct her public and private life with Edouard according to the established conventions of their circle. The major social events for her are the premières of plays and films, and she and her lover are required to attend. They must be gracious and outgoing and dressed in the most elegant designer-creations.
For Edouard, life is Beatrice. Being a newly famous young playwright, Edouard receives sufficient royalties so that his work can be done anywhere. He is working on a new play, but his overriding concern is Beatrice—and specifically, making love to Beatrice. Once, when Beatrice is on tour with Edouard, she abandons him for the evening for a public relations event and comes back to the hotel to find him engrossed in writing and exhilarated by the progress of his newly created character, Frederic. The competition of this fictitious personage is sufficient to arouse Beatrice’s jealousy; and the next morning, she sends her lover packing back to Paris and gets even by committing an infidelity that same day.
Andre Jolyet, an attractive fifty-year-old theater owner, is important to the novel for several reasons. He had, five years earlier, given Beatrice a chance for success, and for this she loves him sincerely and unselfishly. In addition, he brings out the most admirable qualities in Beatrice. Although he is dying of cancer, he seeks her company as a friend. During the last month of his life, Beatrice spends time daily with Jolyet in his apartment, cheering him and entertaining him with news and gossip of their circle of acquaintances. This she does without mention to anyone, not even Edouard. Perhaps Jolyet’s most important contribution is to clarify for Beatrice her relationship with Edouard, which he does by asking her the seemingly obvious question: is she in love with her lover? She replies: “It may strike you as incredible, but I’ve never asked myself that question.” However, this causes her to apply to her relationship with Edouard the same stubborn analysis she had formerly reserved for concerns about her career, and she is astonished that the answer is “Yes!” This is a totally new experience for Beatrice, and to become accustomed to it requires a great deal of her, Edouard, and all who know them. She decides that “he was offering her not only a great love, but the most magnificent role of her career.”
Sagan says, in the conversation reported in Les Nouvelles Líttéraires, that of all her books, The Unmade Bed is her favorite. For one thing, it is the most carefully constructed and corrected; she spent more than a year living and working with it. It is a full-scale love story. The characters come from the theater and the cinema, the only professions the author knows, and both of which are removed from love. She observes that what interests writers about love is that it nourishes their literature. However, writers need to stereotype people; when a true tragedy becomes the subject of writing, it is finished. That, she says, is the theme of The Unmade Bed.
There has been a progressive development through Sagan’s literary career which parallels, to some extent, her own life. In Bonjour Tristesse, published when the author was eighteen, the heroine is a seventeen-year-old adolescent who suffers from the problems associated with that stage of immaturity. Through subsequent novels, there is little true happiness. The theme of loneliness is pervasive. The characters are ill-at-ease with themselves and with others, and often are deliberately destructive in their relationships. Their lives are amoral, without purpose, filled with luxury, idleness, and boredom. In The Unmade Bed, Sagan has created a heroine of maturity, one who is confident of her powers, hardworking, and accepting of the world as it is—filled with hope, happiness, and responsibility.
Françoise Sagan does not belong to any contemporary “school” of literature. She says that the avant-garde bores her, but she expresses appreciation for the talent of Marguerite Duras and for the writing of Robbe-Grillet. She has sometimes been compared to Colette, and in The Unmade Bed she has Beatrice say: “I feel like I’m playing Colette’s Chéri.” But the authors whom she reads and rereads are Proust, Dostoevski, Stendhal, Sarte, Elouard, and the American novelists. She begins Chapter VII with a tribute to Proust:The morning arrived gray-blue, a morning filled with odors and street noises and variation in light that seemed to have been orchestrated by a single person. Proust, for example.
Sagan, however, is essentially an independent, a writer who seeks to be herself and who says that she finds in writing the only tangible sign that she exists.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 22
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.
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