The allure of French author Françoise Sagan

French author Françoise Sagan - My French Life™I started reading Françoise Sagan’s novels, in translation, when I was a teenager and still thought the smell of Gitane cigarettes was sexy.

She is one of the most famous French women and Parisiennes in modern literature. Her stories fuelled my love for everything French, and especially for the city of Paris.

I liked to imagine myself living the protagonist’s Parisian life in her Haussmannian apartment, chambre de bonne or in a villa on the French Riviera, wearing her fifties clothes and falling in love with French men.

Ses œuvres

French author Françoise Sagan is best known for her first novel ‘Hello Sadness’, (‘Bonjour Tristesse’), which is set on the French Riviera.

The novel caused quite a scandal when it was published in 1953, as Sagan was only eighteen, and the story is about adultery and the sexual education of a teenage girl.

French author Françoise Sagan - My French Life™Her second novel ‘A Certain Smile’, (‘Un Certain Sourire’), was and is one of my favourites, being set in 1950s Paris. The narrator is a twenty-year-old law student at the Sorbonne. She is bored by her studies and her loyal boyfriend, Bertrand, who introduces her to his businessman uncle Luc and his wife Françoise.

Dominique finds Luc far more exciting, risky and forbidden than boys of her age. She falls in love with the older man and they become secret lovers. As the French say, “Les histoires d’amour finissent mal en general” (“Love stories usually end badly”), and this story is no exception.

The novel would probably be classified as chick-lit today, but it has become a classic of modern French literature. When the book was published, a reviewer at the ‘San Francisco Examiner’ wrote:

“The reader is given the feeling of having opened a young girl’s intimate diary by mistake. But whoever put such a diary down? – especially when the author is as sensitive, experienced, gifted and freshly talented as Mlle Sagan”.

Her life: onscreen and offscreen

French author Françoise Sagan - My French Life™Sagan was a celebrated French author from the very beginning of her career and led a dangerous life driving fast cars, partying and having relationships with both men and women. Indeed, she became so well known that French director Diane Kurys released a biographical film about her – ‘Sagan’, starring Sylvie Testud.

‘The Film Catalogue’ concludes: “Flamboyant, scandalous and underrated, Sagan lived her life at the furthest edge of excess. She won and lost fortunes at the roulette table, bought and crashed superb sports cars, drank, danced and partied, leaving a trail of lovers in her wake.”

Who is your favourite French author? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Image credits:
1. Tout le monde est infidèle, via Amazon
2. A Certain Smile, via Wikipedia
3. Françoise Sagan, via Wikipedia

About the Contributor

Henrietta Richer

I have lived in France for 27 yrs with my husband and two daughters. After jobs in teaching, writing and translating, I now write full time for the web and fiction.

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  1. Esme Wakefield Nov 1, 2013 at 1:22 AM - Reply

    This article answers the question of: Which French author shall I dip into this month? Sagan is on the list.
    Please tell us more about other modern French authors!

    • Henrietta Richer Nov 1, 2013 at 9:59 PM - Reply

      Hi Esme, thanks for your comment. The problem with modern French authors is that few are translated. My favourite author is Amelie Nothomb. There’s an article about her on my blog
      Marc Levy is very successful. His books are ‘easy’ reads with good stories and a touch of the supernatural. His first book was made into a film ‘Just Like Heaven’. Frank Thilliez writes good thrillers and Anna Gavalda writes contemporary family stories. I hope this is helpful. Perhaps I should put a regular Found in Translation page on my blog. What do you think?

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