Françoise Sagan, Author of Bonjour Tristesse

Francois sagan

Françoise Sagan (June 21, 1935 – September 24, 2004) born Françoise Quoirez in Cajac, France was a French novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. 

Her nom de plume was inspired by the Princesse de Sagan, Marcel Proust’s favorite author. She and her siblings were raised in an upper-middle-class family in France.

After her schooling in Paris, in 1952 Sagan set out to continue her university studies at the Sorbonne. Within a year, she began writing Bonjour TristesseIt was published in 1954 when she was only eighteen years old. 

Bonjour Tristesse was an instant phenomenon, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in a short time. Soon, it was translated into more than a dozen languages. 


Early Life

Sagan’s early childhood was spent in the ancient city of Saint Marcellin. Her well-to-do upbringing in the French countryside was not as idyllic as it may seem. When Sagan was only five the family left behind their life in Paris for the countryside as a result of World War II.

Her family was supportive of Resistance activity taking place in this region of France, which resulted in unsettling interrogation at the hands of the German SS. She bore firsthand witness to the horror of the War. In spite of this, she was still afforded a childhood amidst nature. She was a tomboyish child full of energy and antics.

The family returned to Paris in 1945, where her wild country sensibility got her into much trouble – even getting her expelled from her prestigious private school. She was well-read and sharp but could not resist Parisian nightlife. Her education continued to be a turbulent journey which ended with her failing the Sorbonne’s entrance exams.

This failure was the beginning of her literary career though. With nothing else to do, she spent the following months completing Bonjour Tristesse. 

She changed her name from Quoirez to Sagan just before her nineteenth birthday – the same year she published Bonjour Tristesse.


A Prolific and Influential Career

The title Bonjour Tristesse, “hello sadness” in English, comes from a line in the poem “À Peine Défigurée” by Paul Éluard. The poem describes the familiarity of sadness which reappears in waves.

Tristesse is a summer romance novel gone awry. The teen narrator Cécile is enjoying a carefree summer on the French Rivera with her laissez-faire father, Raymond, and his young mistress, Elsa. Cécile’s summer of romance is disrupted when another woman, Anne, becomes romantically involved with Raymond.  

The tangled web of romance and expressions of sensuality earned the book plenty of backlash, but it also solidified Sagan’s position as part of the reactionary post-war generation. With the concept of the “teenager” being fairly new, Sagan helped usher in an era of rebellious youth.

Judith Graves Miller writes in her book Françoise Sagan (1988):

“Sagan herself has proposed on several occasions that the fact her narrator-heroine Cécile could make love, enjoy it, and not have to pay at the end of the novel by a clandestine abortion or a hasty marriage both shocked the reigning moral order and spoke to the overwhelming need of young people to throw off their shackles of sexual oppression.”

The success of her first novel was followed closely by Un Certain Sourire (A Certain Smile) in 1956 and Dans un Mois, Dans un An (Those Without Shadows) in 1957. Her works presented romantic storylines with touches of existentialism and were populated with rich, often dissolute characters.

Sagan continued to live in Paris, working on song lyrics, screenplays, and more. Writing plays began capturing more of her interest. Though well-received critically, they weren’t as successful as her novels, and she eventually returned to fiction.

She went on to sell millions of copies worldwide and has been translated into over 20 languages. All the while, she never shied away from speaking her mind, serving as a role model to young women with literary aspirations.  

Several of her novels have been adapted to film including Bonjour Tristesse (1958). In 2023 it was announced that there will be a new adaptation of Tristesse currently in the works starring Chloë Sevigny.

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Bonjour Tristess cove

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Marriages and relationships

Her first husband, who she married in 1958, was twenty years older than she, and the couple divorced after two years.

Sagan married an American artist in 1962 and had a son (Dennis Westhoff) with him. Though the marriage dissolved the following year, they remained friends and lived together until 1970.

She had a number of affairs, including a same-sex relationship with Annick Geille, the editor of French Playboy as well as a long-term affair with Peggy Roche. Sagan and Roche lived together happily until the latter died of cancer in 1991.


Fast Cars and Lots of Drugs

Sagan developed a taste for sports cars and was nearly killed in a crash that left her in a coma in 1957. She became so well known as a speed demon, that her exploits behind the wheel made the newspapers with nearly as much frequency as her writing.

She was also a drug user and sometimes addict — prescription pills, cocaine, amphetamines, as well as alcohol. Some called her a free spirit; others described her as self-destructive. Either way, her habits didn’t seem to get in the way of her writing, as she was incredibly prolific, producing dozens of works in various genres.

Though she was able to maintain such an impressive career, drugs and the fast life brought her trouble with the law toward the end of her life.

In 1990 she “was sent sentenced for possessing and transporting 300 grams of cocaine and 300 grams of heroin,” wrote The Herald Scotland. She was not the only person involved in the trial – 44 others were also on trial for supplying drugs to Paris’s A-listers.


Death and Legacy

Her sensibility was astutely described by Alfred Cismaru in World Literature Today (1993):

“The essential disquietudes inherent in contemporary history cannot be eliminated, but one can bandage them with the dressing of amorality. Viewing life as a mountain of boredom replete with solitary caves, Sagan sought, and still looks for, workable if facile escapes. In the blind, painful, and stubborn ascension of man, she held that he cannot find solace in the example of Sisyphus. Albert Camus’s peremptory and even pompous remark that ‘one must imagine Sisyphus happy’ (Le mythe de Sisyphe, 183).”

Her turbulent life eventually caught up with her health; she spent her last few years ill and she died in 2004 of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 69. Her passing was noted by then-president Jacques Chirac, who stated: “With her death, France loses one of its most brilliant and sensitive writers — an eminent figure of our literary life.”

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Francoise Sagan older

You might also like: Françoise Sagan Quotes on Love, Life, and Writing

More about Françoise Sagan

Major works

Sagan’s output was prodigious and included plays, short story collections, and posthumous works not in the list below of a selection of her novels and short story collections.

  • Bonjour Tristesse  (1954, translated 1955)
  • Un certain sourire  (1955, A Certain Smile, translated 1956)
  • Those Without Shadows  (Dans un Mois, Dans un An, 1957)
  • Aimez-vous Brahms?  (1959, translated 1960)
  • Les merveilleux Nuages  (1961, Wonderful Clouds, translated 1961)
  • Le Garde du Cœur  (1968, The Heart-Keeper, translated 1968)
  • La Chamade  (1969)
  • Un Profil Perdu  (1974, Lost Profile, translated 1976)
  • Les Yeux de Soie  (1975, Silken Eyes, short stories, translated 1977)
  • Le Lit Défait  (1977, The Unmade Bed, translated 1978)
  • Le Chien Couchant  (1980, Salad Days, translated 1984)
  • Musiques de Scène  (1981, Incidental Music, short stories, translated 1983)
  • Les Faux-Fuyants  (1991, Evasion, translated 1993)
  • Un Chagrin de Passage  (1994, A Fleeting Sorrow, translated 1995)

Biographies and autobiographies

  • Toxique  (1964, journal, translated 1965)
  • Réponses  (1975, Conversations with Françoise Sagan, translated 1980)
  • Avec Mon Meilleur Souvenir  (1984,With Fondest Regards, translated 1985)
  • Et Toute Ma Sympathie  (1993, sequel to above)
  • Derrière l’Epaule  (1998, autobiography)
  • Sagan et Fils by Dennis Westhoff (Sagan’s son)

Articles, news, etc.

More information


2 Responses to “Françoise Sagan, Author of Bonjour Tristesse”

  1. “She became so well known as a speed demon that her exports behind the wheel made the newspapers with nearly as much frequency as her writing.”

    Exploits, perhaps?

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