Famous French Essayists

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Find out more about the greatest French Essayists, including Voltaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Houellebecq and Henri Bergson.
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 1 
Anais Nin
(French-Born American Novelist, Diarist and Short Story Writer)
Anais Nin
6
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.

 2 
Charles Baudelaire
(French Poet Known for His Handling of Rhyme & Rhythm and His Book 'Les Fleurs du mal')
Charles Baudelaire
4
Birthdate: April 9, 1821
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 31, 1867
French prose poet, essayist, and critic Charles Baudelaire was one of the first translators of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Best known for his book of poems Les Fleurs du mal, he is believed to have coined the word modernity and was associated with the symbolist and decadent movements.
 3 
Roland Barthes
(French Literary Theorist Best Known for His Essay Collection 'Mythologies' and His Essay 'The Death of the Author')
Roland Barthes
4
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.
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 4 
Michel Houellebecq
(Author Best Known for His Works 'Atomised' and 'The Map and the Territory')
Michel Houellebecq
4
Birthdate: February 26, 1956
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Saint-Pierre, Réunion, France

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. 

 5 
Elif Shafak
(Writer)
Elif Shafak
3
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.

 6 
Tristan Tzara
(French Writer Known for Being One of the Founders and Central Figures of the Anti-Establishment 'Dada Movement')
Tristan Tzara
3
Birthdate: April 28, 1896
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Moinești, Romania
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.   

 7 
Paul Valery
(French Poet, Essayist and Philosopher)
Paul Valery
3
Birthdate: October 30, 1871
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Sète, France
Died: July 20, 1945

Paul Valery was a French poet, philosopher, and essayist. Thanks to his immense contribution to literature, Valery received several nominations for the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. The title of the 2013 Japanese animated historical drama film The Wind Rises was inspired by one of Paul Valery's verses. Also, his poem Palme inspired James Merrill's celebrated poem, Lost in Translation.

 8 
Éric Zemmour
(French Far-Right Politician Known for His Controversial Views Regarding Immigration and Islam in France)
Éric Zemmour
3
Birthdate: August 31, 1958
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Montreuil, France

French far-right politician Éric Zemmour gained fame on the show Face à l'Info. He has also been a prominent political journalist for publications such as Le Quotidien de Paris and Le Figaro. The founder-leader of Reconquête, he was grabbed by the neck by an unknown man at his first campaign rally.

 9 
George Steiner
(Literary critic, Essayist, Philosopher, Novelist)
George Steiner
3
Birthdate: April 23, 1929
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Died: February 3, 2020
 10 
Francois de La Rochefoucauld
(French Moralist of the Era of French Classical Literature and Author of 'Maximes' and 'Memoirs')
Francois de La Rochefoucauld
3
Birthdate: September 15, 1613
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Rue des Petits-Champs, Paris, France
Died: March 17, 1680

French classical author Francois de La Rochefoucauld is best known for his use of the maxime, a French epigram. He had initially been part of the army that fought against the Spanish. He later grew up to be the quintessential 17th-century nobleman. His Mémoires and Maximes are his most-talked-about works.

 11 
Marguerite Yourcenar
(French Novelist, Essayist and First Woman Elected to the 'Académie Française')
Marguerite Yourcenar
3
Birthdate: June 8, 1903
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Brussels, Belgium
Died: December 17, 1987

Belgian-born French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, who later settled in the US, is best remembered for her award-winning works such as Mémoires d'Hadrien. She was also the first female member to be elected to the Académie Française. She used an anagram of her original last name, Crayencour, as her surname.

 12 
Gaston Bachelard
(Philosopher)
Gaston Bachelard
4
Birthdate: June 27, 1884
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bar-sur-Aube, France
Died: October 16, 1962
 13 
Georges Perec
(French Novelist and Filmmaker Well Known for His Experimental and Constrained Writing)
Georges Perec
3
Birthdate: March 7, 1936
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: March 3, 1982

French author and filmmaker Georges Perec lost his father in World War II and his mother to the Holocaust. After working as a paratrooper, a teacher, and an archivist, he was drawn to the Oulipo group and took to writing. He is best remembered for his award-winning novel La Vie mode d'emploi

 14 
Romain Rolland
(French Playwright, Essayist and Novelist Who Won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915)
Romain Rolland
3
Birthdate: January 29, 1866
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Clamecy, France
Died: December 30, 1944

Romain Rolland was a French novelist, essayist, dramatist, mystic, and art historian. In 1915, Rolland was honored with the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature. One of the most important supporters of Josef Stalin, Rolland is also remembered for his significant influence on Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud.

 15 
Edmond Rostand
(Former poet and dramatist associated with neo-romanticism, became best-known for his 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac)
Edmond Rostand
3
Birthdate: April 1, 1868
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Marseille, France
Died: December 2, 1918
 16 
Sully Prudhomme
(Poet, Essayist, and was the first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901)
Sully Prudhomme
3
Birthdate: March 16, 1839
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 6, 1907
Robert de Montesquiou
3
Birthdate: March 7, 1855
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: December 11, 1921
 18 
George Psalmanazar
3
Birthdate: 1679 AD
Birthplace: South France
Died: May 3, 1763
J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur
3
Birthdate: December 31, 1735
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Caen, France
Died: November 12, 1813
 20 
Charles Péguy
3
Birthdate: January 7, 1873
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Orléans, France
Died: September 5, 1914
 21 
Gérard de Nerval
(Best known for his novellas and poems, especially the collection Les Filles du feu (The Daughters of Fire))
Gérard de Nerval
3
Birthdate: May 25, 1808
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: January 26, 1855
 22 
Robert Faurisson
(British-born French academic who became best known for Holocaust denial.)
Robert Faurisson
3
Birthdate: January 25, 1929
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Shepperton, England
Died: October 21, 2018

British-born Robert Faurisson was interested in classical languages since his early days and had taught French literature at the University of Lyon. He later gained notoriety as a chief Holocaust denier. He also raised questions on the authenticity of Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s memoir and was later banned from teaching.

 23 
Alain Soral
(French Essayist and Non-fiction Writer Known for Holocaust Denial)
Alain Soral
3
Birthdate: October 2, 1958
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Aix-les-Bains, France

Apart from being an essayist and a filmmaker, Alain Soral is also a far-right extremist, who has been in trouble for his antisemitic tendencies. Once imprisoned for racism and Holocaust denial, he also established his own political organization, Égalité & Réconciliation, with the help of far-right students’ unions.

 24 
Dionys Mascolo
(Left-wing Political Activist, Essayist)
Dionys Mascolo
3
Birthdate: February 11, 1916
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Val-d'Oise, France
Died: August 20, 1997
 25 
Albert Memmi
(Writer)
Albert Memmi
3
Birthdate: December 15, 1920
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Tunis, Tunisia
Died: May 22, 2020
 26 
Pierre Klossowski
3
Birthdate: August 9, 1905
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 12, 2001
 27 
Guy Gilbert
(Priest)
Guy Gilbert
3
Birthdate: September 12, 1935
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Rochefort, France

French Roman Catholic priest Guy Gilbert was trained in Algeria and later began his spiritual career working with juvenile delinquents in France. He has mentored Belgian prince Laurent and has also worked for Radio Notre-Dame and La Croix. The Légion d’Honneur winner has also penned several books.

 28 
Gisèle Halimi
2
Birthdate: July 27, 1927
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: La Goulette, Tunisia
Died: July 28, 2020
 29 
Jean Giraudoux
(Novelist)
Jean Giraudoux
2
Birthdate: October 29, 1882
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Bellac, France
Died: January 31, 1944
 30 
Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
(French Novelist, Short Stories Writer and Political Essayist)
Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
2
Birthdate: January 3, 1893
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: March 15, 1945

Born into a middle-class French family, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle wished to enter diplomatic service but was forced to interrupt his career when World War I broke out. He later got inspired by Surrealism and penned books such as The Fire Within. He was also an advocate for fascism.

 31 
Daniel Pennac
2
Birthdate: December 1, 1944
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Casablanca, Morocco
 32 
Bianca Lamblin
2
Birthdate: April 29, 1921
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Lublin, Poland
Died: November 5, 2011
 33 
Léon Bloy
(Novelist)
Léon Bloy
3
Birthdate: July 11, 1846
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Notre-Dame-de-Sanilhac, Sanilhac, France
Died: November 3, 1917
 34 
Julien Green
(Writer)
Julien Green
2
Birthdate: September 6, 1900
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 13, 1998
Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle
2
Birthdate: February 11, 1657
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Rouen, France
Died: January 9, 1757
 36 
Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois
(French Actor, Dramatist, Essayist, and Revolutionary.)
Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois
2
Birthdate: June 19, 1749
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: June 8, 1796

Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois was a French actor, essayist, dramatist, and revolutionary. He played an important role during the Reign of Terror, serving as one of the most important members of the Committee of Public Safety. Although he is credited with saving Madame Tussaud from the Guillotine, Collot d'Herbois oversaw the execution of over 2,000 people in Lyon.

 37 
Joseph Joubert
(Philosopher, Essayist, Writer)
Joseph Joubert
2
Birthdate: May 7, 1754
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Montignac
Died: May 4, 1824
 38 
Julien Benda
(Philosopher)
Julien Benda
2
Birthdate: December 26, 1867
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: June 7, 1956
 39 
Emmanuel Mounier
(Philosopher)
Emmanuel Mounier
2
Birthdate: April 1, 1905
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Grenoble, France
Died: March 22, 1950
 40 
Henry de Montherlant
2
Birthdate: April 20, 1895
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 21, 1972
 41 
Francis Ponge
(Essayist)
Francis Ponge
2
Birthdate: March 27, 1899
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Montpellier, France
Died: August 6, 1988
Louis-Sébastien Mercier
2
Birthdate: June 6, 1740
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 25, 1814
 43 
Marcel Schwob
2
Birthdate: August 23, 1867
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Chaville, France
Died: February 26, 1905

French symbolist author Marcel Schwob is best known for his works such as The King In The Gold Mask and Imaginary Lives. His writings exhibit a strong influence of authors such as Edgar Allan Poe. He was also a qualified journalist and had traveled to places such as Asia and Australia.

 44 
Andreas Capellanus
2
Birthdate: 1150 AD
Birthplace: France
Died: 1220 AD
 45 
Maurice-Georges Paléologue
(French diplomat and writer)
Maurice-Georges Paléologue
2
Birthdate: January 13, 1859
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: November 21, 1944

Maurice-Georges Paléologue was a French diplomat and historian. He was also an essayist of great caliber. He played a pivotal role in the French entry into the First World War. At that time, he was the French ambassador to Russia and was in support of the Russian mobilization against Germany. He was also a published author of novels and essays. 

 46 
Léon Daudet
(Journalist)
Léon Daudet
2
Birthdate: November 16, 1867
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: June 30, 1942
Luc de Clapiers, marquis de Vauvenargues
2
Birthdate: August 6, 1715
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Aix-en-Provence, France
Died: May 28, 1747
 48 
Sylvain Maréchal
2
Birthdate: August 15, 1750
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: January 18, 1803
 49 
Hervé Bazin
(French Novelist, Poet and Essayist)
Hervé Bazin
1
Birthdate: April 17, 1911
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Angers, France
Died: February 17, 1996

French author Hervé Bazin is best known for his satirical portrayal of family issues, teenage problems, and marital discord. With renowned author René Bazin as his great-uncle, he was destined to be literary genius. He first tasted fame with Viper in the Fist, an autobiographical depiction of his unhappy childhood.

Étienne Pivert de Senancour
1
Birthdate: November 16, 1770
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: January 10, 1846