|Author Francoise Sagan was 18 when Bonjour Tristesse was published in 1954, it was an overnight sensation.|
Bonjour Tristesse (1954)
by Francoise Sagan
One of the major themes of 20th century literature is the emergence of "youth culture." That emergence is inextricably linked to the post World War II economic boom in the United States. England and France, although they experienced a different economic reality, supplied many of the initial artists of the youth culture that began to emerge in the 1950s. Francoise Sagan and her break-out hit Bonjour Tristesse is an early, French, female example of the pan-cultural "pop star" artist. Bonour Tristesse is a mere slip of a tail about a young (17) woman living with her widowed father.
The novel starts while the family (and Dad's nubile girlfriend) are on vacation, renting a villa in the south of France. The more age appropriate Jane shows up, and complications ensue. Cecile is a pre-adult sexual creature and her machinations are those of a fully grown woman. This character has been so embedded in popular culture, both inside and outside literature that it is impossible to imagine how novel and refreshing this book must have been in 1954, let alone in its English translation. The explicit treatment of sexuality of ADULTS let alone children, was so remote in the 1950s that books like Ulysses were banned for essentially factual descriptions of intercourse.
Bonjour Tristesse is a mere 120 pages soaking wet, so to speak. Even with wide margins and smaller pages it is barely that length. There is no doubt that it makes for a good product, the kind of book that a 17 year old girl or 20 year old woman would read in 1954. It is the literary equivalent of a pop song.