July 25, 2021

Controversial Author at 18, Fast Cars, Millions Lost at Roulette, and Opiate Addiction: The Troubled Life of Françoise Sagan | Pleasures

It began its existence in a cradle of bourgeois comforts in 1935 and ended up in debt up to its ears in 2004. The last income of the writer Françoise Sagan (Cajarc, 1935-Honfleur, 2004) came from the hands of the friends she kept. Something tragic that actually speaks well of her: after all the excesses and problems she got into, that she still had people around her willing to help her is quite amazing. Perhaps they still owed him money from the drinks he invited them to on those endless revelries he led in his youth.

Her real name was Quoirez, but when she told her father what the novel she was going to publish was about, he forced her to use a pseudonym (another one, because at home they called her ‘Kiki’). The ‘Sagan’ came out of a character in a Proust novel and with him became known in 1954, when his first book Good morning sadness it revolutionized French society first and international society later. The title was also borrowed from another work, a poem by Paul Éluard. That short novel he wrote in just seven weeks during the summer holidays when he was 18 was the most successful of an equally glorious career. The story of the summer of the adolescent Cécile on the Côte d’Azur with her father and her lovers sold more than four million copies in five years. It became number one on the list of best-selling books that it publishes The New York Times and has been translated into more than 20 languages. Otto Preminger adapted it for the cinema in 1958, starring Jean Seberg, David Niven and Deborah Kerr.

At his home in 1972. Photo: Getty

Of course, the press searched for traces of Sagan’s life in the novel. After all, both she and her characters belonged to the French wealthy bourgeoisie and had hedonism as a philosophy. But the writer did not tell her present but rather her medium-term future without knowing it. While creating the play, she was just a Sorbonne student who had failed her literature exams, but it was when she became famous that the real enjoyment began. And also sadness. In the novel, the young Cécile leaves the boarding school where she is studying to spend the holidays with her father in a wonderful house on the Mediterranean. Orphan of a mother, she has a good relationship with her father, one devoted to joy almost in a professional way. With him appears Elsa, his lover. The three of them dedicate themselves to leisure and enjoyment until Anne Larsen appears, an old friend of her mother and in love with her father, who ends that environment and imposes discipline in that dreamy summer. Satisfaction turns into rage and revenge turns into a deadly car accident.

In a France where sex before marriage was not yet accepted, that lust-laden work fell like a bomb and even the Vatican manifested itself to vituperate her. But the part of society that soon freed itself from the moral shackles of religion and conservative politics greeted her with joy.

Two years after her debut, she had already moved from her parents’ house on Boulevard Malesherbes (the area where people of her class lived) to a small, modern apartment on Rue de Grenelle. In an interview with Paris Review In 1955 – dressed in a simple gray skirt and a black sweater but with high heels, according to journalists – she explained: “I have tried very hard and have never found any resemblance between my acquaintances and the people in my novels. I am not looking for accuracy in the representation of people. I try to give the imaginary characters a kind of truthfulness. I would be very bored to put people I know in my novels ”.

Francoise Sagan

Several of his works were taken to the cinema: in the picture, in 1960 with the cast of ‘Goodbye Again’, based on ‘Aimez-vous Brahms?’: Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Sagan, director Anatole Litvak and Yves Montand. Photo: Getty

However, his life became more and more like his stories. In 1956 he had already published another successful novel, Certain smile (1956) and Hélène Gordon-Lazareff, the founder of the magazine It, He had sent her to Italy – Naples, Venice, Capri – to write reports on what was going on there. His unbridled social life full of alcohol, racing and excess was already a reality. The ‘charming monster’, as the critic François Mauriac had defined it, was growing stronger.

He invested his winnings in casinos and racing cars (Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar), with which he traveled through Paris at full speed. The society press turned her into a myth of the Divine Left that he lived dangerously. But in 1957 she had an accident with her Aston Martin in which she almost lost her life and to relieve her pain, they administered a strong opiate, to which she became addicted. His time at a detoxification clinic did not have the expected results and drug addiction added to his alcoholism and his problems with gambling (he wasted millions in roulette). In 1958 she married her former protector in the culture industry, publisher Guy Schoeller. The marriage only lasted two years and shortly after they had a wedding again, this time with model Robert Westhoff. That relationship did not end well either. They had a son named Denis Westhoff, whom he did not see much of, because the hustle and bustle of his existence did not quite square with a child’s schedule.

Francoise Sagan

He loved fast cars and in 1957 he had an accident in Milly-la-Forêt with his Aston Martin. Photo: Getty

Many lovers are attributed to him – such as Ava Gardner, for example – but the true love of his life was Peggy Roche. The two were still married when they met in the late sixties – Peggy with the actor and pilot Claude Brasseur – but according to the book Peggy in the pares, written by Marie-Ève ​​Lacasse, after meeting in the editorial office of It they separated from their respective partners and began their relationship.

They saw together in an apartment in the XIV District through which the cream of the Parisian bourgeoisie passed and until 1991 they were happy. Roche was not only her lover, she was also her caretaker. He managed to keep Sagan’s disorder at bay as much as possible and made the relationship with Dennis closer. But in 1989 her brother Jacques passed away – one of her fellow outings – which left her very affected and shortly after, in 1991, Peggy died in 1991 of pancreatic cancer. From there, the writer was not able to stop her decline or take care of her health.


She and Marguerite Duras, as guests on the set of ‘L’heure de vérité’, in 1987.

She suffered pulmonary edema during a trip to Colombia with François Mitterrand’s entourage (a great friend of the writer, according to some voices, also a lover). In the 1990s, she was caught in possession of large amounts of cocaine, but in 2002 the great storm arrived that swept everything away. FShe was accused of tax fraud in relation to the political-financial scandal of the Elf oil company and the Mitterrand government. Although she was sentenced to prison, she was eventually pardoned. That was one of the moments when her friends showed strong support for the writer at a delicate moment. The actors Isabelle Adjani or Vincent Lindon and writers such as Patrick Besson, Frédéric Beigbeder and Geneviève Dormann mobilized to demand a “quick and decent solution” to Sagan’s problems with the treasury. “If Françoise Sagan owes the State money, France owes it much more: prestige, talent and a taste for freedom and the sweetness of life.”

Francoise Sagan

In 1979 he presided over the jury of the Cannes Festival.

Ruined, she had to sell her apartment and stopped writing, something she hadn’t done even in her most critical moments. Until then, he had written 30 novels in addition to biographies, plays, newspaper articles, film scripts, and song lyrics. But from the sentence, everything he earned went to pay the 900,000 euros he owed to the Treasury, his account was blocked. She moved into the home of a friend, billionaire Ingrid Méchoulam, who took care of her for the last decade of her life and even went so far as to buy some of Sagan’s properties from foreclosure. Sagan started smoking and reading, tired of everything.

He finally died in 2004 at the age of 69, a victim of a pulmonary embolism and without having paid his debts, which he bequeathed to his son. He accepted that legacy despite all the problems it included, because in this way he also became executor of his work. Including the novel The Four Corners of the Heart: Roman, unknown and published posthumously in 2019. The author had written her own obituary in 1998. It was her contribution to Dictionary. Contemporary French literature from Jerome Garcin: “Sagan, Françoise. He made his appearance in 1954, with a little novel, Good morning sadness, which was a worldwide scandal. Her disappearance, after a pleasant and ramshackle life and work, was a scandal only for herself ”.