The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary French Writers of all time. This list of famous French Writers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of French Writers.
With an HPI of 90.89, Voltaire is the most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 152 different languages on wikipedia.
François-Marie Arouet (French: [fʁɑ̃swa maʁi aʁwɛ]; 21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire (; also US: , French: [vɔltɛːʁ]), was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity—especially the Roman Catholic Church—as well as his advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. Voltaire was a versatile and prolific writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, histories, and scientific expositions. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets. He was one of the first authors to become renowned and commercially successful internationally. He was an outspoken advocate of civil liberties, and he was at constant risk from the strict censorship laws of the Catholic French monarchy. His polemics witheringly satirized intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day.
With an HPI of 89.96, Victor Hugo is the 2nd most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 164 different languages.
Victor-Marie Hugo (French: [viktɔʁ maʁi yɡo] (listen); 7 Ventôse year X [26 February 1802] – 22 May 1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. During a literary career that spanned more than sixty years, he wrote abundantly in an exceptional variety of genres: lyrics, satires, epics, philosophical poems, epigrams, novels, history, critical essays, political speeches, funeral orations, diaries, letters public and private, as well as dramas in verse and prose. Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest and best-known French writers. Outside France, his most famous works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (French: Notre-Dame de Paris), 1831. In France, Hugo is renowned for his poetry collections, such as Les Contemplations (The Contemplations) and La Légende des siècles (The Legend of the Ages). Hugo was at the forefront of the Romantic literary movement with his play Cromwell and drama Hernani. Many of his works have inspired music, both during his lifetime and after his death, including the musicals Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris. He produced more than 4,000 drawings in his lifetime, and campaigned for social causes such as the abolition of capital punishment. Though a committed royalist when he was young, Hugo's views changed as the decades passed, and he became a passionate supporter of republicanism serving in politics as both deputy and senator. His work touched upon most of the political and social issues and the artistic trends of his time. His opposition to absolutism and his colossal literary achievement established him as a national hero. He was honoured by interment in the Panthéon.
With an HPI of 88.85, Jules Verne is the 3rd most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 116 different languages.
Jules Gabriel Verne (; French: [ʒyl gabʁijɛl vɛʁn]; 8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) was a French novelist, poet, and playwright. His collaboration with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel led to the creation of the Voyages extraordinaires, a series of bestselling adventure novels including Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1872). Verne is considered to be an important author in France and most of Europe, where he has had a wide influence on the literary avant-garde and on surrealism. His reputation was markedly different in anglophone regions where he had often been labeled a writer of genre fiction or children's books, largely because of the highly abridged and altered translations in which his novels have often been printed. Since the 1980s, his literary reputation has improved.Verne has been the second most-translated author in the world since 1979, ranking between Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare. He has sometimes been called the "Father of Science Fiction", a title that has also been given to H. G. Wells and Hugo Gernsback.
With an HPI of 88.77, Molière is the 4th most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 148 different languages.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (French pronunciation: [ʒɑ̃ batist pɔklɛ̃]; 15 January 1622 (baptised) – 17 February 1673), known by his stage name Molière (UK: , US: , French: [mɔljɛʁ]), was a French playwright, actor and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the French language and world literature. His extant works include comedies, farces, tragicomedies, comédie-ballets, and more. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed at the Comédie-Française more often than those of any other playwright today. His influence is such that the French language is often referred to as the "language of Molière".Born into a prosperous family and having studied at the Collège de Clermont (now Lycée Louis-le-Grand), Molière was well suited to begin a life in the theatre. Thirteen years as an itinerant actor helped him polish his comic abilities while he began writing, combining Commedia dell'arte elements with the more refined French comedy.Through the patronage of aristocrats including Philippe I, Duke of Orléans—the brother of Louis XIV—Molière procured a command performance before the King at the Louvre. Performing a classic play by Pierre Corneille and a farce of his own, The Doctor in Love, Molière was granted the use of salle du Petit-Bourbon near the Louvre, a spacious room appointed for theatrical performances. Later, he was granted the use of the theatre in the Palais-Royal. In both locations, Molière found success among Parisians with plays such as The Affected Ladies, The School for Husbands, and The School for Wives. This royal favour brought a royal pension to his troupe and the title Troupe du Roi ("The King's Troupe"). Molière continued as the official author of court entertainments.Despite the adulation of the court and Parisians, Molière's satires attracted criticism from churchmen. For Tartuffe's impiety, the Catholic Church denounced this study of religious hypocrisy followed by the Parliament's ban, while Don Juan was withdrawn and never restaged by Molière. His hard work in so many theatrical capacities took its toll on his health and, by 1667, he was forced to take a break from the stage. In 1673, during a production of his final play, The Imaginary Invalid, Molière, who suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, was seized by a coughing fit and a haemorrhage while playing the hypochondriac Argan. He finished the performance but collapsed again and died a few hours later.
With an HPI of 88.70, Honoré de Balzac is the 5th most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 106 different languages.
Honoré de Balzac ( BAL-zak, more commonly US: BAWL-, French: [ɔnɔʁe d(ə) balzak]; born Honoré Balzac; 20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. The novel sequence La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of post-Napoleonic French life, is generally viewed as his magnum opus. Owing to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multi-faceted characters; even his lesser characters are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. Inanimate objects are imbued with character as well; the city of Paris, a backdrop for much of his writing, takes on many human qualities. His writing influenced many famous writers, including the novelists Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, and Henry James, filmmaker François Truffaut, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Many of Balzac's works have been made into films and continue to inspire other writers. An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school. His willful nature caused trouble throughout his life and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. When he finished school, Balzac was apprenticed in a law office, but he turned his back on the study of law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine. Before and during his career as a writer, he attempted to be a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician; he failed in all of these efforts. La Comédie Humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes scenes from his own experience. Balzac suffered from health problems throughout his life, possibly owing to his intense writing schedule. His relationship with his family was often strained by financial and personal drama, and he lost more than one friend over critical reviews. In 1850, Balzac married Ewelina Hańska, a Polish aristocrat and his longtime love; he died in Paris five months later.
With an HPI of 88.19, Jean-Paul Sartre is the 6th most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 133 different languages.
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (, US also ; French: [saʁtʁ]; 21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism. His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines. Sartre was also noted for his open relationship with prominent feminist and fellow existentialist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir. Together, Sartre and de Beauvoir challenged the cultural and social assumptions and expectations of their upbringings, which they considered bourgeois, in both lifestyle and thought. The conflict between oppressive, spiritually destructive conformity (mauvaise foi, literally, 'bad faith') and an "authentic" way of "being" became the dominant theme of Sartre's early work, a theme embodied in his principal philosophical work Being and Nothingness (L'Être et le Néant, 1943). Sartre's introduction to his philosophy is his work Existentialism Is a Humanism (L'existentialisme est un humanisme, 1946), originally presented as a lecture. He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature despite attempting to refuse it, saying that he always declined official honours and that "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution."
With an HPI of 87.56, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is the 7th most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 102 different languages.
Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, simply known as de Saint-Exupéry (UK: , US: , French: [ɑ̃twan də sɛ̃t‿ɛɡzypeʁi]; 29 June 1900 – 31 July 1944), was a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist and pioneering aviator. He became a laureate of several of France's highest literary awards and also won the United States National Book Award. He is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) and for his lyrical aviation writings, including Wind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight. Saint-Exupéry was a successful commercial pilot before World War II, working airmail routes in Europe, Africa, and South America. He joined the French Air Force at the start of the war, flying reconnaissance missions until France's armistice with Germany in 1940. After being demobilised from the French Air Force, he travelled to the United States to help persuade its government to enter the war against Nazi Germany. Saint-Exupéry spent 28 months in America, during which he wrote three of his most important works, then joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa—although he was far past the maximum age for such pilots and in declining health. He disappeared and is believed to have died while on a reconnaissance mission from Corsica over the Mediterranean on 31 July 1944. Prior to the war, Saint-Exupéry had achieved fame in France as an aviator. His literary works posthumously boosted his stature to national hero status in France, including The Little Prince which has been translated into 300 languages. He earned further widespread recognition with international translations of his other works. His 1939 philosophical memoir Terre des hommes (titled Wind, Sand and Stars in English) became the name of an international humanitarian group; it was also used as the central theme of Expo 67 in Montreal, Quebec. His birthplace of Lyon also named its main airport after him.
With an HPI of 86.69, Émile Zola is the 8th most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 107 different languages.
Émile Édouard Charles Antoine Zola (, also US: , French: [emil zɔla]; 2 April 1840 – 29 September 1902) was a French novelist, journalist, playwright, the best-known practitioner of the literary school of naturalism, and an important contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism. According to major Zola scholar and biographer Henri Mitterand, "Naturalism contributes something more than realism: the attention brought to bear on the most lush and opulent aspects of people and the natural world. The realist writer reproduces the object's image impersonally, while the naturalist writer is an artist of temperament." He was a major figure in the political liberalization of France and in the exoneration of the falsely accused and convicted army officer Alfred Dreyfus, which is encapsulated in the renowned newspaper headline J'Accuse…! Zola was nominated for the first and second Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901 and 1902.
With an HPI of 86.08, Stendhal is the 9th most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 86 different languages.
Marie-Henri Beyle (French: [bɛl]; 23 January 1783 – 23 March 1842), better known by his pen name Stendhal (UK: , US: ; French: [stɛ̃dal, stɑ̃dal]), was a 19th-century French writer. Best known for the novels Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black, 1830) and La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma, 1839), he is highly regarded for the acute analysis of his characters' psychology and considered one of the early and foremost practitioners of realism.
With an HPI of 86.07, Alexandre Dumas is the 10th most famous French Writer. His biography has been translated into 107 different languages.
Alexandre Dumas (UK: , US: ; French: [alɛksɑ̃dʁ dymɑ]; born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie [dymɑ davi də la pajət(ə)ʁi]; 24 July 1802 – 5 December 1870), also known as Alexandre Dumas père (where père is French for 'father', thus 'the elder/senior'), was a French writer. His works have been translated into many languages, and he is one of the most widely read French authors. Many of his historical novels of high adventure were originally published as serials, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. His novels have been adapted since the early twentieth century into nearly 200 films. Prolific in several genres, Dumas began his career by writing plays, which were successfully produced from the first. He also wrote numerous magazine articles and travel books; his published works totalled 100,000 pages. In the 1840s, Dumas founded the Théâtre Historique in Paris. His father, General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, was born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) to Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, a French nobleman, and Marie-Cessette Dumas, an African slave. At age 14, Thomas-Alexandre was taken by his father to France, where he was educated in a military academy and entered the military for what became an illustrious career. Dumas's father's aristocratic rank helped young Alexandre acquire work with Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, then as a writer, a career which led to early success. Decades later, after the election of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1851, Dumas fell from favour and left France for Belgium, where he stayed for several years, then moved to Russia for a few years before going to Italy. In 1861, he founded and published the newspaper L'Indépendent, which supported Italian unification, before returning to Paris in 1864. Though married, in the tradition of Frenchmen of higher social class, Dumas had numerous affairs (allegedly as many as 40). He was known to have had at least four illegitimate children, although twentieth-century scholars believe it was seven. He acknowledged and assisted his son, Alexandre Dumas, to become a successful novelist and playwright. They are known as Alexandre Dumas père ('father') and Alexandre Dumas fils ('son'). Among his affairs, in 1866, Dumas had one with Adah Isaacs Menken, an American actress then less than half his age and at the height of her career. The English playwright Watts Phillips, who knew Dumas in his later life, described him as "the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill – once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself."
Pantheon has 563 people classified as writers born between 82 BC and 1992. Of these 563, 74 (13.14%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living writers include Patrick Modiano, J. M. G. Le Clézio, and Jean-Claude Carrière. The most famous deceased writers include Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Jules Verne. As of October 2020, 80 new writers have been added to Pantheon including Xavier de Maistre, Marie de Gournay, and Augustin Barruel.
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Which Writers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Writers since 1700.