This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.
Fond of fast cars, gambling, drinking, and drugs, the life of Françoise Sagan reads more like one of a rock star than a celebrated author. Shirking the image of female writers quietly positioned with a pen in hand, Sagan lived fast and partied hard, all while producing novels and works that captured the complex nature of womanhood. Naturally, the world was charmed by the rebellious woman who reached literary stardom before the age of 20.
Born Françoise Quoirez in 1935 (she would have turned 83 last week) in France, Sagan allegedly never intended to become an author and only began writing a book to see if she could. She famously claimed to have simply sat down and started writing for two to three hours a day—finishing her first novel, “Bonjour Tristeese,” in only a couple of months—with the hope that it would get published, but with no certainty that it would. But after dropping her manuscript off with a publisher, it was clear to everyone that her writing was special. Her parents helped her negotiate a contract; their only request was that she take a new name, inspiring her to take “Sagan” from the Proust character, the Princesse de Sagan.
“Bonjour Tristesse” went on to sell 350,000 copies, with its English translation topping The New York Times best-seller list when Sagan was only 19 (at the time becoming the youngest author to do so). But the novel—which heavily featured a teenage female protagonist’s sexual desires—was not without its share of controversy.
“It was inconceivable that a young girl of 17 or 18 should make love, without being in love, with a boy of her own age, and not be punished for it,” she later reflected. “People couldn’t tolerate the idea that the girl should not fall madly in love with the boy, and not be pregnant by the end of the summer. It was unacceptable, too, that a young girl should have the right to use her body as she will, and derive pleasure from it without incurring a penalty.”
Though later novels never quite reached the success of her debut, Sagan maintained a prolific career, producing 20 novels, nine plays, three short story collections, two biographies (one of which was about Brigitte Bardot), and a number of autobiographical projects, some of which were published posthumously. Success would have meant affluence, if not for her vices. Her penchant for driving at high speeds led to her crashing her Aston Martin. Meanwhile, her gambling led to lost money, and she was tried on drug charges twice in the early 1990s. “Maybe one must, as I have always done, hate life deep down in order to adore it in all of its forms,” she mused, perhaps explaining her approach to existence.
It’s not difficult to see why Sagan’s legacy has endured. While beautifully written stories will always be re-read, Sagan’s work also continues to fill a void for female protagonists. She both normalized female desire and intelligence (rather than casting the traits as “different”), while also showcasing a certain amount of self-absorption among her characters. They are neither heroes nor villains, but rather honest snapshots of human nature. In an era in which teenage girls and young women have been more emboldened than ever to loudly celebrate their wants, needs, and interests as people, her words continue to offer a refreshingly modern take on womanhood that continues to rail against old-fashioned ideals and rules.END
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