Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yaeger, WWII Ace and the pioneering test pilot who became the first man to break the sound barrier passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 97.
Yeager was chosen for the most dangerous and innovative test assignments because he was considered the best instinctive pilot the Air Force authorities had ever seen and because he had demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to remain calm and focused in stressful situations.
On December 10, 1963, then Colonel Chuck Yeager flying a modified Lockheed F-104 Starfighter equipped with a liquid fuel rocket engine narrowly escaped death when his aircraft went out of control at 108,700 feet.
For once the Times outdoes the Telegraph in its obituary of a colorful British figure.
If you have to die, it’s nice to have so as to be memorialized like Peregrine Worsthorne.
It was said of Sir Peregrine Worsthorne that he wrote as he dressed, with style and flamboyance. His bow ties, spongebag trousers and Leander socks were combined with wavy, collar-length silver hair, giving him the appearance of an aesthete on his way to the Athenaeum Club. To complement his exhibitionist tendencies he had an amused, fluting voice and, unusually for a High Tory Fleet Street editor, he was considered something of a flaneur and a bohemian. He was also a man whose engaging recklessness was, on occasion, his undoing.
As a commentator he could be salty, moralistic, reactionary, contrary and even, on occasion, self-contradictory, but he was rarely, if ever, boring or predictable. On Desert Island Discs in 1992 he chose as his luxury item a lifetime supply of LSD. His columns, meanwhile, were less formal argument than a series of assertions, often enough strikingly original and elegantly expressed, but sometimes merely silly, or so outrageous as to disturb even his most unflinchingly right-wing readers. For much of his career he longed for an editorial chair as well as a polemicistâ€™s pulpit; when it finally came, its sweets were short-lived. …
In 1961 he became deputy editor of the newly founded Sunday Telegraph, a post he was to hold for the next 15 years (complementing Welch, who was deputy editor of the daily from 1964 to 1980). He was then associate editor until 1986.
He wrote in the first edition of the paper and, in some ways, thereafter became its personification. The values he was to espouse in his political columns for the next 36 years were not for the faint of heart: they were to include an argument that voluntary repatriation was the answer to Britainâ€™s supposed immigration problems, for example, as well as a vigorous defence of Ian Smithâ€™s white minority government in Rhodesia. His views on homosexualists, as he was wont to call them, could seem especially unpalatable. Despite his experience at his public school, Worsthorne castigated Roy Jenkins in one editorial for his tolerance of â€œqueersâ€.
It became clear that the editorship he was waiting for would never come as long as Lord Hartwell was proprietor. Hartwell admired Worsthorne as a controversialist but did not think him staid or reliable enough for the editorial chair. There was some evidence for this view, in his professional and also in his private life. He had married in 1950 Claudia Bertrand de Colasse, a Frenchwoman previously married to an RAF officer. Yet, as he described with remarkable candour in his 1993 autobiography Tricks of Memory, it was far from a conventional marriage, and he was far from a faithful husband, with many liaisons, prolonged or casual. They had a daughter, Dominique, who is married to the potter Jim Keeling.
The Worsthornes mixed in a notably raffish set, including the journalists Henry Fairlie, George Gale and Paul Johnson and the dons Michael Oakeshott and Maurice Cowling. By some of these friendsâ€™ standards Worsthorne was temperate â€” an early bout of jaundice made heavy drinking impossible â€” but his life was chequered with comically untoward incidents. Over dinner in a Brighton restaurant, he and the late Vanessa Lawson, then the wife of Nigel Lawson, later of AJ Ayer, decided to exchange shirt and blouse while sitting at their table, an episode reported back to the proprietor by a mauvaise langue among his colleagues.
When appearing on an early-evening programme in 1973 to discuss the abrupt resignation of Lord Lambton from the government, he became the second man, after Kenneth Tynan, to use a well-known monosyllable on television, lightly remarking that the public did not â€œgive a f***â€ about the affair. This brought a period of suspension from the paperâ€™s pages.
In print, Worsthorne was almost as unpredictable. He was no dialectician, no scholar, indeed, and (despite his aspirations) no intellectual. His attempts at serious political thought were repetitious but persuasive even at column length, still more so in his one book in this vein, The Socialist Myth (1971).
But he was a wonderfully readable columnist, with a feline knack of puncturing specious arguments, of seeing through humbug with a single memorable phrase. He once argued ingeniously that the advertisements in newspapers were in a sense more truthful than the news pages. In the news, houses burn down and aircraft crash, killing and bereaving. In the ads, families live securely and happily in their homes, while flights land on time reuniting loved ones, a far more accurate reflection of everyday life. And it was Worsthorne who described the mood of the Thatcherite 1980s as â€œbourgeois triumphalismâ€, a phrase which has lasted longer than most coined by the left.
His leaders apart, Worsthorne was at his best writing Spectator diaries where he could be as irresponsible and malicious as he chose.
Quality Wine, just to the left of Cutler’s. 1970s or 1980s photo with Broadway under construction.
A Yale friend forwarded today the New Haven Independent obituary for Elliot Brause, the genial owner of the long-time Yale community institution Quality Wine Store.
I know a good bit about wine, and I was recently reflecting just how much I learned, back in my student days, from Elliot’s selections. Really, I found myself ruefully noting, when you come right down to it, I’ve never known a better, more knowledgeable, more discerning, and more sophisticated wine merchant.
Kermit Lynch is pretty darn good, but he operates at a much more Olympian price level than Elliott used to, and Kermit (the toad!) won’t ship to Pennsylvania. There are, of course, good wine stores in New York City, but… again, for them, too, price is no particular object.
Elliott knew his audience and recognized that Yale undergraduates had lean purses and he skillfully filled his shelves with amazing bargains. Back then, German Rieslings were just as out of fashion as they are today, and Elliott made a point of laying in superb vintages of QualitÃ¤tsweins mit PrÃ¤dikat with Spatleses and Ausleses offered for peanuts. I used to drink Schloss Eltz routinely, it was so cheap.
Even less expensive were hocks from the less prestigious Rheinpfalz region. Their prices were derisive.
It was from Elliott that I and my friends developed the habit of drinking May Wine, flavored with Woodruff (the Waldmeister) and strawberries in the Spring.
I remember, too, a particular “Quinta de Something” Port Vintage of 1940, which cost something like a piddling $7.50 a bottle back in the early 1970s. It was ambrosial.
I wish I could shop at Quality Wine today.
It was always a pleasure to do business with Elliott. He was cordial and avuncular and surrounded always by his enthusiastic corgis. If you were short of cash, Elliott would have no problem taking a check for $10 or $20 dollars over your purchase. He was essentially a member of the family and Quality Wine was a key and basic institution of Yale student life.
All that, of course, cut no mustard with the reptiles and invertebrates who operate the Yale Administration. When the greasy pols in Hartford raised back the drinking age to 21, Yale didn’t like its underclassmen having such convenient access to wine. And, in later years, Yale began making a point of micromanaging its retail rentals so as to grind out every minimal iota of higher income and status advantage.
A key part of Yale’s new strategy required wiping out all the old-time cherished and familiar retail institutions and replacing them with upmarket, high prestige, international brands whose shops would be required to remain open until 10 PM to help deter the street crime Yale had inadvertently invited via its own liberal politics.
Yaleâ€™s Vice President for New Haven Affairs Bruce Alexander… gives us [the rationale behind] the act Yale has performed upon Broadway. From the article:
â€œAlexander said he was walking on York Street near Broadway and noticing litter and storefronts such as barbershops and liquor stores. Since Yalies went through the area on their way to the Yale Co-op, he thought it needed an upgrade.â€
Yalies, you see, did not need haircuts, used books (from Whitlock’s), music (from Cutler’s), or wine (from Elliot Brause). They needed Patagonia, J. Crew, Urban Outfiteers, and Apple.
So perished our beloved Quality Wine. Elliott gracefully retired. He is remembered with affection by all who knew him.
Mark Steyn write a tribute to Mike Adams, an apparent recent suicide after being driven from his teaching job at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington by the Woke leftist mob.
At the time of his death Mike Adams was a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington – although not a very popular one with the administration. You will generally see him described in the media as “Controversial Professor Mike Adams”, as if it’s the subject he teaches: Mike Adams, Head of the Department of Controversy. It wasn’t always so. A two-time “Faculty Member of the Year” winner at the turn of the century, Adams grew more “controversial” as the university got more “woke”. He got a book deal with Regnery (publishers of America Alone), and was quoted favorably by Rush:
What American university wants a prof who’s published by Regnery and getting raves on the Rush Limbaugh show? The Deputy Assistant Under-Deans of Diversity all frosted him out, and Adams spent seven years in a lawsuit with UNCW – which he won, but it’s still seven years of your life you’ll never get back. …
It was all scheduled to come to an end on Friday with Adams’ painfully negotiated departure and a $504,702.76 settlement. Half-a-mil sounds a lot, but it was to be paid out over five years, if the university stuck to it, and it’s not really a lot, is it, for the obliteration of any trace of your presence at the school to which you devoted your entire teaching career.
On Thursday a neighbor called 911 because Mike Adams’ car hadn’t been moved for several days and there was no answer on the telephone. Inside police found the body of a 55-year-old man with, in cop lingo, a “gsw” – gunshot wound. …
He “seemed like” a happy warrior, but who knows? It’s a miserable, unrelenting, stressful life, as the friends fall away and the colleagues, who were socially distant years before Covid, turn openly hostile. There are teachers who agree with Mike Adams at UNCW and other universities – not a lot, but some – and there are others who don’t agree but retain a certain queasiness about the tightening bounds of acceptable opinion …and they all keep their heads down. So the burthen borne by a man with his head up, such as Adams, is a lonely one, and it can drag you down and the compensations (an invitation to discuss your latest TownHall column on the radio or cable news) are very fleeting.
The American academy is bonkers and has reared monsters. …
Pushing back can be initially exhilarating – and then just awfully wearing and soul-crushing: “I’m with you one hundred per cent, of course. But please don’t mention I said so…” “Oh, we had a lovely time at the Smiths’. Surprised not to see you there…” It is possible, I suppose, that Mike Adams was the victim of a homicide rather than the ultimate self-cancelation: Certainly there are plenty on Twitter and Facebook who would like to kill him, or at least cheer on any chap who would. …
And yet, if the facts are as they appear, a tireless and apparently “happy warrior” – exhausted by a decade of litigation, threats, boycotts, ostracization and more – found himself sitting alone – and all he heard in the deafening silence of the “silent majority” was his own isolation and despair. A terrible end for a brave man. Rest in peace.
Everyone is doing Peter Beard obituaries. Here is a good one by Elsa Cau from Les Grandes Ducs. (translated from the French.)
Socialite and partygoer, artist, photographer, friend of all, ladyâ€™s man, Peter Beard was a passionate and brilliant personality with many parts. He died last Sunday at the age of 80 [JDZ: Actually, Peter Beard was found dead April 19th at the age of 82, having disappeared from his Montauk house on March 31st.] leaving behind a completed oeuvre, an ode to freedom in all its forms, the self-portrait – in selected pieces – of someone wild and real.
We all know the moments. Those perfect moments, the storied instant with a good alignment of the planets, of their ideal conjunction. Put the same people in the same place, at the same time, and hold your breath, and you will still never get the same moment again. In That Summer (2017), the voiceovers of Peter Beard and Lee Radziwill tell us about such an absolute moment.
It was the Summer of 1972. In the photographer’s house in Montauk, their feet in the water, they are all there, smiling, radiant: Andy Warhol, the friend with whom Beard had so much artistic interaction since the 1960s; Mick Jagger, whom he had just followed on tour for two months with the Rolling Stones for the eponymous magazine, and his wife Bianca; the tormented and flamboyant writer Truman Capote, whom he met at the same time; the sisters Lee Radziwill – an old love, a friend until the end – and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
The almost eighty-year-old photographer lovingly flipped through the pages of the album in his studio in Montauk where he was still working until the end. â€œAccidents are very important,â€ he whispered.
And accidents seems to have played a key role in the turbulent existence of Peter Beard. He was born in 1938 of blue American blood (the grandson of railroad tycoon James Jerome Hill) in New York. He was given as a child a camera which would never leave him, and which gave him his obsession with capturing those around him and his observations. A few private schools, a Yale art degree later [JDZ: actually, he was Yale Class of 1961, but never bothered to graduate.], and heâ€™s was free as air.
While still a student, he started working for Vogue. At 17, he traveled for the first time to Africa: it was love at first sight – aren’t these things always an accident? He returned there regularly. It was just then, in the early 1960s, that Peter Beard became friends with Karen Blixen (authoress of Out of Africa, published under her pen name Isak Dinesen), so much so that he purchased land bordering her former farm in Kenya.
What does the youth do when he is beautiful, radiant, and rich? He lives, he loves. Peter Beard excelled at both and everyone who frequented his society has captivated memories of the man. From Studio 54 to the wilds of Kenya, Beard was one of those who feel at ease everywhere, bond with everyone with a smile, a joke, or a dance, and better, can draw you into sharing their own passions.
In the early 1960s, Beard met Dali. The two men laughed at the same pranks and quickly become friends. Around the same time, Francis Bacon became impressed by the photographs of Peter Beard published in The End of the Game, documenting the gradual disappearance of elephants, hippos and rhinos in Africa. The two men met, appreciate one another, and became close friends. These were only two examples among so many friends, there were so many.
And they are also animals, essentially, Beard’s women (one recalls Iman, that he was the first to discover and use as a model), it is that which he loved, that he photographed, and which inspires him. Stretched, elongated, hanging from liana vines next to antelopes, cheetahs or giraffes, with intense gazes and the deportment of queens, they are just as fundamental to his photographic work as the animals themselves. Since the early 1970s, moreover, he had united his two passions with a mixture of modified photographs, writings and collages.
But ultimately, these two passions were one: that of life. Whether he was in some remote four corner of the world, charged by an elephant (he was almost killed in 1996), being a party animal in New York, or serene and rested in his house in Montauk, he immortalized the life he observes, excitement and wildness, happiness and injustice.
â€œWithout memory, there is no life,â€ said Lee Radziwill in her aged, smoky voice. In 1972, the troop of friends had gone out to scout to film Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, respectively aunt and cousin of Lee and Jackie, American socialites, singer and dancer gently crossed out.
In their large, almost ruin of a house in the Hamptons, where they lived surrounded by cats, the gang of friends gathered for the summer running after lost time and listening to the eccentric stories of the amazing life of the two women. Stories from a bygone era, from the glorious Hamptons to the grand mansions where one was entertained and from a New York of glitter and madness, which foreshadowed the classic of the American documentary: Gray Gardens (1975).
A stroll through an era forgotten by a band of young and carefree troublemakers, in the same way that generations of lovers will stroll for a long time, together, in the pictures of Peter Beard in search of a bygone era.
A particularly famous photograph by Peter Beard (characteristically individualized) shows Beard writing in his journal from inside the jaws (of a freshly deceased) crocodile. Apparently, there was a price for the photo. The croc went into rigor mortis, its jaws tightened and the camp servants had a lot of difficulty getting the suffering Beard out from between the now painfully clamped jaws.
From the lack of comments on the previous postings about Peter Beard, I take it that many readers are unacquainted with the works and colorful career of that illustrious writer, photographer, adventurer, and womanizer. I figured I ought to do something about that.
When I was an undergraduate at Yale, in my residential college (Berkeley), there was a strikingly handsome upperclassman who had a considerable physical resemblance to Peter Beard (Silliman ’61). This fellow had parked outside the college on Elm Street a new bright red Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider, which he had received as a gift from a female admirer. While most of us worked summers on Construction or other disagreeable jobs, this particular escapee from Valhalla raised his annual Yale tuition by working as a gigolo on the French Riviera. He was always happy to tell the rest of us all about it, and he always suggested firmly that we really ought to go and do likewise. Of course, just ask yourself: how many undergraduate males look like Peter Beard?
Peter Beard was a hard man to peg. A photographer of wildlife and beautiful women, a writer, an ethnologist, explorer, hunter, naturalist, conservationist, ladies man, married man, wise man. Good work if you can get it. But if youâ€™ve ever seen the video of him being trampled by an elephant, you might want to add â€œfoolâ€ to that considerable list. But however you cut it, youâ€™ll run dry of adjectives long before you ever had Peter Beard nailed down.
A 1996 article in Vanity Fair by Leslie Bennetts may be the fullest collection of “Half Tarzan, Half Byron” stories.
Last summer, he and his Danish girlfriend were out in Montauk, where Beard owns the last house on Montauk Point. “Peter’s girlfriend started ragging him about all his bad habits,” Tunney recalls. “She’s this strong Danish chick with a spandex suit on, and she said, ‘Peter, you smoke, you drink, you drug, you stay up all nightâ€”and you’re almost 60 years old! You need to start taking care of yourself. You should go running, like meâ€”five miles a day!’ ”
So Beard, wearing his usual dusty African sandals, obligingly accompanied her on a run. Tunney expected him to last about five minutes. “An hour later, the girlfriend comes back, dripping,” Tunney reports. “I said, ‘Where’s Peter?’ ”
“He loved it,” she gasped. “He said he just wanted to keep going.”
I thought the Telegraph did not really do him justice.
Sir Roger Scruton, who has died aged 75, was a philosopher and academic variously identified as â€œone of the nearest things Britain has to a public intellectualâ€, Britainâ€™s favourite â€œtoken reactionaryâ€ (his own description), and even â€œthe thinking manâ€™s skinheadâ€.
As one of the most contentious figures in British public life, Scruton operated as an academic, journalist and prolific writer, and a lightning rod for abuse and criticism from the political Left. He was regularly shouted down in universities and prevented from speaking, yet he enjoyed a reputation as a first-class professional philosopher among academics of all political persuasions.
Scruton was a man of parts, some of which seemed irreconcilable: barrister, aesthetician, teacher at Birkbeck College (part of London University with a tradition of a working-class intake), editor of the ultra-Conservative Salisbury Review, and enthusiastic fox hunter. He used to ride to hounds wearing Enoch Powellâ€™s old hunting clothes, although the jacket split the first time he used it.
Roger Scruton was a nearly unique personality: academic philosopher, public intellectual, adversarial lightning-rod to establishment culture, aesthetician, and Sportsman!
He wrote gracefully and was horrifyingly prolific. His books discuss, among other subjects, Philosophy, Conservatism, Religion, Architecture, Art, Wine, the Decline of the West, and Fox Hunting. I like Scruton very well, and even I’m not sure how many books he wrote.
He stopped hunting last February at the age of 75. In July:
Returning to London, I finally get to see the rheumatologist with whom I have booked an appointment. He talks of my lecture on Parsifal, at which he asked that forgotten question. And he delicately suggests, as a matter of some urgency, a CT scan. Alarmed by what he finds, he puts me in the hands of an oncologist who, concluding that otherwise I may be dead from cancer within a week, sets to work on me at once.
The current regime of chemo and so on obviously failed. Molliter ossa cubent! [“May the earth lay lightly on his bones.” — Ovid.]
Nat Morison, heir to Welbourne and uncrowned king of Northern Virginia Horse Country, passed away October 10th, aetatis 83.
He was a proud graduate of the University of Virginia who looked suspiciously at people tainted by association with such Yankee schools as Yale and Harvard.
His tastes were naturally antiquarian. After all, he ate his breakfast daily at the same table where George Washington (a regular guest at Welbourne) made notes for the Constitutional Convention of 1787. One window of his house’s second floor features a never-completed inscription by the “Gallant Pelham,” who was interrupted while writing with his diamond ring on the glass in 1862 with a call to arms.
Nat Morison commonly followed the practice notoriously associated with British peers of dressing with decided flair in century old suits and ties, and shirts, and even shoes, inherited from generations of gentleman ancestors.
His colorful eccentricity and his passionate aversion to change inspired the affectionate tribute of a 2004 film comedy, Crazy like a Fox, in which an impecunious 8th generation Virginia aristocrat loses his stately Virginia manse to a couple of crass Yankee speculators (named Sherman, no less) and then proceeds to wage a guerilla war of resistance.
Virginia and the world are duller places without Nat Morison.
Molliter ossa cubent!
Richard Roberts, Middleburg huntsman, formerly huntsman for the Piedmont Fox Hounds, blows “Gone Away” for Nat.
Armed with a photographic memory, Professor Bloom could recite acres of poetry by heart â€” by his account, the whole of Shakespeare, Miltonâ€™s â€œParadise Lost,â€ all of William Blake, the Hebraic Bible and Edmund Spenserâ€™s monumental â€œThe Fairie Queen.â€
Never speak ill of the dead, like Harold Bloom, who told my American lit seminar that we should feel free to report his sexism and homophobia to the university president who, Bloom explained, would rather hide under his desk than fire him.
Harold Bloom was once asked why he was writing a multi-volume history of literary theory. “I can’t sleep anyway,” he said.
In 1999, Emmy Chang of the Yale Free Press interviewed Professor Bloom, and got a good sample of Bloom talk.
YFP. In the Shakespeare book you mention that since Shakespeare, weâ€™ve taken more after Iago than Othelloâ€™weâ€™ve learned more from Iago. And I wanted to ask you if you thought that was Shakespeareâ€™s fault or if it was our fault.
HB. That questionâ€™s unanswerable because we have been so formed by Shakespeare. That I think is the irony of [the Tenure Action Coalition]â€™the words they use are frequently words that he invented, that werenâ€™t in the language until he coined them. I think that it was Owen Barfield who said that it can be positively humiliating for us to realize that what we want to call our emotions, turn out to be Shakespeareâ€™s thoughts. Shakespeare is the Canon because Shakespeare is ourselves, and the answer therefore to the question of, Is the way in which weâ€™ve imitated Iago our fault or Shakespeareâ€™s fault, is both. Iâ€™m not sure that until you have the representation you call Hamlet, that you have anywhere, (in any language Iâ€™m able to read anyway), someone who changes every time he or she speaks, and who does it by this weird thing of overhearing oneself, which I canâ€™t find before Shakespeare. But if youâ€™re really going to talk about Shakespeareâ€™s culpabilityâ€™so far as I can tell, Shakespeare invented what Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky, and others afterwards started to call nihilism. Itâ€™s a pure Shakespearean invention.
YFP. [I wondered] whether you think the people who say that Shakespeare has nothing to say to themâ€™whether itâ€™s just a question of their being unwilling to listen, or if itâ€™s actually possible that they canâ€™t hear.
HB. Let me tell you an anecdote. As part of the early manifestation of [the Cornell Revolution of â€˜68-â€˜69], the black students of the university were instructed by their leadership to go into the library stacks and bring out as many books as they could carry and just dump them on the front circulation desk with the dramatic statement, â€˜These books are irrelevant to me as a black student.â€™ And it so happened [that] I was trying to check out a book at just that moment, when a young lady dumped a huge armful of books right next to me and shouted, â€˜These books are irrelevant to me as a black student.â€™ And one slid over to meâ€™it was the Oxford edition of the Collected Poems of John Keats. And I said to the young lady, who scowled at me, â€˜Are you quite sure that the poetry of John Keats is irrelevant to you? Have you read any of the poems of Keats?â€™ And she looked at me angrily and repeated, â€˜These books are irrelevant to me as a black student,â€™ and off she marched. So. But what can I possibly say to that? Thatâ€™s ideological, isnâ€™t it? To arrive here and say that itâ€™s your function to obliterate the best that has been read, the best that has been thought and said, in thirty centuries. They should go somewhere else. If they really think Shakespeare is irrelevant to them, why do they want to go to a university anyway? To get a union card of some kind?
YFP. You said before that we read to learn to talk to ourselves.
HB. I am not, as you know, a Shakespeare scholar, just an enthusiastâ€¦I assume that reading Shakespeare with the whole intensity of your being and with your awakened mind, with all of you, itâ€™s bound to be a kind of training in consciousness. I assume that that is as good a way of awakening that [inner] spark, of lighting it up, or of making that pneuma, that breath, come faster, and stronger, than any other. [It] doesnâ€™t necessarily make you a better person, [but it] certainly [makes] you a more capacious soul than you were already. I really feel that I can teach a more or less receptive and sensitive Yale undergraduate how enormous a work Shakespeareâ€™s Hamlet isâ€¦ You can teach peopleâ€™you can open them to wonder. To more wonder. Which is what Shakespeare is for. I talked [in Shakespeare] about awe as being the proper response. Maybe the really proper response is wonder.
Sagan received an appropriately admiring obituary in the Telegraph.
FranÃ§oise Sagan, who died yesterday aged 69, exploded on to the French literary scene in 1954 with her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, written when she was just 18.
The novel tells the story of a rebellious 17-year-old whose manipulations destroy the relationships between her libertine father and his various women. Published just as teenagers were emerging as a distinct social group, it was an immediate succes de scandale, delighting and shocking with its worldly cynicism and suave amorality. It won the Prix de Critiques and earned FranÃ§oise Sagan Â£500,000 and a papal denunciation. FranÃ§ois Mauriac, France’s most respected novelist, hailed the talent of “ce charmant petit monstre” on the front page of Le Figaro.
Yet though she continued to produce novels and plays at a rate of roughly one a year, FranÃ§oise Sagan’s writing lost its astringency and she began to be dismissed as a lightweight author of women’s romantic fiction – more Mills and Boon than enfant terrible.
Instead, propelled by her celebrity and wealth, she became better known for her rackety lifestyle – sports cars and crashes, serial lovers, addictions to gambling, whisky and drugs and run-ins with the tax authorities. An opinion survey conducted a few years after Bonjour Tristesse showed that most people in France thought her a film star, rather than a writer.
Fame – or rather, the Paris Match version of celebrity – clung tenaciously to FranÃ§oise Sagan. Moody, gamine and matchstick thin, elfin face peeping out from under a mop of cropped hair, in the 1950s and 1960s she seemed the epitome of Parisian radical chic. A frequenter of cafes, nightclubs and student barricades, she dined with Sartre, Hemingway, Henry Miller and the young FranÃ§ois Mitterand. Vanessa Redgrave admitted that she began smoking after reading that FranÃ§oise Sagan always smoked Gauloises and had a cup of coffee for breakfast: “Immediately, I decided this was sophistication itself.”
Her literary oeuvre offered a version of France in which personal responsibility counts as nothing against stylish living – a principle she was determined to live by. One of her tricks was to arrive at a nightclub with one escort and leave with another; and she always parked her sports cars outside the door of her destination whatever the traffic regulations. As if to illustrate the point, a cover of one of her novels showed her aged 19 or 20, draped in a long leopardskin coat over the door of an open-topped Jaguar, dark circles under her eyes. Yet despite the hype that inevitably accompanied everything that she did, she managed to remain remarkably honest about her own limitations as a writer and as a person.
When offered membership of the Academie Franaise, she turned it down: she had read enough good books, she said, to recognise the difference between the literary merit of Bonjour Tristesse (which she claimed never to have re-read) and the fuss made about it. She never uttered a word of regret for her “unbridled life” but confessed that she had never really grown up: “as a result I don’t really understand adult values and I never will”. …
FranÃ§oise Sagan’s life was more colourful copy than her books. Flushed with the success of Bonjour Tristesse, she sped down in her new Ferrari to St Tropez where she turned her publishers’ cheque into gambling chips, whisky and lines of cocaine – and indulged a prodigious appetite for sex. “She tried every experience,” a former lover recalled, “with two persons, with a woman, with three, four. She was in the avant garde, La bande Sagan – a group, with Juliette Greco. They were drunk almost every night and they were a most crazy group. La bande Sagan was the top of sophistication.”
In 1957, she survived a serious accident when her Aston Martin overturned on a sharp bend and left her in a coma for three days. Soon afterwards she married Guy Schoeller, a publisher 20 years her senior. When that broke down, she married an American sculptor, Robert Westhoff. They had a son, but that relationship too ended after only a year. Marriage, she reflected, is “like the matter of asparagus eaten with vinaigrette or hollandaise – a matter of taste but of no importance”. …
FranÃ§oise Sagan maintained her reputation as the voice of hedonistim with a fund of bons mots: “You should celebrate the end of a love affair as they celebrate death in New Orleans, with songs, laughter, dancing and a lot of wine”; “a dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you”; “Every little girl knows about love. It is only her capacity to suffer because of it that increases.”
But by the 1970s, with her brown hair turned miraculously blonde, fast living was taking its toll. Her passion for gambling became so intense that she asked the Ministry of the Interior to ban her from casinos. She had several brushes with death and in 1978 gave up drinking after a misdiagnosis of cancer of the pancreas. Her drug abuse landed her in court on several occasions and led to a demand from the Right-wing politician Jean Marie Le Pen that she be guillotined.
In 1990 a satirical puppet show on French television presented her as a disshevelled old bat butting in on every conversation, wild-eyed and gesticulating. “I believe I have the right to destroy myself as long as it doesn’t harm anyone,” she said. …
[S[he never quite managed to exorcise her demons. In 2001 she was convicted of tax fraud and given a one-year suspended jail sentence for failing to declare $726,000. But she said: “I always believe things are going to work out. Every time I see a film about Joan of Arc I’m convinced she’ll get away with it. It’s the only way to get through life.”