Famous French Essayists

Find out more about the greatest French Essayists, including Voltaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Houellebecq and Henri Bergson.

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 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.

 2 Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire
4
Famous As: Poet
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

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.
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 4 Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq
4
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. 

 5 Jean Genet

Jean Genet
4
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.

 6 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.

 7 Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak
3
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.

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 8 Tristan Tzara

Tristan Tzara
3
Famous As: Romanian and French Avant-Garde Poet, essayist and performance artist
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.   

 9 Éric Zemmour

Éric Zemmour
3
Famous As: Essayist
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.

 10 George Steiner

George Steiner
3
Famous As: Literary critic, Essayist, Philosopher, Novelist
Birthdate: April 23, 1929
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Died: February 3, 2020

 11 Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar
3
Famous As: Novelist
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

Gaston Bachelard
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 27, 1884
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bar-sur-Aube, France
Died: October 16, 1962

 13 Edmond Rostand

Edmond Rostand
3
Famous As: Former poet and dramatist associated with neo-romanticism, became best-known for his 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac
Birthdate: April 1, 1868
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Marseille, France
Died: December 2, 1918

 14 Tzvetan Todorov

Tzvetan Todorov
3
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: March 1, 1939
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Sofia, Bulgaria
Died: February 7, 2017

Tzvetan Todorov was a Bulgarian-French historian, philosopher, literary critic, and sociologist. He completed his doctorat ès lettres at the University of Paris and had a brilliant academic career. He helped to found the journal Poétique and served as one of its managing editors. He authored many books, including Conquest of America: The Question of the Other. 

 15 Georges Perec

Georges Perec
3
Famous As: Novelist
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

 16 Paul Lafargue

Paul Lafargue
3
Famous As: Journalist, Writer
Birthdate: June 15, 1842
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Died: November 25, 1911

 17 Romain Rolland

Romain Rolland
3
Famous As: Playwright, Essayist, Novelist
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.

 18 Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Francois de La Rochefoucauld
3
Famous As: Author
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.

 19 J. M. G. Le Clézio

J. M. G. Le Clézio
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: April 13, 1940
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Nice, France

Nobel Prize-winning French-Mauritian author J. M. G. Le Clézio is also a renowned academician who has taught at Nanjing University. His debut novel, Le Procès-Verbal, or The Interrogation, which he had penned at 23, won him the Prix Renaudot. His works also include short stories, children’s tales, and travel diaries.

 20 J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 31, 1735
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Caen, France
Died: November 12, 1813

 21 Robert de Montesquiou

Robert de Montesquiou
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: March 7, 1855
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: December 11, 1921

 22 George Psalmanazar

George Psalmanazar
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: 1679 AD
Birthplace: South France
Died: May 3, 1763

 23 Charles Péguy

Charles Péguy
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: January 7, 1873
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Orléans, France
Died: September 5, 1914

 24 Gérard de Nerval

Gérard de Nerval
3
Famous As: Best known for his novellas and poems, especially the collection Les Filles du feu (The Daughters of Fire)
Birthdate: May 25, 1808
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: January 26, 1855

 25 Sully Prudhomme

Sully Prudhomme
3
Famous As: Poet, Essayist, and was the first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901
Birthdate: March 16, 1839
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 6, 1907

 26 Robert Faurisson

Robert Faurisson
3
Famous As: British-born French academic who became best known for Holocaust denial.
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.

 27 Alain Soral

Alain Soral
3
Famous As: Essayist known for Holocaust denial
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.

 28 Dionys Mascolo

Dionys Mascolo
3
Famous As: Left-wing Political Activist, Essayist
Birthdate: February 11, 1916
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Val-d'Oise, France
Died: August 20, 1997

 29 Pierre Klossowski

Pierre Klossowski
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 9, 1905
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 12, 2001

 30 Albert Memmi

Albert Memmi
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 15, 1920
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Tunis, Tunisia
Died: May 22, 2020

 31 Guy Gilbert

Guy Gilbert
3
Famous As: Priest
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.

 32 Pierre Drieu La Rochelle

Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
2
Famous As: Writer
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.

 33 Jean Giraudoux

Jean Giraudoux
2
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: October 29, 1882
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Bellac, France
Died: January 31, 1944

 34 Daniel Pennac

Daniel Pennac
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 1, 1944
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Casablanca, Morocco

 35 Vernon Lee

Vernon Lee
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 14, 1856
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
Died: February 13, 1935

British author Violet Page wrote under the pseudonym Vernon Lee and dressed without inhibitions. Rumors claimed she was a lesbian, though she never stated so. The poet and critic is best remembered for her work on aesthetics, Belcaro. She was also a skilled harpsichord player and a true-blue feminist.

 36 Julien Green

Julien Green
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 6, 1900
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 13, 1998

 37 Bianca Lamblin

Bianca Lamblin
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: April 29, 1921
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Lublin, Poland
Died: November 5, 2011

 38 Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: February 11, 1657
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Rouen, France
Died: January 9, 1757

 39 Léon Bloy

Léon Bloy
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: July 11, 1846
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Notre-Dame-de-Sanilhac, Sanilhac, France
Died: November 3, 1917

 40 Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois

Jean-Marie Collot d'Herbois
2
Famous As: Actor
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.

 41 Joseph Joubert

Joseph Joubert
2
Famous As: Philosopher, Essayist, Writer
Birthdate: May 7, 1754
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Montignac
Died: May 4, 1824

 42 Julien Benda

Julien Benda
2
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: December 26, 1867
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: June 7, 1956

 43 Gisèle Halimi

Gisèle Halimi
2
Famous As: Lawyer
Birthdate: July 27, 1927
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: La Goulette, Tunisia
Died: July 28, 2020

 44 Emmanuel Mounier

Emmanuel Mounier
2
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: April 1, 1905
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Grenoble, France
Died: March 22, 1950

 45 Henry de Montherlant

Henry de Montherlant
2
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: April 20, 1895
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 21, 1972

 46 Edgar Faure

Edgar Faure
2
Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: August 18, 1908
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Béziers, France
Died: March 30, 1988

Edgar Faure was a French historian, lawyer, and politician. After serving as the Prime Minister of France in 1952, Faure went on to serve as Prime Minister again from 1955 to 1956. Faure also served as the President of the National Assembly from 1973 to 1978. He played an important role in the creation of the Assembly of European Regions.

 47 Stéphane Hessel

Stéphane Hessel
2
Famous As: Diplomat
Birthdate: October 20, 1917
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: February 26, 2013

Stéphane Hessel was a concentration camp survivor and a French Resistance member. He studied at the École Normale Supérieure and served in the army for a while. He became a resistance member during World War II and was taken to a concentration camp. He survived the ordeal and later became an ambassador and diplomat. He was also a published author. 

 48 Paul Morand

Paul Morand
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: March 13, 1888
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: July 24, 1976

Twentieth-century French diplomat Paul Morand was also a celebrated author. In his initial works, such as Closed All Night, he used techniques such as going back and forth in time. His short stories and novels included The Harried Man and Be Quiet. He also penned travel accounts and biographies.

 49 Francis Ponge

Francis Ponge
2
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: March 27, 1899
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Montpellier, France
Died: August 6, 1988

 50 Louis-Sébastien Mercier

Louis-Sébastien Mercier
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: June 6, 1740
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 25, 1814