Françoise Sagan Essay - Sagan, Françoise (Pseudonym of Françoise Quoirez) (Vol. 9)

Françoise Quoirez

Sagan, Françoise (Pseudonym of Françoise Quoirez) (Vol. 9)

Sagan, Françoise (Pseudonym of Françoise Quoirez) 1935–

Sagan is a French novelist and playwright whose works often deal with brief, tentative relationships and love affairs. She concerns herself with trying to understand the motivation behind the actions of her characters—bored, lonely people whom she depicts sharply. Her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, was written when she was eighteen, making her an instant literary celebrity. Her pseudonym comes from the character of the Princess of Sagan in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)

Françoise Sagan has in her time said some wry things about love; in Lost Profile, the insights are thin on the ground—the worst thing about a break-up, for instance, is "not just leaving one another, but leaving one another for different reasons". There are some nice touches…. But some of the writing is so overdone as to be ludicrous….

Françoise Sagan began writing novels over twenty years ago, as a precocious adolescent; and to her contemporaries her early work was indeed "sophisticated and erotic". But now she is still writing for adolescents of the 1950s, hung-up on father figures, mad about puppies.

Victoria Glendinning, "Josée & Julius & Louis," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), March 19, 1976, p. 311.

Sagan's particular passion of the minute is to be pitied and solaced. It is a closeted world, incredulously French, with a narrow mix of sympathy and arrogance.

Writing Bonjour Tristesse Miss Sagan had an excuse for such a self-opinionated heart. To find that in her tenth novel, Lost Profile, she has advanced her profundity not at all, is still playing the cramped teenager trying to escape Daddy, comes as something of a shock. Her novels are short and as full of wry observations about people in love as ever they were. 'Wild passion I admired, and loyalty and spontaneity and even a certain kind of fidelity.' This puts her emotional manifesto in a nutshell, a rather shallow, quasi hysterical woman with a passive pantheistic belief in the soul as something tossed helplessly by natural forces, yet admitting the possibility that even fidelity can be admirable under certain circumstances. Only a rather genteel upbringing, it seems, prevents her from seeking out rape, the more violent the better, an example of the desire for maltreatment which is of course Woman's lot when you get down to it. (p. 23)

Duncan Fallowell, in The Spectator (© 1976 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), March 27, 1976.

[In Silken Eyes] is an elegant and brittle art, a pricey collection of tiny figurines and minute porcelains, where passion and ageing must never be allowed to fall heavily among the stylishly placed bric-à-brac, and people are mannequins, stereotypes, puppets, the contrivance of whose making is given away from time to time by the odd lifeless judder of manipulation. These stories work best when the particular examples of the international set on display, with their Maseratis and Creed jackets and Dior dresses and smart houses in Paris, are continental. Shooting chamois and wanting to shoot your rival, flaunting gigolos, shooting yourself abstractedly, crashing your car deliberately, being bored and beautiful and in Vogue, seem much more fetching when a Jerome Berthier or Countess Josepha von Kraftenberg is involved. Like middling food and crumby movies these upper-class glossies are, as it were, all right in French. But when it's a case of Lord Stephen Timberley and Emily Highlife at Dunhill Castle, or a Millicent in Berkshire, or a Lady Brighton, all old Etonians or parents of Etonians, then the bogusness of their horrifically fashion-plate circumstance and of this kind of fiction's mode really do strike. (p. 515)

Valentine Cunningham, in New Statesman (© 1977 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), October 14, 1977.

Since the appearance … of her first novel, "Bonjour Tristesse," Françoise Sagan has been praised for the economy of her style. In "Silken Eyes," her first collection of short stories, she economizes still further, perhaps to the point of parsimony….

Some of Miss Sagan's reputation owes itself to ambiance, a word often on the tip of the French tongue. "Bonjour Tristesse" took its title from a poem by Paul Eluard….

Her tragic view of life, epitomized in "hello sadness," is a further index of her seriousness.

If anybody can be grasped with ease and precision, I suppose it is the idle and amorous rich who furnish Miss Sagan's stories. Their lives are already reduced—ideal material for economy. The beginnings and ends of love affairs, a brush or two with death, the inherent ironies of sex and marriage. Miss Sagan's oeuvre is all hors d'oeuvre….

There is little poetry … in the hearts of Miss Sagan's characters, who seem to be more preoccupied with vanity, strategy and compromises. But while it is fashionable to feel, or at least write, this way, I don't believe the human heart has changed so much. Neither medicine nor literature seems to have prevailed on it. In "Silken Eyes," the characters have haute couture hearts. They've been lifted not by love but by plastic surgery….

Now and then in "Silken Eyes" there is a nice vignette, a good line, a charmingly raised eyebrow. The wine is suitably dry, the service discreet. A woman whose lover has left her—yes, another one, there's no end of them—consoles herself in a nightclub, dancing with a man she does not love. "Life goes on," he says, "I'm still here, you're still here. We're dancing." She replies "We're the sort of people who dance," and while it is not a great epiphany, it's all right. (p. 14)

Anatole Broyard, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 30, 1977.