Bonjour Tristesse and the ever shrinking author

bonjour tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse (that’s “Hello Sadness”) was published in 1954, when the author was only 18.

“I dreamt of being a writer once I started to read. I started to write ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ in bistros around the Sorbonne. I finished it, I sent it to editors. It was accepted.”

Isn’t that delightfully bohemian? If this were not depressing enough for us late-bloomers it should also be noted that the book was an overnight sensation, gaining Sagan a mention in Le Figaro (where she was described as “a charming little monster”). Oh, and did I mention it was also made into a film?

Sagan, ever the typical French gamine, had a vibrant outlook on life:

“One can never speak enough of the virtues, the dangers, the power of shared laughter.”

“You should celebrate the end of a love affair as they celebrate death in New Orleans, with songs, laughter, dancing and a lot of wine.”

No 41 in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century, Bonjour Tristesse centers on seventeen-year-old Cécile as she spends her summer in a villa on the French Riviera with her father and his mistress, and Cecile’s struggle as a daughter trapped by her father’s relationships with women. It sounds ghastly but actually I have to admit that I enjoyed it, so maybe it was talent after all…

Sour grape anyone?

In terms of age, however, Sagan was positively geriatric compared with some modern day examples. I’m including a very entertaining link here from Parentdish about a six-year old author…yes, six:

Is Bonjour Tristesse a fluke or the real deal? Are there any young authors that you admire, and do you think age makes any difference to a writer? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Published by Jill London

Hi, I’m Jill, a writer and teacher living in the UK, usually behind a desk but sometimes on a sofa with a book or a film. I began writing at around age three, legibly by five, although I didn’t write any stories until I was older. Aged eleven, I began writing children’s fiction, mostly middle-grade fantasy and I’m still doing it to this day. I have had stories published online and in My Weekly magazine. The best bit about writing is when ideas pop into your head (from the writing fairy presumably?) and everything starts clipping together like a jigsaw puzzle. The worst bit? When you start to get the feeling there's a piece missing from the box...

7 thoughts on “Bonjour Tristesse and the ever shrinking author

  1. Well, I don’t think age matters. I have heard about so many children who are exceptional in different fields (beyond their age). Just like you have given this example of a 6-year-old boy. One child even cracked the toughest IT entrance exam in India. I think it’s purely God’s gift to such children. 🙂


    1. I think modern technology plays a big part in helping children to expand at younger ages. Having quick and easy access to information, as well as the ability to reach whatever they’re looking for, when they want it, is a great way to grow. Even small children can pick up a smartphone and use it with ease.


  2. Hi Jill. Nice post. I will have to check out this book – sounds an interesting read. Yes it would be wonderful to find your passions at a young age, and a publishing contract to boot. I agree, delightfully bohemian. However, it shouldn’t matter when you discover your writing passion. I think many writers who discover this passion at an older age, would, upon reflection, feel that a writer had been squatting in their head for some time – but afraid to be discovered. To me, a writer is a little like an actor – the more life experiences you have (regardless of age), the more you can draw from them, to give depth to your work and creativity. Wishing you an inspirational 2013.


    1. Thanks Helen, for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts.
      I think many writers know from a young age that they want to write. I was always a late bloomer, but even so I was eleven when I first decided that ‘writing stories’ was where my heart lay. The passion can arrive early, but the recognition can arrive at any time, and for some never. My aunt died recently (aged 82), my only fellow writer in the family, and she never saw the recognition she craved. In my own case I was 35 before I had a short story published. My work has grown immensely over the years, which is the main reason I never sought representation for a lot of it (as I knew it wasn’t up to scratch) but improvement was just the tip of the iceberg, as many writers know only too well. We have to face the fact that, for the majority of us, recognition may never come. Perseverance and hard work are only a part of the picture, they may make you a good writer but you still might not ever get the recognition. For me, I’ll stand by my guns and say that in many cases it all comes down to luck.


    1. I know right? I keep thinking I’ll learn French but then I change my mind and think, no, I’ll learn Spanish, and end up learning neither! Europe has so many languages, all within a fairly close space of each other and I think this is one of the reasons lots of British especially don’t bother. And it wasn’t really pushed much in schools.


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