Beautiful name of sadness

Excerpt from Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

This is an excerpt from the book Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, translated from the French by Irene Ash.

A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness. In the past the idea of sadness always appealed to me, now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I had known boredom, regret, and at times remorse, but never sadness. To-day something envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, which isolates me.

That summer I was seventeen and perfectly happy. I lived with my father, and there was also Elsa, who for the time being was his mistress. I must explain this situation at once, or it might give a false impression. My father was forty, and had been a widower for fifteen years. He was young for his age, full of vitality and possibilities, and when I left school two years before, I soon noticed that he lived with a women. It took me rather longer to realise that it was a different one every six months. But gradually his charm, my new easy life, and my own disposition led me to accept it. He was a frivolous man, clever at business, always curious, quickly bored, and attractive to women. it was easy to love him, for he was kind, generous, gay, and full of affection for me. I cannot imagine a better or a more amusing friend. At the beginning of the summer he even went so far as to ask me whether I would object to Elsa’s company during the holidays. She was a tall red-haired girl, sensual and worldly, gentle, rather simple, and unpretentious; one might have come across her any day in the studios and bars of the Champs-Elysées. I encouraged him to invite her. He needed women around him, and I knew that Elsa would not get in our way. In any case my father and I were so delighted at the prospect of going away together that we were in no mood to cavil at anything. He had rented a large white villa on the Mediterranean, for which we had been longing since the spring. It was remote and beautiful, and stood on a promontory dominating the sea, hidden from the road by a pine wood; a mule path led down to a tiny creek where the sea lapped against the rust-coloured rocks.

The first days were dazzling. We spent hours on the beach overwhelmed by the heat and gradually assuming a healthy golden tan; except Elsa, whose skin reddened and peeled, causing her atrocious suffering. My father performed all sorts of complicated leg exercises to reduce a rounding stomach unsuitable for a Don Juan. From dawn onwards I was in the water. It was cold and transparent, and I plunged wildly about in my efforts to wash away the shadows and dust of the city. I lay full length on the sand, took up a handful and let it run through my fingers in soft yellow streams. I told myself that it ran out like time. It was an idle thought, and it was pleasant to have idle thoughts for it was summer.

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Bonjour Tristesse – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Set against the translucent beauty of France in summer, Bonjour Tristesse is a bittersweet tale narrated by Cecile, a seventeen-year-old girl on the brink of womanhood, whose meddling in her father’s love life leads to tragic consequences.

Endearing, self-absorbed, seventeen-year-old Cécile is the very essence of untroubled amorality. Freed from the stifling constraints of boarding school, she joins her father—a handsome, still-young widower with a wandering eye—for a carefree, two-month summer vacation in a beautiful villa outside of Paris with his latest mistress. Cécile cherishes the free-spirited moments she and her father share, while plotting her own sexual adventures with a “tall and almost beautiful” law student. But the arrival of her late mother’s best friend intrudes upon a young girl’s pleasures. And when a relationship begins to develop between the adults, Cécile and her lover set in motion a plan to keep them apart…with tragic, unexpected consequences.

The internationally beloved story of a precocious teenager’s attempts to understand and control the world around her, Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse is a beautifully composed, wonderfully ambiguous celebration of sexual liberation, at once sympathetic and powerfully unsparing.

Copyright © 1955 by Françoise Sagan

Translated from the French by: Irene Ash

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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