“This conception of rapid, violent, and passing love affairs appealed to my imagination. I was not at the age when fidelity is attractive. I knew very little about love”
Cécile and her father Raymond are vacationing on the Côte d'Azur with Raymond’s girl of the moment, Elsa. Cécile meets Cyril, a young law student who is also vacationing with his family, and they begin a summer romance. They swim, they sail, they drink and stay out late, they eat good food and make love. Everyone is enjoying themselves immensely, until Anne Larsen, an old friend of Cécile’s mother, arrives to stay with them.
Though Cécile likes Anne, she stands for everything that Cécile is trying to avoid: Anne is stuffy, intellectual, boring, overly proper, and correct. Soon it is announced that Anne and Raymond will marry, and Cécile quickly realizes that this means her entire life – her wild, free ways – are about to change. And Cécile won’t stand for it, so she begins plotting Anne and Raymond’s separation.
In the end, Cécile gets what she wants, but not in the way she had hoped. Though we’re led to believe that Cécile regrets what she has done to Anne, that her tristesse, which she greets at the end of the novel, is sincere, after only a brief time Cécile and Raymond return to their old ways. All illusions are shattered: Cécile realizes she never loved Cyril, almost as rapidly as she was ready to tell him she loved him. She returns to Paris with her father, where they both mingle in society, carrying on their frivolous and shallow relationships with people that they pursue for their beauty and entertainment, and nothing else. Even Cécile’s mourning appears studied, something she feels like she has to do to keep up appearances, because she should feel bad, not because she does feel bad.
Are her struggles any less important? Not at all. There’s a certain melancholy that comes with the end of summer, the end of relationships, and, most poignantly, the end of youth, the journey that Cécile, now eighteen, has just embarked on. Though we can’t forgive her for what she has done to Anne, we can most definitely forgive her for wanting to live life on her own terms.
With love, to you - Sophia
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