Famous 20th Century French Writers

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Albert Camus

Albert Camus
7
Famous As: Philosopher & Novelist
Birthdate: November 7, 1913
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Drean, Algeria
Died: January 4, 1960

Albert Camus was a French philosopher and the second-youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. His philosophical views contributed to the rise of absurdism, a philosophical concept. Also a prolific writer, Albert Camus had an illustrious literary career; most of his philosophical essays and novels are still influential.

 2 Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre
8
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 21, 1905
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 15, 1980

Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher, writer, literary critic, and political activist. One of the most important personalities in the philosophy of phenomenology and existentialism, Sartre played a crucial role in 20th-century French philosophy. His work continues to influence literary studies, post-colonial theory, sociology, and critical theory. He was honored with the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature.

 3 Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust
5
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: July 10, 1871
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Neuilly-Auteuil-Passy, France
Died: November 18, 1922

Marcel Proust was a French novelist, essayist, and critic best known for writing the world-renowned novel In Search of Lost Time, which was published between 1913 and 1927 in seven parts. Many writers and critics regard him as one of the 20th century's most influential and important authors.

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 4 Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Antoine de Saint-Exupery
6
Famous As: Novelist, Aviator & Journalist
Birthdate: June 29, 1900
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Lyon, France
Died: July 31, 1944

French writer, poet, aristocrat, and journalist, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is best remembered for his novella, The Little Prince. He was a pioneering aviator as a young man. A successful commercial pilot before World War II, he joined the French Air Force at the start of the war. Equally successful as a writer, he won several of France's highest literary awards.

 5 Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau
6
Famous As: Poet, Playwright, filmmaker
Birthdate: July 5, 1889
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Maisons-Laffitte, France
Died: October 11, 1963
While Jean Cocteau preferred calling himself a poet, his multidimensional works consisted of novels such as Les Enfants Terribles and films directed by him such as La Belle et la Bête. Cocteau relied on motifs such as eyes, blood, and mirrors, and mingled mythology and modernism.

 6 Eugene Ionesco

Eugene Ionesco
3
Famous As: Playwright and dramatist
Birthdate: November 26, 1909
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Slatina, Romania Slatina, Romania
Died: March 28, 1994

 7 Colette

Colette
8
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: January 28, 1873
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, France
Died: August 3, 1954

Colette was a French author who received a nomination for the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. She is remembered for her novella Gigi, which inspired the 1958 movie and the 1973 musical of the same name. Her life and work have inspired several films, including the 2018 biographical drama film Colette, where Keira Knightley played the title role.

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 8 Anais Nin

Anais Nin
6
Famous As: Diarist
Birthdate: February 21, 1903
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris, France
Died: January 14, 1977

French-Cuban-American diarist, essayist, and novelist Anais Nin wrote several volumes of journals, erotica, novels, critical studies, essays, and short stories. Her journals and diaries are among her most studied works. She had a deep interest in psychoanalysis and studied it extensively with René Allendy and Otto Rank. Critics consider her one of the finest writers of female erotica.

 9 Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 9, 1908
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 14, 1986
French author and existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir is best remembered for her feminist treatise The Second Sex and her novels The Mandarins and She Came to Stay. Her literary contributions also include essays, biographies, and her autobiographical works. She won the Prix Goncourt and the Jerusalem Prize.

 10 Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon
4
Famous As: Psychiatrist
Birthdate: July 20, 1925
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Fort-de-France, Martinique, France
Died: December 6, 1961

Frantz Fanon was a French-West Indian born in Martinique, a former French colony. A skilled psychiatrist and physician, he realized the impact of colonialism on the human mind while treating French soldiers and Algerians. The author of books such as The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon supported the Algerian independence movement.

 11 Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 31, 1915
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Prades
Died: December 10, 1968

American Trappist monk and theologian Thomas Merton was ordained a priest and named Father Louis. He was a member of the monastery Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. He is remembered for his bestselling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and for his study of Eastern religions such as Buddhism.

 12 Lilian Thuram

Lilian Thuram
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Famous As: Football player
Birthdate: January 1, 1972
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, France

French former footballer Lilian Thuram, who is now a renowned author, with books on racism such as White Thinking to his credit. His 142 appearances for the French national team made him the most capped player of his country, while he was part of the 1998 FIFA World Cup-winning squad.

 13 Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin
4
Famous As: Chef
Birthdate: December 18, 1935
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Bourg-en-Bresse, French Third Republic France

 14 Ève Curie

Ève Curie
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 6, 1904
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: October 22, 2007

French and American writer, journalist, and pianist Ève Curie was one of the daughters of scientists Marie Curie and Pierre Curie. She was the only one in the Curie family who did not choose a career in science. She authored her mother’s biography and was actively involved with UNICEF, helping women and children in developing countries.

 15 Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes
4
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: November 12, 1915
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France
Died: March 25, 1980
Born to middle-class parents in France, literary theorist and critic Roland Barthes explored Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiology and influenced fields such as structuralism. His iconic works, such as Mythologies and The Death of the Author, influenced later thinkers. He died of injuries sustained in a road accident at 64.

 16 Robert Clary

Robert Clary
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Famous As: Actor
Birthdate: March 1, 1926
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France

 17 Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu
4
Famous As: Sociologist
Birthdate: August 1, 1930
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Denguin, France
Died: January 23, 2002

Renowned sociologist and intellectual Pierre Bourdieu is best remembered for his theory of habitus. Initially sent to Algeria as part of the French Army, he later taught and conducted ethnographic research there. His best-known work remains La Distinction, and he also inspired a hit French documentary.

 18 Benoit Mandelbrot

Benoit Mandelbrot
5
Famous As: Mathematician, Economist, Professor, Scientist, Writer, Computer scientist
Birthdate: November 20, 1924
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Warsaw
Died: October 14, 2010

Noted mathematician and polymath, Benoit B. Mandelbrot is perhaps best known for his work on fractal. He not only coined the term, but also used computer-constructed images to illustrate the mathematical definition. Also credited with the discovery of Mandelbrot set and Mandelbrot law, he established that even those things which were apparently chaotic or rough had a "degree of order".

 19 Anna Karina

Anna Karina
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Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: September 22, 1940
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Solbjerg, Denmark
Died: December 14, 2019

Anna Karina was a Danish-French film actress, singer, and director. She often collaborated with French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard and appeared in many of his films, including My Life to Live and Bande à part. She set up her own production company in 1972 and made her directorial debut with Vivre ensemble. She was also a published author. 

 20 Jean Giraud

Jean Giraud
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Famous As: Artist
Birthdate: May 8, 1938
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Nogent-sur-Marne, France
Died: March 10, 2012

 21 Auguste Escoffier

Auguste Escoffier
4
Famous As: Chef
Birthdate: October 28, 1846
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Villeneuve-Loubet, France
Died: February 12, 1935

 22 Eric Ripert

Eric Ripert
4
Famous As: Chef
Birthdate: March 2, 1965
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Antibes, France

 23 Antonin Artaud

Antonin Artaud
5
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 4, 1896
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Marseille, France
Died: March 4, 1948

Antonin Artaud was a French writer, poet, dramatist, and theater director. Known for his raw, surreal, and transgressive themes, he was a major figure in 20th-century theater. He outlined his theories in the Theatre of Cruelty movement, expressed in the form of essays and plays. He died of cancer at the age of 51.  

 24 Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq
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Famous As: Author
Birthdate: February 26, 1956
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Saint Pierre, Réunion

Michel Houellebecq is a French author known for his novels, essays, and poems. He also occasionally makes films. As controversial as he is popular, he has been accused of obscenity, misogyny, racism, and Islamophobia. His works generally receive positive responses and some critics consider him one of the greatest living authors today. He is a recipient of the Prix Goncourt. 

 25 Dora Maar

Dora Maar
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Famous As: Photographer, Artist, Painter, Poet, Choreographer, Sculptor, Model
Birthdate: November 22, 1907
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris
Died: July 16, 1997

Born to a French mother and a Croatian father, Dora Maar spent her childhood in Argentina and later studied art in Paris. The renowned surrealist artist and photographer later gained fame as Pablo Picasso’s lover and muse, and was featured in his paintings such as Weeping Woman.

 26 René Girard

René Girard
5
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: December 25, 1923
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Avignon, France
Died: November 4, 2015

René Girard was a French philosopher of social science, literary critic, and historian. Over the years, Girard's work has had an influence on disciplines like philosophy, anthropology, psychology, mythology, theology, economics, sociology, and cultural studies among other important disciplines. In 2006, René Girard was honored by the University of Tübingen with the prestigious Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize.

 27 Mylène Farmer

Mylène Farmer
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Famous As: Singer-songwriter, Actress
Birthdate: September 12, 1961
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Pierrefonds, Montreal, Canada

French-Canadian singer Mylène Farmer is best known for her hits such as Libertine and Les Mots, and for her collaborative acts with Laurent Boutonnat. Born Mylene Jeanne Gautier, she later changed her name to Mylene Farmer in honor of Hollywood star Frances Farmer, who was her idol.

 28 Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi
8
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: November 22, 1969
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Rasht, Iran

Marjane Satrapi is a graphic novelist, illustrator, cartoonist, children's book author, and film director. Satrapi achieved international recognition in the early-2000s after releasing her critically acclaimed graphic novels. She is best known for writing and directing an animated biographical drama film titled Persepolis, which received nominations at prestigious award ceremonies, such as the Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards, and Golden Globes.

 29 Romain Gary

Romain Gary
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: May 21, 1914
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Vilnius, Lithuania
Died: December 2, 1980

Romain Gary was a French novelist, diplomat, and film director of Jewish origin. He also served as an aviator during World War II. One of France’s most popular and prolific writers, he is the only author to have won the Prix Goncourt twice. He had a troubled personal life and died of suicide in 1980.

 30 Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 26, 1880
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Rome, Italy
Died: November 9, 1918

French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was a significant figure of the avant-garde movement. It is believed he had coined the terms Cubism, Surrealism, and Orphism. Known for his iconic poem Chanson du mal-aimé, written after being rejected by a lover, he also developed the typography-based concrete poetry in the collection Calligrammes.

 31 R. D. Laing

R. D. Laing
3
Famous As: Psychiatrist
Birthdate: October 7, 1927
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Govanhill
Died: August 23, 1989

Psychiatrist R. D. Laing was known for his different perspective on mental illnesses, particularly psychosis. Known as anti-psychiatry, his theory of resolving mental ailments opposed the age-old shock therapy. His written works include The Divided Self. He was also a talented poet and had fathered 10 children by four women.

 32 Andre Gide

Andre Gide
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 22, 1869
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: February 19, 1951

Nobel Prize-winning French author Andre Gide is remembered for exhibiting the conflict between sexuality and the puritanical standards of society through his works. Much of his work was autobiographical and used the confessional format. A homosexual himself, he defended homosexuality through works such as Corydon.

 33 Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 22, 1947
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Beaune, France

Holberg Prize-winning French sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour had initially studied theology and even received his PhD in the subject. His later research Ivory Coast drew him to anthropology, and he soon gained fame as a renowned academic in the field, having co-written iconic books such as Laboratory Life.

 34 Gabriel Matzneff

Gabriel Matzneff
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 12, 1936
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

 35 Betsy Drake

Betsy Drake
5
Famous As: Actor, Novelist, Writer, Screenwriter, Stage actor, Television actor, Model
Birthdate: September 11, 1923
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Paris
Died: October 27, 2015

 36 Jean Genet

Jean Genet
8
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: December 19, 1910
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 14, 1986

Jean Genet was a French playwright, novelist, essayist, poet, and political activist. Genet is best remembered for his transformation into a writer and playwright after spending his early life as a petty criminal and vagabond. His best-known works include novels, such as Our Lady of the Flowers and The Thief's Journal.

 37 Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze
4
Famous As: Philosopher, Historian, Writer, University teacher, Philosophy historian, Journalist
Birthdate: January 18, 1925
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris
Died: November 4, 1995

Gilles Deleuze was a French philosopher who wrote extensively on philosophy, film, fine art, and literature. Widely regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Deleuze's works have influenced a wide range of disciplines, such as philosophy, literary theory, and art. His work has also influenced movements like postmodernism and post-structuralism.

 38 Emmanuel Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas
3
Famous As: Philosopher, University teacher, Ethicist, Writer
Birthdate: January 12, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kaunas
Died: December 25, 1995

 39 Anatole France

Anatole France
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: April 16, 1844
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: October 12, 1924

Anatole France was a French poet, novelist, and journalist. Renowned for writing many best-sellers, Anatole France was one of the most respected French writers of his generation. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1921 for his brilliant literary achievements.

 40 Mireille Mathieu

Mireille Mathieu
5
Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: July 22, 1946
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Avignon, France
French singer Mireille Mathieu began her career by participating in an annual singing contest in Avignon. She has recorded over 1200 songs in eleven languages in her career spanning over four decades. With more than 150 million albums sold worldwide, the chanteuse is classically known for her illustrious crooning. In 1974, she won the German "Bambi" Music Award.

 41 Andre Malraux

Andre Malraux
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: November 3, 1901
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: November 23, 1976

A prominent supporter of President Charles de Gaulle, author Andre Malraux had served as the French minister of cultural affairs for a decade. He initiated anti-colonial and socialist movements in South-east Asia and also went on expeditions to discover mythical wonders such as the capital of the Queen of Sheba.

 42 Maurice Leblanc

Maurice Leblanc
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: December 11, 1864
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Rouen, French
Died: November 6, 1941

French author Maurice Leblanc is best known for creating the character Arsène Lupin, who has been part of 60 of Leblanc’s crime stories and novels. He quit his law studies to become an author. Several of his films have been turned into films. He also earned the Légion d'Honneur.

 43 Jacques Ellul

Jacques Ellul
3
Famous As: Theologian, Philosopher, Writer, Sociologist, University teacher
Birthdate: January 6, 1912
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Bordeaux
Died: May 19, 1994

French philosopher, Christian anarchist, and social scientist Jacques Ellul initially wished to be a naval officer but was pushed to study law. He is best remembered for his iconic volume La Technique, or The Technological Society. He taught social history and the history of law at various universities.

 44 Joël Robuchon

Joël Robuchon
4
Famous As: Chef
Birthdate: April 7, 1945
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Poitiers, Vienne, France
Died: August 6, 2018

 45 Julia Kristeva

Julia Kristeva
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 24, 1941
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Sliven, Bulgaria

 46 Tristan Tzara

Tristan Tzara
3
Famous As: Art collector, Poet, Writer, Diplomat, Film director, Translator, Playwright, Essayist, Composer, Musician, Performance artist, Literary critic
Birthdate: April 16, 1896
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Moineşti
Died: December 25, 1963

Tristan Tzara was a Romanian-born French avant-garde performance artist, poet, and essayist. A multi-talented personality, Tzara was also active as a playwright, journalist, art and literary critic, film director, and composer. Tristan Tzara is best remembered for co-founding the anti-establishment Dada movement, which he helped popularize. He is also credited with co-founding the Romanian literary and art magazine Simbolul.   

 47 Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak
5
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 25, 1971
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Strasbourg, France

Known widely as Turkey’s most popular female author, Elif Shafak is best known for her Booker-shortlisted bestseller 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. A fierce advocate for gender equality and LGBTQ rights, she is also a 3-time TEDGlobal speaker. She now lives in London, on a self-imposed exile.

 48 Bertrand Cantat

Bertrand Cantat
3
Famous As: Singer, Guitarist, Lyricist, Singer-songwriter, Poet
Birthdate: March 5, 1964
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Pau

Former frontman of the French rock band Noir Désir, Bertrand Cantat made headlines when he beat his girlfriend actor Marie Trintignant to death in a Lithuanian hotel. His sentence of 8 years was later commuted to 4. His ex-wife Krisztina Rády later committed suicide in his presence at her home.

 49 Judith Godrèche

Judith Godrèche
5
Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: March 23, 1972
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Paris, France

 50 Yasmina Reza

Yasmina Reza
3
Famous As: Playwright
Birthdate: May 1, 1959
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Paris, France