Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

A prolific novelist, Françoise Sagan (sah-GAHN) wrote many plays as well. These works, however, remain less well known in the United States than her novels, nearly all of which appeared in English translation very soon after their publication in France. The titles of Sagan’s plays, such as Château en Suède (pr., pb. 1960; castle in Sweden), Les Violons parfois (pr. 1961; sometimes violins), and La Robe mauve de Valentine (pr., pb. 1963; Valentine’s mauve dress), suggest the same themes of worldly love and disillusionment that are found in her novels.

In addition to the plays, Sagan wrote or collaborated on scripts for the films La Chamade (1969) and Le Bal du Comte d’Orgel (1970; the Count d’Orgel’s ball), which is based on the novel by Raymond Radiguet, and a television script, Le Sang doré des Borgia (1977; the golden blood of the Borgias). She wrote the scenario for the ballet Le Rendez-vous manqué (pr. 1958; the broken date) with Michel Magne, and she directed a film for which she wrote the screenplay, Les Fougères bleues (1977; the blue ferns). Like many of the characters in her novels, Sagan moved in a world of celebrities; her book of autobiographical fragments, Toxique (1964; English translation, 1964), was illustrated by Bernard Buffet. She collaborated with Federico Fellini on the text of Mirror of Venus (1966), with photographs by Wingate Paine. In addition, she wrote commentary on New York City, lyrics for Juliette Greco, and a book on one of the most famous of France’s “beautiful people,” Brigitte Bardot (1975; Brigitte Bardot: A Close-Up, 1976), with photographs by Ghislain Dussart.

Françoise Sagan Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The reading public was astonished to discover, in 1954, that the author of the best-selling novel Bonjour Tristesse was an eighteen-year-old girl who had dashed off her sophisticated tale in several weeks during her summer vacation. Sagan’s first novel was awarded France’s Prix des Critiques, and after that time, her elegant prose continued to charm critics, earning for her comparisons with W. Somerset Maugham, Colette, and the best of France’s classical stylists. What amazed admirers of her first novel was the fact that a teenager could so accurately portray the emotional lives of adults several decades older. Indeed, it is in her depiction of love in all of its psychological variations that Sagan made her mark. In her early novels, written during her twenties, she captures the mood of egocentric cynicism so characteristic of young adults who are world-weary before they have known the world. In later novels, her characters are wealthy, worldly, and disabused about the possibility of finding lasting happiness. Always coolly restrained, Sagan wrote of the fleeting, fragile joys of love, nearly always in the shadow of deception and disillusionment. The world she created is a stylish miniature, an urbane setting for the emotional entanglements of the idle rich.

Françoise Sagan Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In part 2 of Françoise Sagan’s novel Bonjour Tristesse, Cécile starts to develop self-awareness. Describe this process and the role Anne plays in it.

Describe how Cécile can be viewed as a kind of “teenage rebel” in the same sense as iconic young antiheroes in post-World War II American culture, for example the James Dean character in the film Rebel Without a Cause (1955) or Holden Caulfield, the narrator of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951).

Cécile shows herself to be a gifted actress and manipulator of others. Find examples of these skills. How are they presented in a positive light?

Explain how Cécile changes from the beginning of the story to the end. Do any other characters show a similar degree of change?

Read one of Sagan later novels, such as Aimez-vous Brahms? or La Chamade. How does the author deepen and modify some of the same themes that she explores in Bonjour Tristesse?

Françoise Sagan Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cismaru, Alfred. “Françoise Sagan: The Superficial Classic.” World Literature Today 67 (Spring, 1993): 291-294. Assesses Sagan’s work in the attempt to determine whether or not her work is superficial or an authentic literary contribution.

Lloyd, Heather. Françoise Sagan, “Bonjour tristesse.” Glasgow, Scotland: University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1995. A study of Sagan’s first novel.

Miller, Judith Graves. Françoise Sagan. Boston: Twayne, 1988. A good critical assessment.

Morello, Nathalie. Françoise Sagan, “Bonjour tristesse.” London: Grant and Cutler, 1998. A critical guide to Sagan’s novel.