A Literary Genius Ahead of Her Time – Author and Playwright Françoise Sagan


Even during the early half of the 20th century, a lot of limitations and social expectations ruled the lives of women. Françoise Sagan was a teen visionary, an enlightened youthful spirit, who did not let herself be forced to fit into society’s mold. Her personality, life, fashion, and most of all, her written works provide an empowering and inspirational example to a lot of young women.

Sagan’s Personal History

Françoise Sagan, or Françoise Quoirez, French playwright, novelist, and screenwriter, was born to a wealthy Catholic bourgeois parents. Her father was a company director while her mother came from a family of landowners. She grew up surrounded by animals which she immensely cared about in an affluent household in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. She was expelled twice in the primary schools she was enrolled in for being an indifferent student and lacking spirituality. She finally obtained her baccalaureate at a French private school, Cours Hattemer, and was afterward enrolled in Sorbonne during the fall of 1952 but she did not graduate. Her pen name, “Sagan” was borrowed from a character in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Sagan’s easygoing and carefree attitude was often shown in her lifestyle where she spent a lot of time having fun with friends in the same social circle – driving around in luxury cars to casinos. Her fashion sense also emphasized being casual as she often wore pencil skirts, loafers, turtlenecks, and simple denim pants.

The Writing of Bonjour Tristesse

Sagan’s greatest success was her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, which was written and published in 1954 while she was still a teenager. The novel narrates the story of a wealthy teenager living a luxurious and carefree lifestyle on a villa in the French Riviera. The main character, Cécile, who bears a remarkable similarity to Sagan herself, is a 17-year old teenager living a pleasure-driven lifestyle with her boyfriend and adulterous, womanizing father. The novel caused enormous ripples, not to mention, scandal in the literary world as women even during that time, especially such a young one as Sagan, were not yet openly accepted in the male-dominated profession of writing. Not to mention, the kind of raw personal details and the freedom of the main character in expressing her sexuality as a woman was looked down upon by society. Despite this, Bonjour Tristesse gained enormous success as a New York Times bestseller with over 350,00 copies sold in its first two years.

Legacy for Women and Literature

Françoise Sagan, after the success of her debut novel, went on to write several more literary works in various formats such as novels, plays, short story collections, and several biographies and autobiographical works. Her other famous books, such as the Un Certain Sourire (1956), Aimez-Vous Brahms? (1959), and Les Merveilleux Nuages (1961) featured strong, young female protagonists like Cécile. She won the Prix des Critiques in 1954 for Bonjour Tristesse and the Prix de Monaco in 1984 for her entire collected works. Although she died at age 69 in 2004, she left behind her a series of literary works that are skillfully and beautifully written enough to challenge the male-dominated canon of literature. Her stories could easily capture readers, especially the youth and the women in her audience, and invoke scholarly thought in many academics that studied her work.

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