Want to learn more about French authors who impacted the French art and literary world? This post will give you a list of the most famous French writers!
Over the years, France has produced some great writers and some of the finest works in the literary world.
French literature and, as an extension, European literature have gained a lot from the novels, plays, books, and publications produced by these notable literary figures.
And to give you a glimpse of who these noteworthy people are, I have compiled a list of 17 famous French writers of all time.
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Though I am just writing about 17, there are so many more great French authors, novelists, and writers who could not be included as I would have to write a book myself on them otherwise. But for now, I will just be focusing on the 17 best French writers of all time.
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Famous French Writers
The famous writers of France listed below have works ranging from comedy to history to science fiction to romanticism, and even tragedy and satires.
Each known for a particular genre, I am sure you will find an author who you resonate with below.
1. Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885)
Victor Hugo is one of the most famous writers of France, with a career spanning over six decades.
He gained worldwide fame for his novels, Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) and Les Misérables (1862) which is one of the famous books set in Paris but was also known for his poem collections like Les Contemplations (1856) and La Légende des siècles (1859).
He wrote a lot about romanticism which can be read in his dramatic works, Cromwell (1827) and Hernani (1830), while also being a passionate supporter of republicanism.
His work was so popular that many of his French poems and books inspired popular music both during his life and after that.
Besides being a great writer, author, and French poet, Victor also got involved in politics and served as a deputy in the French National Assembly and as a senator where he heavily campaigned for the removal of the death sentence.
Due to his great work and the influence he had on French art and social affairs, he was given the honor of being buried at the Panthéon in Paris along with other luminaries.
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2. Émile Zola (1840-1902)
When naming famous French novelists, Émile Zola’s name is usually somewhere at the top.
Known for his naturalism, a type of extreme realism with the idea that the environment determines human character, Émile has novels and plays supporting his thought process.
Besides being a novelist, he was also a journalist and playwright writing several short stories, especially at the beginning of his career.
His most famous literary work is a 20-volume series called Les Rougon-Macquart, out of which the 9th novel, Nana, is the most famous.
He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature twice, in 1901 and 1902.
3. Jules Verne (1828-1905)
Jules Verne is one of those famous French authors who gained popularity around the world as well.
His literary journey started with him writing plays while studying in law school, but his science fiction works like Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1872) are what made him so famous till date. They even earned him the title of “father of science fiction.”
His work was even translated into English and later adapted into movies that did very well too.
In fact, he is the 2nd most translated author in the world after Agatha Christie and just 1 spot ahead of William Shakespeare.
4. Voltaire (1694-1778)
François-Marie Arouet, known by his pen name Voltaire, knew he wanted to be a writer ever since he finished school, and he stayed true to his dream hence becoming one of the best French writers there lived during his time.
Apart from this, he was a leading figure of the French Age of Enlightenment and also a critic of French nobility and the Roman Catholic Church, which made him pursue voluntary exile in Britain, fearing imprisonment in France.
He also heavily criticized slavery and advocated for freedom of speech and a state that is separate from religion.
Just like Victor Hugo, Voltaire is another luminary whose remains are in the Panthéon.
To date, he remains one of the most famous French people in the literary world.
5. Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
One of the founders of realism in French literature, Honoré de Balzac, was considered a great French writer of his time.
His 1st successful publication was a novel called Les Chouans (1829). 4 years later, he published his 1st bestseller, Eugénie Grandet (1833), and 2 years after that, in 1835 came Le Père Goriot, and Le Lys Dans la Vallée.
But he is best known for his magnum opus, La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy), which comprised of 91 interlinked novels and short stories, and was published between 1829 and 1847. Unfortunately, it remained unfinished at the time of his death.
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6. Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
One of the most famous writers in France is Alexandre Dumas! He started his writing career as a playwright, gaining fame for his play, Henri III et sa cour.
Dumas, whose real name was Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie published over 100,000 pages in his lifetime.
Apart from this, his achievements include being one of the most widely read French authors and an author whose works have been adapted into nearly 200 films.
7. George Sand (1804-1876)
George Sand was a pen name used by one of the greatest female French authors, Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin.
Another author who is known for romanticism, Sand, got attention right from her 1st novel, Indiana (1832) but is known for her other works like La Petite Fadette, Rose et Blanche, and Ce Que Disent Les Fleurs, as well.
Her personal life was pretty controversial since she would dress as a man to get into places that didn’t allow women, smoked in public, and had numerous lovers, one of them being composer Frédéric Chopin.
Today, her life and works are celebrated in Musée de la Vie Romantique which is one of the free museums in Paris and you can also find her statue in Luxembourg Gardens.
8. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
One of the best French writers and philosophers of the 20th century, Jean-Paul Sartre, was also a playwright, screenwriter, and political activist.
He played an important role in the philosophy of phenomenology and existentialism and was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.
His famous works include La Nausée (Nausea) (1938), Being and Nothingness (1943), Age of Reason (1945), and Existentialism and Humanism (1946). He wrote quite a lot about the French working class and neglected minority groups.
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9. Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
Having started writing at a tender age, Marcel is regarded as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century.
He wrote in the journal Le Mensuel before starting to write an autobiographical novel titled Jean Santeuil, which he, unfortunately, could not finish due to his untimely death.
But he does have Du côté de chez Swann (The Way by Swann’s) (1913) and À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower) (1918) to count as his published works.
His most famous and monumental work, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), a series containing 7 volumes was originally meant to have 10 but was also left unfinished.
The last 3 books in the series were left before Proust passed away due to pneumonia. They were then edited and posthumously published by his brother, Robert Proust.
10. Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)
The 3rd writer on this list to be honored at the Panthéon is Antoine, known for his novella, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) (1943), which might seem like a children’s book, but upon reading it, you will discover its depth and wisdom, making it worth a read even if you’re an adult.
He was a laureate of many of France’s highest literary awards on top of winning the United States National Book Award.
On a personal level, Antoine was an aviator before he started writing and had joined the Free France air force at the start of World War II.
He disappeared on a recon mission in 1944, and his body was never found. He was later presumed dead.
11. Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
Charles Baudelaire is one of those underrated yet great French writers whose potential and worth you only realize when you read his essays and poems.
Charles’ best work was a book that contained nearly all of his poems, titled Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). But it wasn’t published until many years after he wrote it.
In fact, the 3rd edition of the series was posthumously published with 14 previously unpublished poems.
Charles is believed to have coined the term “modernity” through this series which paved the way for modernist movements.
On top of this, he holds the title of being one of the first translators of the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
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12. Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
Gustave’s first novel was titled November and took him 5 years to complete. But his literary career began with his 1st publication in a review called Le Colibri.
Among his literary works, his most famous one is titled Madame Bovary (1856), which was taken to court for obscenity but gained fame because of it.
The novel is said to be a great work of fiction and was later adapted into an opera. Gustave was widely regarded as one of the most famous French novelists, particularly for his realism in French literature.
13. Albert Camus (1913-1960)
French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus was the 2nd youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957, at the age of 44, making him one of the great French writers of his time.
His best-known publication is a novella titled L’Étranger (The Stranger) (1942). Apart from this, his other famous works include La Peste (The Plague) (1947) and La Chute (The Fall) (1956).
Le Premier Homme (The First Man) was his last work, an unfinished final novel that Camus was working on before he died in a car accident in 1960 at the age of 46. His daughter, Catherine Camus, later published the book in 1994.
14. Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
Simone de Beauvoir was a female activist and one of the most famous writers of France for her writings on feminist theory and feminist existentialism.
Her activism and advocacy of female rights contributed to France granting women the right to vote in 1946.
Apart from these, she also published She Came to Stay (1943), a fictional account of her open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, and the Mandarins (1954), for which she won the Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious literary prize in France making her one of the most famous French women in the literary world.
15. Molière (1622-1673)
Molière, a pen name adopted by Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, was regarded as one of the best French writers to be produced by France.
He donned many hats — that of a playwright, poet, and even an actor. His works have been acknowledged as a great contribution to the French language and literature.
His to-go genre was comedy and tragi-comedy, so much so that he is believed to be the creator of modern French comedy.
Some of his famous plays include L’École des femmes (The School for Wives) (1662), Tartuffe ou L’Imposteur (Tartuffe) (1664), Le Misanthrope ou L’Atrabilaire amoureux (The Misanthrope) (1666) and L’Avare (The Miser) (1668) which are performed, among others, at Comédie-Française, a renowned theatre in Paris.
16. Charles Perrault (1628-1703)
Charles Perrault is not only regarded as one of the most famous writers in France but his popularity is spread far and wide.
You may or may not have heard of him, but you would have definitely heard of his famous works, which include Puss in Boots (le Chat Botté), Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, which were included in his collection Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals or Tales of Mother Goose.
Charles did not anticipate that these folk/fairy tales would gain as much popularity as they did or even be relevant for countless generations succeeding his.
17. Marguerite Duras (1914-1996)
French screenwriter, playwright, novelist, and film director, Marguerite Duras, a pseudonym for her birth name Marguerite Germaine Marie Donnadieu, might have been Vietnamese by birth but is recognized among the great French writers of the 20th century.
Marguerite gained international fame for her script of the film Hiroshima mon amour (1959), earning her an Oscar nomination.
Her other famous work is L’Amant or The Lover (1984), an autobiographical novel that earned her a Prix Goncourt in the same year. The book was later adapted into a widely acclaimed film with the same English title in 1992.
Final Thoughts on the Best Writers from France
Being a country that celebrates art and literature, there is no shortage of French famous authors to write about.
However, I hope that this list of the best writers from France inspires you to not only read some of their greatest works but also try to learn more about how they influenced societies.
Which French writers resonated with you the most and whose work can’t you stop reading? Do let me know in the comments below.
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