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by Bamber Gascoigne

Françoise Sagan (1935-2004) - pseudonym of Françoise Quoirez


French novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, whose dispassionate portrayals of bored, amoral middle-class people have been translated into many languages. Françoise Sagan published her first novel, Bonjour tristesse (1954), at the age of 19. It was a succes de scandale for its depiction of a young woman breaking up her father's affair. In her later life, Sagan was twice convicted of cocaine charges.

"Bertrand was my first lover, and it was on his body that I had discovered the odor of mine. It's always through someone else's body that, first warily and then with a rush of gratitude, you discover your own, its lenght, its smell. . . ." (from A Certain Smile, translated by Irene Ashe, 1956)

Françoise Sagan was born Françoise Quoirez in the village of Cajarc, in southwestern France, into a well-to-do family. She was the third child of Pierre Quoirez, a prosperous industrialist, and Marie (Laubard) Quoirez. The family moved at the outbreak of World War II to the provinces, living mainly in Lyon; Sagan also spent some time in Switzerland. After the liberation of France in 1944, the family returned to Paris.

Sagan was educated at convent schools and attended the University of Sorbonne. She failed in 1953 the second-year examination for higher academic degrees and spent several weeks during the summer writing her first novel, Bonjour tristesse. The title of the book came from Paul Éluard, from the second line of 'À peine défigurée' – "Adieu tristesse, / Bonjour tristesse. / Tu es inscrite dans les lignes du plafond. / Tu es inscrite dans les yeux que j'aime".  At home and by her friends Sagan was nicknamed Kiki but her pseudonym she took from a character, the Princesse de Sagan, in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.

The thin story of Cécile's first love affair made Sagan famous in France and abroad and was awarded the Prix des Critiques. Sagan travelled in the United States, where she was seen in the company of the writer Truman Capote and the actor Ava Gardner. In 1957 her fondness of fast cars led to an accident in which she almost killed herself – this time Sagan was driving Aston-Martin. At that time she became known for her drinking and gambling. "I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live," she has been quoted as saying.

"Sur ce sentiment inconnu dont l'ennui, la douceur m'obsèdent, j'hésite à apposer le nom, le beau nom grave de tristesse. C'est un sentiment si complet, si égoïste que j'en ai presque honte alors que la tristesse m'a toujours paru honorable. Je ne la connaissais pas, elle, mais l'ennui, le regret, plus rarement le remords. Aujourd'hui, quelque chose se replie sur moi comme une soie, énervante et douce, et me sépare des autres." (from Bonjour tristesse 

Cécile, the narrator of Bonjour tristesse, is a pampered teenager. She spends her summer holidays in the south of France in a villa. Cécile has failed her exams but Cyril, a young law student, is more interesting than books. Her forty-year-old father, Raymond, is widowed. His latest mistress Elsa is ousted by Anne Larsen, his late wife's friend. Anne works in fashion, and has come to stay for a short visit at the villa. "I feared boredom and tranquillity more than anything. In order to achieve serenity, my father and I had to have excitement, and this Anne was not prepared to admit." To provoke her father's jealousy, she asks Cyril and Elsa to pretend to be in love. Cyril wants to marry Cécile, and accepts the plan. Anne is in love with Raymond. Elsa represents to Raymond his lost years, but he sees in the beautiful and sober Anne a perfect wife and mother to Cécile. The plan works, Anne drives recklessly away from the villa, and dies in a car accident. Cécile returns with her father to Paris and leaves the summer, Cyril, and her youth behind. The world of the rich and beautiful is hollow, and the care-free existence is lost for ever. Irene Ash's translation into English gives readers a cut-down version of Cécile and Cyril's love-making. There are a lot of other cuts, too. 

Echoes of the novel's melancholic atmosphere – 'Hello Sadness' – can be heard in Simon & Garfunkel's famous song 'The Sound of Silence' from 1964. The story was made into a film in 1957, directed by Otto Preminger, starring Deborah Kerr, David Niven, and Jean Seberg. It became a very big success in France where it was shot in monochrome for Paris and colour for the Riviera. Preminger later complained that the American critics didn't do it justice. ..." In America the critics said it wasn't French enough, which is very funny."

After the novel Sagan become a spokesperson of disillusioned youth, bored but potentially rebellious teenagers. For the cabaret singer and actress Juliette Greco she wrote the lyrics of many songs; they had a brief affair. Greco sang the theme of Bonjour tristesse. For the ballet Le rendez-vous manque (1958, The Broken Date), Sagan devised the scenario in collaboration with Michel Magne, with whom she also wrote such songs as La valse and De toute manière.

A Certain Smile (1958), her second book, also was a bestseller. It told about a student's love affair with a middle-aged man. Like Cécile, she is slightly bored of life, but she suddenly realizes that "some day I would die, that my hand would no longer touch the chromium rim, nor would the sun shine in my eyes." Another variation of the formula was presented in Aimez-vous Brahms? (1959), in which a young man falls in love with a middle-aged woman.

Although Sagan's works about love, marriage and rootless existence are classified often by male critics as entertainment, her earlier novels in particular deserve according to feminist critics more attention. The confessional tone of Bonjou tristesse has been considered a precursor in such writing by women from more recent years. Sagan once said that for her "writing is a question of finding a certain rhythm... Much of the time life is a sort of rhythmic progression of three characters." Her style is classically cool, restrained, austere, continuing the tradition of the French psychological novel during the decade when noveau roman made its breakthrough. When her writing didn't meet her own standards, Sagan felt ashamed.

Like in the works of existentialist writwers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Sagan's lonely characters are disappointed in personal relationships, and try the fill the passage of time with the pursuit of pleasure. The polite everyday speech reveales the aimlessness of their lives.

Sagan married in 1958 Guy Schoeller, a publisher, 20 years her senior; they divorced two years later. Her second husband, Robert Westhoff, was an American ceramics designer. They had one son. The short marriage ended in 1963 due to her husband's homosexual activities. Sagan petitioned for divorce on the basis that Westhoff had "left the conjugal home." Westhoff translated the novels La Chamade (1965, La Chamade) and Le Garde du coeur (1968, The Heart-Keeper) into English. Sagan also had long affairs with the writer and journalist Bernard Frank, the fashion stylist Peggy Roche, and Annick Geille, the former editor of French Playboy.

In the 1960s Sagan turned from novels to plays, proving her talent for writing witty dialogue. Her first plays, Castle in Sweden (1960) and Violins Sometimes (1961), were only moderately successful. Truman Capote once said that "If Francoise Sagan hadn’t written a book called A Chateau in Sweden, I would certainly write a short story called A Chateau in Puerto Rico. And I may yet." ('New Again: Truman Capote' by Bob Colacello and Andy Warhol, in Interview Magazine, September 15, 2016)

After The Purple Dress of Valentine (1963) Sagan wrote Happiness, Odd and Pass (1964), in which a young army officer wavers between love and his wish to be killed. In The Vanishing Horse (1966) Sagan took up the subject of the amorous conflict between two generations.

 Sagan worked with the director Claude Chabrol on the script for the film Landru (1963, Bluebeard), a story about a murderous antique dealer; the character had previously inspired Charles Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux (1947). She also co-wrote with Philippe Grumbach the dialogue for Marc Allegret's adaptation of Raymond Radiguet's Le Bal du Comte d'Orget (1969). 

Sagan's later novels include Le Garde du coeur (1968), set in Hollywood. In the story a middle-aged woman, Dorothy, takes the guardianships of a beautiful boy, Lewis. She must choose between her mature lover and the young drop-out. At the same time a series of mysterious deaths shock the film circles. Scars on the Soul (1974) was a combination of an essay, autobiography, and novel.

Un Orage immobile (1983) was set in 1932 in a small country village, and depicted the passionate love story of a beautiful widow, which is observed by an young notary. In Un Chagrin de passage (1994, A Fleeting Sorrow) Sagan follows the thoughts and reactions of a man in his thirties, Paul Cazavel, who learns that he has lung cancer. Paul sees his life and closest relationships, his mistress and former wife, in a new light.

In the 1990s Sagan was convicted for using cocaine; her prison sentences were suspended. "Yes, I take cocaine. Hasn't everybody?" Sagan defended herself. President  François Mitterrand claimed that she was the victim of rightist leaks. Later Sagan's name was connected to the Elf scandal – she allegedly received money in exchange for persuading François Mitterrand to intervene on a contract in Uzbekistan. Sagan claimed that the money had been provided by her insurance company – her manor house in northern France was partially destroyed by a fire in 1991. Due to ill health, Sagan was not present in the Paris court. In 2002 Sagan was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence for tax fraud.

Françoise Sagan died of a blood clot in a lung in Honfleur, on September 24, 2004. In his statement French President Jacques Chirac said: "With her death, France loses one of its most brilliant and sensitive writers – an eminent figure of our literary life."  Sagan's unfinished novel, Les Quatre coins du coeur, came out in 2019. Her life inspired Diane Kurys' film Sagan (2008), starring Sylvie Testud in the title role. "It's a hasty run through a busy but unexamined life and at the end of it you are no wiser about her impulses and inspirations as a writer," said the film critic Sandra Hall (The Sydney Morning Herald, October 7, 2010).

For further reading: Faut-il brûler Sagan? by Flavien Falantin (2023); Sous le soleil de Sagan by Ingrid Méchoulam (2019); Françoise Sagan, ou, L'ivresse d'écrire by Valérie Mirarchi (2018); Melinda Camber Porter in Conversation with Francoise Sagan in Paris: Volume 1 Number 6 Melinda Camber Porter Archives of Creative Works by Melinda Camber Porter, Francoise Sagan (2017); Le Paris de Sagan by Alain Vircondelet (2015); Françoise Sagan, ma mère by Denis Westhoff (2012); Françoise Sagan: Une Conscience de Femme Refoulée by Nathalie Morello (2000); 'Francoise Sagan: The Superficial Classic' by A. Cismaru, in World Literature Today. Vol. 67; Number 2 (1993); Sagan by J. Lamy (1988); Bonjour Sagan by B. Poirot-Delpech (1988); Françoise Sagan by Judith Graves Miller (1988); Nightbird: Conversations with Françoise Sagan, translated by David Macey, prepared by Jean-Jacques Pauvert (1980); Françoise Sagan; ou, L'élégance de survivre by P. Vandromme (1977); Le cas Françoise Sagan by G. Hourdin (1958); Françoise Sagan by G. Mourgue (1958) 

Selected works:

  • Bonjour tristesse, 1954 (Prix des critiques)
    - Bonjour Tristesse (translated by Irene Ash, 1955)
    - Tervetuloa, ikävä (suom. Lea Karvonen, 1955)
    - films: 1957, prod. Wheel Productions, dir. by Otto Preminger, screenplay Arthur Laurents, music by Georges Auric, starring Jean Seberg, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Mylène Demongeot; TV film 1965, dir. François Chatel, starring Anne Vernon, Michel Auclair and Elizabeth Ercy; TV film 1995, dir. Peter Kassovitz, starring Christine Boisson, François Marthouret, Sarah Bertrand, Marie Bariller, Andrew Wilson
  • Un certain sourire, 1956
    - A Certain Smile (transl. by Irene Ash, 1956) / A Certain Smile (transl. by Anne Green, 1956)
    - Muuan hymy (suom. Satu Waltari, 1956)
    - film 1958, dir. by Jean Negulesco, screenplay Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, starring Christine Carere, Rossano Brazzi, Joan Fontaine, Bradford Dillman, Christine Carére 
  • Dans un mois, dans un an, 1957
    - Those without Shadows (transl. by Frances Frenaye, 1957)
    - Varjoa vajaat: kertomus (suom. Reino Hakamies, 1957)
    - In einem Monat, in einem Jahr, TV film 1969, dir. Wilm ten Haaf, starring O.A. Buck, Marlene Riphahn and Ralf Schermuly
  • Le rendez-vous manque, 1958 (ballet scenario, music by Michel Magne, coreography by John Taras and Don Lurio)
  • Aimez-vous Brahms? 1959
    - Aimez-vous Brahms (transl. by Peter Wiles, 1960)
    - Pidättekö Brahmsista... (suom. Outi Nyytäjä, 1959)
    - film 1961, dir. by Anatole Litvak, starring Ingrid Bergman, Yves Montand, Anthony Perkins
  • Chateau en Suède, 1960 (play)
    - Castle in Sweden (prod. in London, 1962)
    - films: 1963, dir. by Roger Vadim, starring Monica Vitti, Jean-Claude Brialy, Curd Jürgens; TV film 1964, dir. by André Barsacq, starring Philippe Noiret, Françoise Brion and Jacques François; Ein Schloß in Schweden, TV film 1967, dir. Wolfgang Liebeneiner, starring Antje Weissgerber, Ernst Stankovski and Ina Halley; TV film 2008, dir. Josée Dayan, starring Jeanne Moreau, Géraldine Pailhas and Guillaume Depardieu 
  • Le gigolo, 1960
  • Les Merveilleux Nuages, 1961
    - The Wonderful Clouds (transl. by Anne Green, 1961)
    - Ihmeelliset pilvet (suom. Tuomas Anhava, 1961)
  • Les violons parfois: théâtre, 1962 (play; Violins Sometimes) 
  • Landru, 1963
    - film 1963, dir. by Claude Chabrol, starring Charles Denner, Michèle Morgan, Danielle Darrieux, Hildegard Knef
  • La Robe mauve de Valentine: théâtre, 1963 (play; The Purple Dress of Valentine)
    - TV film 1969, dir.  Robert Crible, starring Danielle Darrieux, Michel Bedetti, Marcelle Ranson-Hervé, Nicole Crible, Henri Virlojeux; TV film 1985, dir. Patrick Bureau, starring Macha Méril, Suzanne Flon, Stéphane Freiss, Daniel Gélin, Alain Feydeau
  • Bonheur, Impair et passe: théâtre, 1964 (play; Happiness, Odd and Pass)
    - TV film 1977, dir. by Roger Vadim, starring Danielle Darrieux, Ludmila Mikaël and Philippe Léotard 
  • Toxique, 1964 (illustrated by Bernard Buffet)
    - Toxique (transl. by Frances Frenaye, 1964)
  • La Chamade, 1965
    - La Chamade (transl. by Robert Westhoff, 1966; edited by Kenneth I. Perry, 1970) / That Mad Ache: A Novel (translated from the French by Douglas Hofstadter, 2009)
    - Tappion hetki (suom. Saara Puranen, 1966)
    - film 1968, dir. by Alain Cavalier, starring Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Roger Van Hool
  • Le Cheval évanoui, 1966
  • L'écharde, 1966 (play; The Splinter) 
  • Le cheval évanoui, 1966 (play; The Vanishing Horse) 
    - TV film 1976, dir. Alain Dhénaut, starring Jacques François, Caroline Cellier and Yves Rénier; Het gekroonde paard, TV film 1976, dir. Mita Bergé, Walter Claessens
  • Le Garde du coeur, 1968
    - The Heart-Keeper (transl. by Robert Westhoff, 1968)
    - Sydämen vartija (suom. Kalevi Nyytäjä, 1968)
  • Le cheval évanoui. Suivi de: l’Écharde, théâtre, 1969
  • Un peu de soleil dans l'eau froide, 1969
    - Sunlight on Cold Water (transl. by Joanna Kilmartin, 1971) / A Few Hours of Sunlight (US title; transl. by Terence Kilmartin, 1971)
    - Palanen aurinkoa vedessä (suom. Olli-Matti Ronimus, 1970)
    - film 1971, dir. by Jacques Deray, starring Claudine Auger, Marc Porel, Judith Magre, Barbara Bach
  • Un piano dans l'herbe: comédie, 1970
  • Des bleus à l'âme, 1972
    - Scars on the Soul (transl. by Joanna Kilmartin, 1974)
    - Mustelmia sielussa (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1973)
  • Il est des parfums..., 1973 (with Guillaume Hanoteau)
  • Un profil perdu, 1974
    - Lost Profile (transl. by Joanna Kilmartin, 1976)
    - Vieraat kasvot (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1975)
  • Réponses 1954-1974, 1975
    - Réponses: The Autobiography of Françoise Sagan (transl. by David Macey, 1979) / Night Bird: Conversations with Françoise Sagan (translated by David Macey, 1980)
  • Brigitte Bardot, 1975 (photographed by Ghislain Dussart)
    - Brigitte Bardot: A Close-Up (transl. by Judith Sachs)
  • Des yeux de soie: nouvelles, 1976
    - Silken Eyes (transl. by Joanna Kilmartin, 1977)
    - Samettisilmät (suom. Sulamit Hirvas, 1976)
    - film Les Fougères bleues, 1977, prod. Antenne 2, Les Films Corona, Bela Productions, dir. by Françoise Sagan, starring Françoise Fabian, Gilles Ségal, Gilles Ségal, Caroline Cellier
  • Le Lit défait, 1977
    - The Unmade Bed (transl. by Abigail Israel, 1978)
    - Sekainen vuode (suom. Sulamit Hirvas, 1979)
  • Le sang doré des Borgia, 1977
    - TV film 1977, dir. Alain Dhénaut, starring Jean-Claude Bouillon, Julien Guiomar, Maurice Vaudaux, Georges Ser
  • Il fait beau jour et nuit, 1978 (play)
  • Le Chien couchant, 1980
    - Salad Days (transl. by C.J. Richards, 1984)
    - Rakastaja (suom. Sulamit Hirvas, 1982)
    - TV film 1997, prod. FIT Productions, dir. Rafael Monleón, teleplay Valérie Bonnier
  • La Femme fardée, 1981
    - The Painted Lady (transl. by Lee Fahnestock, 1983)
    - Tervetuloa hellyys (suom. Virve Kajaste, Antero Virtanen, 1983)
    - film 1990, dir. by José Pinheiro, starring Jeanne Moreau, Jacqueline Maillan, André Dussollier, Laura Morante
  • Musiques de scènes, 1981
    - Incidental Music (translated by C.J. Richards, 1983)
  • Un Orage immobile: roman, 1983
    - The Still Storm (transl. by Christine Donougher, 1984)
    - Myrskyn silmässä (suom. Irmeli Sallamo, 1984)
    - TV film 1995, dir. Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe, adaptation by Robert Varley, starring Robin Renucci, Laura Morante, Christopher Thompson, Anaïs Jeanneret, Claudine Auger
  • Avec mon meilleur souvenir, un recueil de portraits, 1984
    - With Fondest Regards (transl. by Christine Donougher, 1985)
  • De guerre lasse, 1985
    - A Reluctant Hero (transl. by Christine Donougher, 1987) / Engagements of the Heart (UK title; transl. by Christine Donougher, 1987)
    - film 1987, dir. by Robert Enrico, starring Nathalie Baye, Christophe Malavoy, Pierre Arditi, Geneviève Mnich
  • Sand et Musset: lettres d'amour, 1985
  • La Maison de Raquel Vega:  fiction d’après le tableau de Fernando Botero, 1985
  • Un sang d'aquarelle, 1987
    - Painting in Blood (transl. by Anthea Bell, 1988)
  • L'Excès contraire, 1987 (play)
    - TV film 1988, dir. Yves-André Hubert, starring Dominique Lavanant, Caroline Sihol, Bruno Madinier, Gil Lagay, Serge Riaboukine
  • Sarah Bernhardt: le rire incassable, 1987
    - Dear Sarah Bernhardt (transl. by Sabine Destrée, 1988)
    - Sarah Bernhardt (suom. Ulla Ran, 1988)
  • Au marbre: chroniques retrouvées, 1952-1962, 1988 (with Guy Dupré, François Nourissier, preface by Jean-Marc Parisis)
  • La Laisse, 1989
    - The Leash (transl. by Christine Donougher, 1991)
  • Les Faux-Fuyants: roman, 1991
    - Evasion (transl. by Elfreda Powell, 1994)
    - TV film 2000, dir. by Pierre Boutron, starring Arielle Dombasle, Catherine Jacob, Laurent Spielvogel, Nicolas Vaude
  • Répliques, 1992
  • Œuvres, 1993
  • Et toute ma sympathie, 1993
  • Un Chagrin de passage, 1994
    - A Fleeting Sorrow (transl. by Richard Seaver, 1995)
  • Le miroir égaré, 1996
  • Derrière l’épaule, 1998
  • Le régal des chacals, 2008
  • Album Sagan, 2008
  • Tout le monde est infidèle, 2009
  • Théâtre, 2010 (L'excès contraire; Un piano dans l'herbe; Il fait beau jour et nuit)
  • Un matin pour la vie et autres musiques de scènes: nouvelles, 2011
  • Les Quatre coins du coeur, 2019
    - The Four Corners of the Heart: An Unfinished Novel
    (translated by Sophie R. Lewis, 2023)
  • Écris-moi vite et longuement: correspondance de Françoise Sagan à Véronique Campion, 2021

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