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Françoise Sagan (sah-gahn) was born Françoise Quoirez in 1935. When she was eighteen, Sagan astonished the world by writing a short novel, Bonjour Tristesse, about a teenager like herself who deliberately sets out to prevent the remarriage of her father. The sophisticated tone of the writing and the amoral attitude of the young author shocked the French public and brought her instant fame. Bonjour Tristesse was soon appearing in bookstores around the world and was translated into more than twenty languages.{$S[A]Quoirez, Françoise;Sagan, Françoise}

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From this precocious beginning Sagan went on to write dozens of novels, short stories, plays, and essays and to join her literary career to the life of a celebrity, a life that has included political friendships on the left, most notably that of former French president François Mitterand. In 1988 she was arrested for possession and passing of cocaine. She admitted the cocaine use (she said that it helped her to write) but claimed that the other accusation was an attempt to harm Mitterand’s reelection chances by creating scandals involving his close friends.

In interviews Sagan has freely discussed her own life, which often sounds like the lives of characters in her many books. She was born in a town in Southwest France into a middle-class family, which she has always praised for warmth and personality. Later, her brother was to be her companion in the “enfant terrible” life she led in Paris and St. Tropez, a fishing village on the Mediterranean coast which became a rendezvous for the young and idle of her generation.

Sagan grew up in Lyon and later went to Paris to study in convent schools; she soon began to skip classes in favor of the lively student cafés of the Left Bank. After the success of her first novels had made her rich, she set about spending the money they brought her on fast cars, nightclubs, gambling, and lavish gifts to friends. Once she found herself completely broke. She married twice and had one son. Both marriages ended in divorce, and she seldom mentions her son in personal essays and interviews. Instead, her life seems to have continued in the same restless fashion since her youth.

As a high-profile literary personality, Sagan’s interviews with the press are well worth reading (see her autobiographical Responses), as is a collection of personal essays, With Fondest Regards, in which she describes her fast-paced life and her feelings for famous people she has known (Tennessee Williams) or interviewed (Rudolph Nureyev). A beautifully written essay on the theater expresses her love of that world and her feeling that plays were her true literary form. She has written several plays, some successes, some not. The best known is Château en Suède (castle in Sweden), which she helped stage in Paris in 1960 and which became an international success.

Although Sagan’s novels have been described as sophisticated but superficial (they most often portray a doomed love between a young woman and an older man or vice versa), her style has been praised for its clarity. She was awarded the Prix des Critiques in 1954 for Bonjour Tristesse and the Prix de Monaco in 1985 for her entire body of work. Her novels take place in playgrounds of the rich and famous, as has much of her own life. With the help of film star Brigitte Bardot and others, she turned St. Tropez into a town of fast sports cars, all-night drinking parties, and illicit romance—in short, a glamorous meeting place for pleasure-seeking youth.

The “amorality” of her fiction created a public avid for the next novel but often disapproving and uncertain of her place in literature. Is she an excellent stylist with little to say, an extraordinary talent with a real understanding of human character, or a more cynical but equally frivolous writer as the authors of paperback romances? She has often written about her love for reading and words and the importance of literature. In addition to her classical style, which separates her from most best-selling authors, her characters recognize that happiness is fleeting and that they are resigned to a final disappointment.

Although Sagan has denied that she enjoys the playgirl role that she insists others have forced on her, she continues to write of her passion for gambling and speed. Restless and sophisticated, she is in many ways like her characters. The difference is that she creates them with great seriousness of purpose, holding the mirror of fiction up to her own image and producing novel after novel in a pure classical style.


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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591

Françoise Quoirez, who would later take on the pen name Françoise Sagan, was born in June, 1935, at Cajarc in the Lot department of France, on the property of her bourgeois Catholic family. Her father was pursuing a successful career with the Compagnie Générale d’Electricité, and her childhood was typical for a girl from a wealthy bourgeois family. Even World War II did not seriously disrupt the lives of the Quoirez family. In spite of the war, the children were expected to continue their studies, and Sagan was enrolled in school at Lyons. Already a free spirit, she was intelligent and quick to learn whatever she needed or wished to know. Intolerant of traditional methods of education, she began to read extensively at this time when she was languishing under the constraints of her schooling.

After Paris was liberated from German occupation in 1944, the Quoirez family returned to the city, where Sagan was enrolled in school again. She attended several schools and finally was expelled from the Couvent des Oiseaux for lack of spiritualité. At the same time, it was discovered that she was anemic and in poor health, and for the sake of her health she was sent away for a year to a school in the mountains. On her return to Paris, Sagan attended a more modern coeducational school, where discipline was not rigorous and it was possible for her to cut classes to spend afternoons reading or roaming the streets of Paris. It is said that she regularly failed her examinations in July and then made them up to be readmitted in October. In the end, she failed the examination that would have allowed her to continue her education at the Sorbonne. This time, there was no possibility of a makeup exam. It was this failure that turned her into a novelist.

In order to escape her mother’s disapproval, Sagan returned alone from the family’s vacation in the south of France to their apartment on the boulevard Malesherbes in Paris. There she wrote Bonjour Tristesse in a matter of weeks (the legend varies from three and a half weeks to two and a half months), submitting the manuscript to Éditions Julliard in early January, 1954. It was published in March of the same year.

Published under the Proustian pseudonym “Sagan,” Bonjour Tristesse was a critical as well as a commercial success. Both public and critics were stunned by the blasé amorality of the precocious teenage author. Equally impressive was her elegant writing style in the lucid, classical French tradition. Sagan soon was hailed as a spokeswoman for a whole generation of cynical, aimless young adults. Her own life seemed to resemble that of her wealthy, restless characters. She was said to enjoy gambling, drinking, and driving sports cars very fast, with a bare foot on the accelerator. In 1956, A Certain Smile appeared and became a commercial success; in 1958, a film adaptation of the novel was released.

Sagan was clearly a naturally gifted stylist and the celebrated enfant terrible of her generation. A serious driving accident in 1957 may have slowed her pace for a time on the highway, but it did not slow the flow of her writing. Novels, plays, ballets, and songs continued to appear regularly from Paris or from the country, where Sagan sometimes preferred to work. Her first marriage, to Guy Schoeller in 1958, ended in divorce, as did her second marriage, to Robert James Westhoff in 1962. She had one son, Denis. Sagan died in 2004 in Honfleur, France, at the age of 69.

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