I Shall Live Bad If I Do Not Write and I Shall Write Bad If I Do Not Live

Françoise Sagan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The French playwright and novelist Françoise Sagan whose best known novel was “Bonjour Tristesse” led a passionate and eventful life. The following remark emphasizing the duality of a literary career has been ascribed to her:

I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.

I have been unable to find a good citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: A version of this statement appeared in “The New York Times” in 1956. The poet and book reviewer Harvey Breit asked an intermediary to inquire whether Françoise Sagan would be willing to write an article for the newspaper. The potential topics included: Paris, youth, or herself. Breit employed dialectical spelling to represent the accent and speech of Sagan’s response. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

What could I say about Parees that as not been said before? And youth? I feel forty years removed from youth. About myself? I can tell in one sentence: I shall live bad if I do not write and I shall write bad if I do not live.”

A native speaker of English would have used the word “badly” instead of “bad”, but the sentence reflects Sagan’s command of English in 1956.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The quotation appeared in a collection of “Best Quotes of ’54 ’55 ’56” compiled by James Beasley Simpson: 2

“I shall live bad if I do not write and I shall write bad if I do not live.”
Francoise Sagan, French novelist,
comment during visit to U.S.,
The New York Times, November 11, 1956.

In 1980 the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” printed a book review of “Night Bird: Conversations with Françoise Sagan”. The reviewer included a comment from the book followed by a modified version of the quotation using “badly” instead of “bad”. QI does not know whether this version occurred within the book: 3

. . . “I still prefer a life that has its ups and downs. A contented, uneventful life is no life at all, as far as I’m concerned.”

And she justifies this attitude with one short statement:

“I shall live badly if I do not write; I shall write badly if I do not live.”

The 1992 edition of “The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women” compiled by Rosalie Maggio included an instance using “badly”, but the citation did not match the quotation: 4

I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.
Françoise Sagan, in New York Times (1956)

The 1996 edition of “The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women” compiled by Rosalie Maggio included an instance using “bad” with a correct citation: 5

I shall live bad if I do not write and I shall write bad if I do not live.
Françoise Sagan, in The New York Times Book Review (1956)

In conclusion, QI believes that Françoise Sagan should receive credit for the remark printed in the 1956 citation in ‘The New York Times” although the quotation was relayed through an intermediary. The variant expression using “badly” may have been employed by Sagan at a later time, but QI has not yet found solid support for it.

(Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. He pointed out that there were two popular versions of the quotation. Mardy operates a valuable website listing many quotations.)

Notes:

  1. 1956 November 11, New York Times, Section: The New York Times Book Review, In and Out of Books by Harvey Breit, Quote Page 8, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1957, Best Quotes of ’54 ’55 ’56, Compiled by James Beasley Simpson, Topic: Authors, Quote Page 272, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1980 December 28, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Writing Justifies Her Life by Joana Oetter (Book Review of “Night Bird: Conversations with Françoise Sagan”) Quote Page 4E, Column 4, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1992 Copyright, The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Compiled by Rosalie Maggio, Topic: Writing, Quote Page 358, Column 2, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1996 Copyright, The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Compiled by Rosalie Maggio, Topic: Writers, Quote Page 764, Column 1, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)