Francoise Sagan dies

25th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 24 (AFP) - French writer Francoise Sagan, who shot to literary fame at 18 with her first novel "Bonjour Tristresse" and stayed in the limelight for the next half century, died Friday aged 69.

PARIS, Sept 24 (AFP) - French writer Francoise Sagan, who shot to literary fame at 18 with her first novel "Bonjour Tristresse" and stayed in the limelight for the next half century, died Friday aged 69.  

Family friends said Sagan, who had been ill for several years, died of heart and lung failure in a hospital in the port town of Honfleur in Normandy, northern France, near where she had a home.  

Hospital sources said she had been admitted there earlier this week.  

French President Jacques Chirac immediately paid an emotional tribute, calling Sagan "a leading figure in her generation" who helped raise the status of women in France.  

"With her passing, France loses one of its most brilliant and sensitive authors... With finesse, emotion and subtlety, Francoise Sagan explored the spirit and passions of the human heart," he said in a statement issued by his office.  

Sagan produced more than 40 novels and plays but will go down in literary history as the author of "Bonjour Tristesse" - the anthem to disillusioned youth that became one of the best-known books of the 20th century.  

Written over the course of seven weeks in 1953, "Bonjour Tristesse" (Hello Sadness) told the story of a bored, bourgeois teenager who filled the emptiness of her existence by conspiring to destroy her father's new girlfriend.  

With its cool, laconic language, the novel caught the spirit of the 1950s - a decade in which the psychological groundwork was being laid in the West for the social rebellion that followed. It was a huge international seller and catapulted its young creator into a life of wealth, fame and excess.  

"Fame and success delivered me very early on from my dreams of fame and success," Sagan once said wryly.  

Sagan was born June 21, 1935, into a well-to-do family in the Lot department of southwest France that moved to Paris after World War II. Her real surname was Quoirez and she chose her nom-de-plume from a character in Marcel Prousts's "Remembrance of Things Past."  

A teenage rebel, she was expelled from her convent school and failed her secondary school leaving exam because of a growing affinity for the jazz clubs of Paris' Latin Quarter. Bored, she shut herself in her bedroom during the summer of 1953 and tapped out the 200 pages of "Bonjour Tristesse".  

The novel was an instant "succes de scandale" in a post-war France that affected to be shocked by its emotional intimacy and subversive subtext.   

Within five years it had been translated into 22 languages and sold five million copies around the world, including one million in the Unites States alone. In 1957 Hollywood director Otto Preminger made it into a film starring Deborah Kerr, David Niven and Jean Seberg.  

Sagan took with relish to the fast lifestyle that her new wealth made possible. She was paid 500,000 francs for the book - a goodly sum at the time - and she later recalled that her father had urged her to spend it all.  

"I fell into a magic phase in which everything was possible," she said.   With her trademark blond hair, cigarette and left-wing politics, she became a pillar of Paris' Left Bank bohemian set - alongside the likes of Roger Vadim, Juliette Greco, Berhard Buffet - and experimented freely with men, fast cars, drugs, alcohol and gambling. The writer Francois Mauriac was to describe her as "a charming little monster".  

To show that "Bonjour Tristesse" was no one-off, she followed it with "A Certain Smile" in 1956 about a student's love affair with a middle-aged man. A succession of other books over the years confirmed the themes of disappointed love, loneliness and the pursuit of pleasure.   She once said her books spoke essentially about loneliness and how "to get rid of it".  

Later Sagan took to writing plays - including "A Castle in Sweden" and "Valentine's Purple Dress", which were modest successes - screen-plays and memoirs. She wrote her last book, a self-critical retrospective called "Over the Shoulder," in 1996.  

Sagan made no secret of her hedonistic leanings. She described gambling as "a passion, a pleasure, a mad amusement - physical, nervous, invigorating, gay!" In 1957 she suffered a near fatal high-speed car crash and in later life was twice convicted on drugs charges.  

In 2002 she was once again in trouble with the law, convicted of tax fraud over the hundreds of thousands of dollars she was paid by a businessman in the early 1990s in order to intercede with her friend, President Francois Mitterrand, over oil exploration rights in Uzbekistan.  

But Sagan was unable to attend the court proceedings because of her declining health. In her last years she was hospitalised on several occasions and friends described her as an increasingly lonely, sad and impoverished old woman.  

Sagan was married and divorced twice - first with publisher Guy Schoeller, and second with an American Bob Westhoff by whom she had a son Denis.


Subject: French News

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