12 Best French Authors You Need To Read

If you want to expand your literary horizons, why not look at some of the best French authors? Read on to learn more.

Paris was a hotbed for writing during the 19th and 20th centuries. Numerous French writers left their mark on French literature. For example, Voltaire served as an inspiration for multiple generations of writers. Each French novelist of the time developed a unique style, filling the world with a rich diversity of French literature.

The literary realism and naturalism movements in France impacted English writing, and many famous French writers left their marks on the United States as well. From Les Miserables to The Little Prince, the French language is undoubtedly a beautiful vehicle for writing. Take a look at some of the top French authors below, and consider picking up a few of their short stories, novels, or works of science fiction.

Best French authors

1. Victor Hugo, 1802 – 1885

Victor Hugo
Hugo by Étienne Carjat, 1876. Found on Wikipedia, part of the public domain

Without a doubt, one of the most famous French authors is Victor Hugo. He wrote for more than six decades, and he published everything from critical essays to historical odysseys and from satire to poetry.

His most famous novels have been translated into more than 60 languages. Two of his marquee works include The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables. Both have been adapted for plays and the big screen. At the same time, his literary collection is vast, his writing style exquisite, and his storytelling unparalleled. As a result, he served as an inspiration to multiple generations of writers.

During his time, he was also a passionate supporter of the revolution and played a role in fighting to end poverty following the fall of Napoleon. As a result, he became a symbol of not only the French Revolution but also the French nation.

If you would like to explore more works by Victor Hugo, consider picking up a copy of Les Miserables for yourself off of Amazon.

Les Miserables
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Victor Hugo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1042 Pages - 09/26/2012 (Publication Date) - Simon & Brown (Publisher)

2. Albert Camus, 1913 – 1960

Albert Camus
Public Domain. Found on Wikipedia, available from the United States Library of Congress

Even though Albert Camus lived a short life, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest French writers who ever lived. He was born in French Algeria, and his parents were Pieds Noirs. He also studied philosophy at the University of Algiers.

He eventually moved to Paris. When Nazi Germany invaded France during World War II, he joined the French Resistance. Camus served as the editor in chief of a newspaper called Combat, which was outlawed by Vichy France, the puppet state of Nazi Germany following the surrender of France. Despite the surrender of France, Albert Camus never gave up hope, and he said that freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.

He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1957, when he was only 44 years old. His most famous work is titled The Stranger, and it is still a best-seller to this day.

You can read The Stranger for yourself by picking up a copy off of Amazon.

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The Stranger
  • Vintage, A nice option for a Book Lover
  • It comes with proper packaging
  • Ideal for Gifting
  • Albert Camus (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

3. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1900 – 1944

Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Found on Wikipedia, part of the public domain, Distributed by Agence France-Presse

It is difficult to write about the greatest French authors without mentioning the author of Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery. Even though the story might seem like a book for small children at first, it is obvious that there are numerous ideas and themes that even adults would appreciate.

Before becoming a writer, Saint-Exupery served in the free French air force during WWII. Unfortunately, he disappeared while on a mission in 1944 and was never seen again. As a result, many of his works were published by his family after his death. In addition to his work on The Little Prince, some of his other popular novels are Airman’s Odyssey and Wind, Sand, and Stars.

You can read Le Petit Prince for yourself by picking up a copy off of Amazon.

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Le Petit Prince: French Edition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 96 Pages - 09/04/2001 (Publication Date) - Clarion Books (Publisher)

4. Marcel Proust, 1871 – 1922

Marcel Proust
Found on Wikipedia, part of the public domain, author Otto Wegener

Marcel Proust is widely considered one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. He was born following the Franco-Prussian War, and France was going through many societal changes. As a result, many of his novels focus on the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the working class.

One of his most famous novels was In Search of Lost Time, which is also one of his longest works.

You can check out a copy of this book on Amazon.

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In Search of Lost Time: Proust 6-pack (Modern Library Classics)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Proust, Marcel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 4211 Pages - 06/03/2003 (Publication Date) - Modern Library (Publisher)

5. Emile Zola, 1840 – 1902

Emile Zola
Found on Wikipedia, part of the public domain

Emile Zola was one of the most prolific writers in French history. He wrote books, essays, and short stories. As a prominent essayist, one of his famous articles appeared in a local newspaper and was titled J’accuse, which means I accuse.

This famous article came to the defense of a Jewish officer in the French army. He was defending Alfred Dreyfus, who was accused of espionage. Even though the charges were false, anti-Semitism was a significant issue in France at the time. Despite a lack of evidence, he was put on trial and convicted. The truth eventually came out, and Dreyfus was given a medal, while Zola was hailed as a hero.

In addition to the famous newspaper article, some of his most popular works include the mysteries of Marseilles, Therese Raquin, and Rougon-Macquart. He was nominated for the first and second Nobel Prize in Literature awarded in 1901 and 1902.

You can purchase a copy of Les Mysteres de Marseille from Amazon.

The Mysteries of Marseille
  • Zola, Emile (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 04/14/2008 (Publication Date) - Mondial (Publisher)

6. Alexandre Dumas, 1802 – 1870

Alexandre Dumas
Author Nadar. From Wikipedia, part of the public domain

Any list of the greatest French authors has to include Alexander Dumas. He was incredibly influential during the 19th century, and many of his works are still read today. Alexandre Dumas was a pen name, and his actual name was Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie.

Because of his upbringing, he had access to aristocratic circles. He also worked for King Louis Philippe, the last king of France. He published multiple significant works, including The Three Musketeers and the Comte of Monte Cristo. He also worked for the French government, so he published writing in various genres, which is a testament to his literary talents.

If you want to explore the works of Alexandre Dumas for yourself, consider picking up a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo off of Amazon.

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The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics)
  • Alexandre Dumas père (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1276 Pages - 05/27/2003 (Publication Date) - Penguin Classics (Publisher)

7. Jules Verne, 1828 – 1905

Jules Verne
Found on Wikipedia, part of the public domain, Étienne Carjat

If you are interested in works of science fiction, then Jules Verne is undoubtedly a writer you should read. You have probably heard of several of his books already. Some of his most famous stories include Around the World in 80 Days, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas: A World Tour Underwater, and The Journey to the Center of the Earth.

A unique writer, his works have captured the imagination of multiple generations of people of all ages. You will immediately be transported to another place and time when you read his stories. Even as you read his works today, you will probably end up wondering what the future might hold.

In addition to his work as a storyteller, he also wrote autobiographies, songs, and poetry. Several of his novels have even been adapted for the big screen.

You can check out a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by buying a copy on Amazon, ASIN 1853260312.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Wordsworth Classics)
  • Jules Verne (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 12/30/1998 (Publication Date) - Wordsworth Editions Ltd (Publisher)

8. George Sand, 1804 – 1876

George Sand
Found on Wikipedia. Part of the public domain Auguste CharpentierMusée de la Vie romantique

George Sand is one of the most popular female writers in France. George Sand is a pen name, and her actual name was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. She even took this to the extreme, wearing male attire in public.

Even though she had to adopt the persona of a man to get her work published, she was a powerful advocate for women’s rights and the working class. She also commissioned her own newspaper to amplify the message of her writings, and much of her work inspired others. Of note, she was one of Frederic Chopin’s lovers, who was one of the most famous composers of all time.

One of her most famous works was Indiana.

You can pick up a copy of this book from Amazon.

Indiana
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Sand, George (Author)
  • French (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 11/05/1984 (Publication Date) - Schoenhofs Foreign Books (Publisher)

9. Simone de Beauvoir, 1908 – 1986

Simone de Beauvoir
Found on Wikipedia, used under permission CC BY-SA 3.0

Simone de Beauvoir was a prominent female activist and French writer. She was known for her thoughts on feminist existentialism and feminist theory. She famously said that one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

Fortunately, her work paid off, as France would give women the right to vote in 1946, right in the middle of her life. One of her most famous works was a treatise called The Second Sex, which was published in 1949. The book took a detailed look at the history of oppression women faced in France. She also spent a lot of her life living with another prominent French writer, Jean-Paul Sartre.

You can check out The Second Sex by purchasing a copy from Amazon.

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The Second Sex
  • De Beauvoir, Simone (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 832 Pages - 05/03/2011 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

10. Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905 – 1980

Jean-Paul Sartre
Found on Wikipedia, used under permission CC BY 3.0

Jean-Paul Sartre was a famous French writer, playwright, and philosopher. In addition to his work as a writer, he also made movies. He was born in Paris and met another prominent French writer, Simone de Beauvoir, in college. He and Simone lived together during the days of Vichy France, which was the puppet state following the surrender of France to Germany during World War Two.

Jean-Paul Sartre sympathized with liberal ideals, and many of his works reflect that. His most famous works include the Age of Reason and Nausee, which means nausea. He also wrote about the plight of the working class and minorities who were neglected in France, particularly those of African descent and Jewish people. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.

You can check out a copy of the Age of Reason for yourself from Amazon.

The Age of Reason: A Novel
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 07/07/1992 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

11. Voltaire, 1694 – 1778

Voltaire
This was found on Wikipedia and is part of the public domain. Portrait by Nicolas de Largillière, c. 1724

Voltaire is the nom de plume, or pen name, of Francois Marie Arouet. He was one of the most prolific writers of the 18th century, and he wrote essays, biographies, novels, plays, poems, and even scientific reports. He is widely revered as one of the greatest writers of all time and is credited with setting the stage for Romantic and Victorian eras writers.

In addition, Voltaire was a prominent advocate of civil liberties, famously saying that you should judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. He was one of the leading voices of the French Revolution, which took place in 1789, and two of his most famous works were Letters to England and Candide.

You can find a copy of Candide on Amazon.

Candide
  • Voltaire (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 84 Pages - 12/04/2020 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

12. Honore de Balzac, 1799 – 1850

Honore de Balzac
This is a daguerreotype taken in 1842, found on Wikipedia, part of the public domain

Honore de Balzac is frequently overlooked on the list of greatest French writers, but he was also one of the most prolific. One of his most famous publications is La Comedie Humaine. A collection of short stories with more than 90 essays, novels, and tales. The stories in this prolific work talk about society, women, power, money, and numerous other issues that arose during the French Revolution.

If you want to learn more about the famous Honore de Balzac, you can find La Comedie Humaine on Amazon.

La Comedie Humaine
  • Balzac, Honore de (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 396 Pages - 04/01/2005 (Publication Date) - Kessinger Publishing, LLC (Publisher)

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