Saturday, September 24, 2011

RIP: Francoise Sagan - 21 June 1935 – 24 September 2004

I graduated from high school when I was seventeen years and five months old; it was hard to get a good job unless you were eighteen. I even went to Dalton Foundry, a place where the jobs were so horrible that it was said that they'd hire anyone, but a man in an office there told me, "Come back when you're not so green behind the ears."

I wanted to join the Army. You could join at seventeen if a parent signed his/her permission. I asked my mother if she'd sign for me. She said no. "I didn't do it for any of the other boys and I won't do it for you ... if anything happened to you I wouldn't want to have to think it might not have if I hadn't signed for you."

Finally I got a job at Western Union Telegraph Company as a teletype operator in Fort Wayne but they wouldn't let me start until I was eighteen. I already had plans to join the Army on January 2nd, the day after my eighteenth birthday, but thought I'd give Western Union a try ... for one thing, an employer was, in those days, obliged to give you your job back once you'd completed your service, and, having had such a tough time landing a job, this "security" seemed like a deal.

Francoise Sagan
I rented a room on Washington Street for $7.00 a week from a Mrs. White. I ate glazed doughnuts for breakfast at a tiny dinner; the waitress, Lois, was very sweet to me. I usually went out the back door of Western Union to have my lunch at a hamburger joint that was across the alley and down on the corner of Jefferson Street. For supper I usually went to a Walgreen's Drugstore, sitting at the counter. One evening there I stopped to look at a rack of paperbacks. I spent 35-cents for a novel called Bonjour Tristesse by one Francoise Sagan. I'd read an article about her in Life magazine a few years back. Not that I was much of a reader; prior to Bonjour Tristesse I had read just one novel -- I think it was Penrod by Booth Tarkington; it had painfully bored me.  Back in my room I read the first sentences of my new purchase:

          A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate
     to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow.  The idea
     of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am 
     almost ashamed of its complete egoism.  I have known
     boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never
     sorrow.  Today it envelops me like a silken web, enervat-
     ing and soft, and sets me apart from everybody else.

Somehow the phrases 'strange melancholy' and 'grave and beautiful name of sorrow' and 'the idea of sorry has always appealed to me' made a great impression on me. Thus a French girl who'd had a novel published at eighteen, a slim novel which had sold over half a million copies in its first year, became my first literary crush.  (Some fifty years later, walking with my dear friend Ellen on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, there was a perfect vintage paperback copy of Bonjour Tristesse on a street vendor's table; I had Ellen open it and I recited that opening paragraph from memory; I made one mistake, inserting the word 'today' after 'pervades me' which, of course, comes alarmingly close to splitting an infinitive.)

My love for Francoise Sagan has not faded in the least.

One of my most treasured possessions is a 1965 gift from my friend Richard English, an 8-1/2 X 11 edition of a diary, illustrated by Bernard Buffet, which Sagan kept while institutionalized to de-toxify herself from morphine, to which she had  become addicted while recuperating from an accident in her glamourous Aston Martin convertible:

Age never slowed her fast living. She indulged in whiskey, cigarettes, drugs, and affairs. In her sixties she was asked by a journalist if she still used cocaine. "If it comes along, yes," she answered. Her health was poor; still, she had no regrets.

She died at sixty-nine and is buried in the town of her birth, Cajarc, in southwestern France

1 comment:

  1. Well there you go, great minds think awlike or good friends have similar tastes. Francoise is my favourite author. I avidly read all her novels, could not wait for them to come. Adored her short stores too. The paragraph you quote haunted me all my life. "Pervades" "Melancholy" "Hello Sadness," she says and that is what Cecile found after her betrayal of Anne. (Although Anne did annoy me when I was eighteen too!).