French writer, 1935 - 2004.
Born Françoise Quoirez in Cajarc, south-western France. Her father was a successful industrialist, meaning that the family was both respectable and had a comfortable amount of money. At the outbreak of The Second World War, the Quoirez left their Parisian home and moved to the provinces - spending most of their time in Lyon. Françoise also spent some time in Switzerland. When Paris was liberated in 1944, the family returned.
Françoise had been educated at convent schools as a girl, and then went on to attend the Sorbonne. In 1953 however, she failed her second-year exams and took this as her cue to begin writing. She spent several weeks over the coming summer writing Bonjour Tristesse, the first novel which would remain her most famous work, at least outside of France. Françoise travelled the United States in her youth, and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Truman Capote. It was while driving his Aston Martin in 1957 that she had an accident which almost killed her. Yet she enjoyed life in the fastlane, and became a known gambler and heavy drinker. She is quoted as saying, "I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.
Bonjour Tristesse is the tale of young Cécile, who has just failed her exams, and spends the following summer holiday enjoying her first love affair, and ending that between her widowed father and his current mistress. The outcome of the summer is the loss of Cécile's youth and innocence. The short novel was an instant bestseller throughout the world, although some critics claim that it is nothing more than a flimsy piece written by a frivolous girl (Sagan was only 19 when she wrote Bonjour Tristesse). In 1957, a film of the novel was made, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Jean Seberg, David Niven, and Deborah Kerr.
In 1958, Sagan published A Certain Smile, which was also a huge success, but again one which the critics failed to take seriously. Others argue that the confessional nature of Sagan's work has had an influence on the writing of more recent women writers, and that she deserves more consideration. Her pared-down, realist style and the intense loneliness of her characters mean that she fits in well with her French contemporaries. Those who people her novels are disappointed in life and in love, so seek fleeting pleasures. Sagan exposes the meaninglessness of the existence of those who appear to have everything, not least through the clever use of devices such as ridiculously polite, staid dialogue.
In 1958, Françoise married the publisher Guy Schoeller, and they divorced two years later. She took her second husband, Bob Westhof, an American ceramics designer, in 1962. This marriage led to one son before ending in divorce.
In the 1960s, Sagan turned her hand to playwriting, with only moderate success. She later returned to novels, although her early work remains her best-received.
The 1990s were a difficult time for the author. She was convicted for cocaine use, and then found herself entangled in the Elf scandal in France. In 2002 she was given a suspended sentence for tax fraud.
Françoise Sagan died on September 24, 2004 in Honfleur, due to a blood clot in her lung. France's reaction to her death was strong. Her work has been reassessed, and President Jacques Chirac released a statement saying, "With her death, France loses one of its most brilliant and sensitive writers - an eminent figure of our literary life."