Sagan and Bardot: a New Book Supports the Argument That Over 40 Is Not Older but Better

She deemed it an honor to share sex, laughter and love with a man who pleased her and whom she pleased. This, to me, is the most interesting, compassionate and generous quality in Bardot—a woman who is exactly my age.” The words are those of novelist Françoise Sagan, and they appear in an introduction to Brigitte Bardot—Woman from Thirty to Forty (Delacorte). The book, a collection of intimate photographs of BB taken from 1965 to 1975, is being published this month.

The collaboration seems a natural one. “She is like me,” says Sagan, 41. “She has never been dependent on a man.” In the mid-’50s, while Bardot launched the new female sensuality in films, Sagan captured it in fiction. When her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, was published in 1954, the prudish French were astonished that an 18-year-old could write so knowingly about sex. “It was forbidden for young people to make love then,” says Sagan, adding wryly, “now it is forbidden not to.”

Bonjour sold 12 million copies in 20 languages and turned the shy Sagan into an international celebrity. “It gave me a ridiculous idea of success,” she recalls. Stories about her love affairs, excessive gambling, drinking and passion for fast cars filled the gossip sheets of Europe. At 21 she almost died when she crashed her Aston Martin at 100 mph.

A prolific novelist in spite of the public furor that surrounded her, Sagan also has written plays, magazine articles and movie scripts, and last year she directed her first film. Based on one of her short stories, entitled Eyes of Silk, it will open in Paris this month.

Over the years, the love story that ends badly has been her trademark. However, in her 10th novel, Lost Profile, published this spring, the man and woman are still in love at the end. Does that mean she has mellowed? “No. I was in a bad humor,” she explains with typical French logic. “I did not like myself. So I had to make a happy ending.”

In better spirits now, she predicts that if her Lost Profile heroine, Josée, were a woman in real life, she would soon tire of her idyllic marriage, take her child and seek love elsewhere. Love, according to Sagan, lasts about seven years. “That’s how long it takes for the cells of the body to totally replace themselves,” she says.

The youngest of three children, Françoise Sagan (née Quoirez) was born in Cajarc, France. Her prosperous family spent World War II in Switzerland. When they returned to France, the family settled in Paris and Françoise hung around the cafes and jazz clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which were frequented by postwar French intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre. Secretly she wrote.

In 1953 she consulted a fortune teller about a failing romance. The seer did not hold out much hope for the affair but told the freckle-faced Sorbonne dropout that the book she had written would be a great success. Encouraged, Sagan raced home, borrowed a surname from the Princesse de Sagan, a character in a Proust novel, and submitted Bonjour to a publisher. Two weeks later it was accepted.

If Sagan shocked and amazed as a teenage author, she is a pillar of respectability today. She no longer gambles (“I can’t afford it”), limits her drinking to Coca-Cola (“If I take even one alcoholic drink, I’ll die”) and has given up fast driving except for an infrequent spin around her Normandy country house in a Lotus. For Paris she uses a Mercedes sedan, carefully. “I never wanted to be an object of scandals, and yet that is what I was turned into,” Sagan says. “Now I find that I have to excuse myself because I am not scandalous anymore.”

With two marriages and two divorces behind her, Sagan is content for the time being to share her life with her 14-year-old son, Denis. “Certainly I need love and affection. But the question of living with a man is difficult and complicated,” she says. “I’m not against marriage, but I’m not for it either.”

At the moment she and Denis live in a rented house in Montparnasse which they share with a maid and a butler. Life for Sagan does not start until noon. Evenings are reserved for friends and nights for writing. She has already started her 11th novel, and naturally it is a love story. Why does she choose only that theme for her novels? “I don’t know about anything else,” she says with a smile.

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