A Certain Smile

A Certain Smile (known in French as Un certain sourire), written in a two-month period then published in 1956,[1] is Françoise Sagan's second book. It tells of a student's love affair with a middle-aged man.

A Certain Smile
First US edition
AuthorFrançoise Sagan
Original titleUn Certain Sourire
TranslatorAnne Green
Cover artistCatherine Denvir
GenreRomance novel
PublisherE. P. Dutton (US)
Published in English
Preceded byBonjour Tristesse 
Followed byDans un mois, dans un an 

Plot introduction

The novel is about Dominique, a bored twenty-year-old law student at the Sorbonne in mid-1950s Paris. The back of the 1986 Penguin English translation describes Dominique as young, thin and cynical.

Plot summary

Dominique, a student in Paris has a lover, Bertrand, who one day introduces her to his businessman uncle Luc and his wife Françoise. Both Luc and Dominique are aware of their mutual attraction from the beginning, but Dominique holds off for fear of hurting both Bertrand and Françoise, to whom she forms a close attachment. They decide to become lovers, however, spending two weeks in Cannes and promising to not fall in love. Both have a deep fear of hurting their partners, but more so of becoming bored. At the end of these two weeks and on their separation Dominique realises that she may well be in love with Luc. They spend other nights together, but this time tinged with the sadness that Luc does not love Dominique back. When Françoise eventually finds out about the affair, Dominique must learn to get over Luc and accept the transience of their relationship.

Characters in A Certain Smile

  • Dominique - Main character and narrator of the novel
  • Bertrand - Dominique's lover at the start of the novel, also a student at the Sorbonne
  • Luc - Bertrand's uncle, an older businessman who becomes Dominique's lover
  • Françoise - Luc's wife. Forms a deep attachment to Dominique before the affair
  • Catherine - Dominique and Bertrand's friend
  • Alain - A student intellectual who 'befriends' Dominique after her return from Cannes

Major themes

The novel's fairly straightforward narrative belies the attitudes of the main characters. Dominique and Luc are terrified of boredom, but seemingly relish the transience of their situation.


The novel was parodied by Jean Kerr in Harper's Bazaar in 1956 as "Toujours Tristesse". The parody also later appeared in her collection of essays, Please Don't Eat the Daisies.

Publication history

  • 1956, U.S., E.P. Dutton
  • 1957, Dell paperback
  • 1969, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-001444-6
  • 2011, University of Chicago Press (reprint of E.P. Dutton edition)




  1. "Sagan's Second". Time Magazine. 1956-04-30.

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