Françoise Sagan

Who wasn’t that girl that, at 17, dreamt of a summer romance like Cecile from Bonjour Tristesse? He would be older and wiser, you would be in Breton stripes with freckles on your nose, and you’d roll around in the sand near a discarded dinghy.

And now, who isn’t that girl who, at age 23, dreams of being a writer half as wry, half as frank and half as brilliant as Françoise Sagan? Who wrote Bonjour Tristesse in a flurry just after finishing school, who wrote more than 30 books, as well as plays and screenplays in her lifetime, who drove very fast cars and owned very fast horses and never apologised for anything.

She’s one of France’s great literary icons, but she is also an icon for women around the world for her intelligence, her confidence and her independence. In 1956, when she was interviewed by The Paris Review, the interview described her as ‘shy, but casual and friendly, and her gamine face crinkles easily into an attractive, rather secret smile. She wore a simple black sweater and gray skirt; if she is a vain girl the only indication of it was her high-heeled shoes, which were of elegantly worked light gray leather.’

Sound dreamy? We think so. Read on for some of our favourite quotes from the original manic pixie dream girl…

On writing: 

‘I had read a lot of stories. It seemed to me impossible not to want to write one. Instead of leaving for Chile with a band of gangsters, one stays in Paris and writes a novel. That seems to me the great adventure.’

‘For me writing is a question of finding a certain rhythm. I compare it to the rhythms of jazz. Much of the time life is a sort of rhythmic progression of three characters. If one tells oneself that life is like that, one feels it less arbitrary.’

‘Art must take reality by surprise.’

‘The illusion of art is to make one believe that great literature is very close to life, but exactly the opposite is true. Life is amorphous, literature is formal.’

‘All my life I will continue obstinately to write about love, solitude and passion among the kind of people I know. The rest doesn’t interest me.’

On life: 

‘Whisky, gambling and Ferraris: aren’t they rather more amusing than knitting, housekeeping and one’s savings? Anyway, I would have been the last person to have written convincingly about that.’

‘I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.’

‘I’ve learned to be alone and I’ve learned to love it. Being alone is a kind of self-consciousness, an awareness of something permanent, something that you can’t talk about. It’s almost biological.’

‘I still prefer a life that has its ups and downs. A contented, uneventful life is no life at all as far as I’m concerned. I said I thought life was a sick joke. That doesn’t mean I’m a pessimist. It may be sick, but it’s still a joke; it’s still funny. I’ve no illusions about the absurdity of life, but I’m still cheerful about it.’

‘The one thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read.’

‘Money may not buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Jaguar than on a bus.’

On love:

‘I kissed him passionately, I even wanted to bruise him so that he would not be able to forget me.’

‘I always wanted to ask people: “Are you in love? What are you reading?”’

‘Do not sleep alone. Live alone, if you must, yes, but never sleep alone.’

‘There is a certain age when a woman must be beautiful to be loved, and then there comes a time when she must be loved to be beautiful.’

‘For this was the round of love: fear which leads on desire, tenderness and fury, and that brutal anguish which triumphantly follows pleasure.’

On travel: 

‘Travelling makes me blind, deaf and generally terrorised.’

‘I don’t know how to travel, I don’t know how to look at things, I’ll end up going back to the same little spot that no one likes over and over just because I can get warm there. When I think about that – that realisation of powerlessness, it breaks my heart. My lovely Parisian post with my little neighbourhood, and a few trips to the sea, or to Normandy in the summer, and trips to Switzerland in the winter – that’s probably what my life will be like in the future.’

On style: 

‘A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you.’

‘At home that evening, Antoine, pencil in hand, indulged in optimistic financial calculations. He would, of course, take care of the rent, the telephone bill, the tiresome small expenses. Lucile’s hundred thousand francs would pay for her dresses, carfare and lunches – there was a very good cafeteria… where he could have lunch with her… She wanted to tell him that a dress from Dior cost three hundred thousand francs, that she hated the bus – even if it was direct – and that the very word cafeteria made her want to run away.’

And this, which has to be reproduced in its entirety, including the question from the interviewer at The Paris Review. Françoise Sagan, all writers who have ever been asked a question like this salute you.

“Interviewer: ‘To what extent do you recognise your limits and maintain a check on your ambitions?’
Sagan: ‘Well that is a pretty disagreeable question, isn’t it? I recognise limitations in the sense that I’ve read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Shakespeare. That’s the best answer, I think. Aside from that I don’t think of limiting myself.’”


– Hannah-Rose Yee, Undone Girl

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