Intellectuality Strikes Again! Here Are 13 French Authors To Read

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If you have ever been interested in literature or planning to do so (please do:), you should know about French literature that has an unnegotiable place in all that has been written through the history of humanity. France is a country of revolutions and movements that led many authors to reflect their eras in the most artistic ways.  

Enjoy our list and hopefully grab a book afterward!

1. Voltaire

The author of the satirical novella Candide, Voltaire is widely considered one of France's greatest Enlightenment writers.

Voltaire wrote poetry and plays, as well as historical and philosophical works. Among the earliest of Voltaire's best-known plays is his adaptation of Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus, which was first performed in 1718.  

Voltaire moved to Prussia in 1750 and spent later years in Geneva and Ferney. By 1778, he was recognized as an icon of the Enlightenment's progressive ideals, and he was given a hero's welcome upon his return to Paris.

2. La Fontaine

La Fontaine was a famous French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. He is known above all for his fables.

After a long period of royal suspicion, he was at last admitted to the French Academy and his reputation in France has never faded since. Evidence of this is found in the many pictures and statues of the writer, as well as later depictions on medals, coins, and postage stamps.

3. Balzac

Novelist, playwright, essayist and literary critic Honoré de Balzac become one of the most well-known French writers, earning his true reputation from his extraordinary way of writing. 

In 1835, he published the most famous novel of his lifetime, Le Père Goriot. Over the course of his career, de Balzac invented literary realism and wrote 91 novels and short stories. From 1829 until his death—on August 18, 1850, in Paris, France—he worked on his serial novel, La Comédie Humaine.

4. Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and dramatist who was the most important of the French Romantic writers. 

Though regarded in France as one of that country’s greatest poets, he is better known abroad for such novels as Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) and Les Misérables (1862).

While Hugo had derived his early renown from his plays, he gained wider fame in 1831 with his historical novel Notre-Dame de Paris.

After his daughter’s death, he found relief above all in working on a new novel, which became Les Misérables, published in 1862 after work on it had been set aside for a time and then resumed to become one of the most famous novels of the world.

5. Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas is a celebrated French author best known for his historical adventure novels, including The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

Dumas was a prolific writer of essays, short stories, and novels, as well as plays and travelogues.

Among his many volumes of romantic novels, he also penned the fantasy novel The Wolf Leader, which is considered one of the earliest werewolf-themed books. 

The popularity of his writing made Dumas a household name in France and a celebrity throughout much of Europe.

6. Gustave Flaubert

He is the much-celebrated author of the scandalous Madame Bovary (1857) and one of the most influential novelists of his time who wrote fiction in a naturally realistic manner. He was known to research his subjects thoroughly and infuse psychological realism in his characters. Gustave was a man of style, be it his love for art, his writing or attire.

A perfectionist by nature, Flaubert’s publishing frequency was much less than that of his peers. He would spend days and sometimes even weeks to compose a single page. And he was still never satisfied with what he wrote. Gustave worked very hard on his writing and refused to use synonyms, instead he believed in the principle of finding le mot juste (the right word) always.

7. Émile Zola

Émile Zola was one of the most prominent French novelists of the late 19th century.

He was perhaps one of the most famous and controversial figures ever known on the French literary scene. Zola was born in Paris, the only child of an Italian immigrant and a French mother. The father died when Zola was about nine years old, leaving the mother and Emile in extreme financial straits. Certainly, during these years, he learned a great deal about poverty, which often appears in many of his subsequent novels.

In his later life, Zola became a champion of many causes. His famous article J'accuse became a bible for the left-wing radicals. 

Germinal is the thirteenth novel in Émile Zola's twenty-volume series Les Rougon-Macquart. Often considered Zola's masterpiece and one of the most significant novels in the French tradition, the novel – an uncompromisingly harsh and realistic story of a coalminers' strike in northern France in the 1860s

8. Guy de Maupassant

The short stories of writer Guy de Maupassant detail many aspects of French life in the 19th century.

French writer Guy de Maupassant is famous for his short stories, which paint a fascinating picture of French life in the 19th century. He was prolific, publishing over 300 short stories and six novels, but died at a young age after ongoing struggles with both physical and mental health.

9. Jean Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre was a 20th-century intellectual, writer, and activist who put forth pioneering ideas on existentialism.

Born on June 21, 1905, in Paris, France, Jean-Paul Sartre was a pioneering intellectual and proponent of existentialism who championed leftist causes in France and other countries. He wrote a number of books, including the highly influential Being and Nothingness, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964, though he turned it down. He had a relationship with noted intellectual Simone de Beauvoir.

10. Albert Camus

Albert Camus was a French-Algerian writer best known for his absurdist works.

Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondavi, French Algeria. Camus became known for his political journalism, novels, and essays during the 1940s. 

Camus became political during his student years, joining first the Communist Party and then the Algerian People's Party. As a champion of individual rights, he opposed French colonization and argued for the empowerment of Algerians in politics and labor. Camus would later be associated with the French anarchist movement.

His best-known works, including The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947), are exemplars of absurdism. Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

11. Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano is a 21st-century French writer who more than 40 books used his fascination with the human experience of World War II to examine individual and collective identities, responsibilities, loyalties, memory, and loss. 

In 2014 he became the 15th Frenchman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Upon announcing the prize winner, the Swedish Academy cited “the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”

12. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, usually identified as J. M. G. Le Clézio, is a French-Mauritian writer and professor. 

The author of over forty works, he was awarded the 1963 Prix Renaudot for his novel Le Procès-Verbal and the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature for his life's work, as an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."

13. Marc Lévy

The French novelist used to own a company specializing in computer graphics in France and the United States. In 1989, he lost majority control of the group and resigned, starting again from scratch. 

At thirty-seven, Marc Levy wrote a story for the man that his son would grow up to be. In early 1999, his sister, a screenwriter (now a film director), encouraged him to send the manuscript to Editions Robert Laffont, who immediately decided to publish If Only It Were True

His nine novels have been translated into 41 languages, selling some 18 million copies.

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