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 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.

 2 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.

 3 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. 

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 4 René Girard

René Girard
4
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.

 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
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 8 Romain Rolland

Romain Rolland
3
Famous As: Writer, Playwright, Essayist, Historian, Novelist, Musicologist
Birthdate: January 29, 1866
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Clamecy, Nièvre
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.

 9 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

 10 Paul Valery

Paul Valery
3
Famous As: Poet
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.

 11 Edmond Rostand

Edmond Rostand
3
Famous As: Playwright, Writer, Poet, Essayist, Screenwriter
Birthdate: April 1, 1868
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Marseille
Died: December 2, 1918

 12 Marguerite Yourcenar

Marguerite Yourcenar
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: June 8, 1903
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Brussels, Belgium
Died: December 17, 1987

 13 Gérard de Nerval

Gérard de Nerval
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: May 25, 1808
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris
Died: January 26, 1855

 14 Georges Perec

Georges Perec
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: March 7, 1936
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: March 3, 1982

 15 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.

 16 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

 17 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

 18 George Psalmanazar

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

 19 Charles Péguy

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

 20 Éric Zemmour

Éric Zemmour
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: August 31, 1958
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Montreuil, France

 21 Sully Prudhomme

Sully Prudhomme
3
Famous As: Poet, Writer, Essayist, Diarist
Birthdate: March 16, 1839
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Paris
Died: September 7, 1907

 22 Robert de Montesquiou

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

 23 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

 24 Pierre Klossowski

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

 25 Albert Memmi

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

 26 Guy Gilbert

Guy Gilbert
3
Famous As: Priest
Birthdate: September 12, 1935
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Rochefort, France

 27 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.

 28 Jean Giraudoux

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

 29 Daniel Pennac

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

 30 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

 31 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.

 32 Bianca Lamblin

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

 33 Julien Green

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

 34 Joseph Joubert

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

 35 Julien Benda

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

 36 Emmanuel Mounier

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

 37 Gisèle Halimi

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

 38 Henry de Montherlant

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

 39 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. 

 40 Edgar Faure

Edgar Faure
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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.

 41 Marcel Schwob

Marcel Schwob
2
Famous As: Writer
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.

 42 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.

 43 Francis Ponge

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

 44 Louis-Sébastien Mercier

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

 45 Sylvain Maréchal

Sylvain Maréchal
2
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: August 15, 1750
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: January 18, 1803

 46 Andreas Capellanus

Andreas Capellanus
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: 1150 AD
Birthplace: France
Died: 1220 AD

 47 Léon Daudet

Léon Daudet
2
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: November 16, 1867
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: June 30, 1942

 48 Maurice-Georges Paléologue

Maurice-Georges Paléologue
2
Famous As: French diplomat and writer
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. 

 49 Edgar Quinet

Edgar Quinet
2
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: February 17, 1803
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Bourg-en-Bresse, France
Died: March 27, 1875

Edgar Quinet was a French historian and intellectual. His father wanted him to pursue a business career, but he choose to engage in literary pursuits. He wrote several books and lectures on topics ranging from politics to religion. He participated in the 1848 Revolution which overthrew King Louis-Philippe of France. He was married to Romanian writer Hermiona Asachi. 

 50 Luc de Clapiers, marquis de Vauvenargues

Luc de Clapiers, marquis de Vauvenargues
2
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: August 6, 1715
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Aix-en-Provence, France
Died: May 28, 1747