French Literature 101 - Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Marcel Proust, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir

Since the 16th century, French literature has been incredibly influential to literary movements around the world. If you’re a Francophile, a literature addict, or someone looking to enjoy some of the world’s finest literature, here is a list of French writers you can’t miss:

1. Voltaire

One of the most well known French writers and philosophers, this Enlightenment philosopher is famous for his infamous writings questioning social conventions in an extremely witty manner. He was also a great advocate for freedom of speech and human rights. His best-known work is Candide, ou l’Optimisme, a hilariously satirical piece that has inspired several adaptations and plays. Other important works include Oedipus (play), Zadig, and his Treaty on Tolerance.

2. Victor Hugo

If you’ve enjoyed the several remakes of Les Miserables, or sang along to Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, then you’re familiar with Victor Hugo’s most important works. Through his works he was able to immortalize 19th century Paris, and create incredibly impacting social critiques. Besides these two novels, Hugo published a prolific amount of prose. He also published a fine collection of poems, and made several of his paintings public.

3. Jules Verne

Verne is responsible for igniting the wildest dreams in man’s imagination for centuries. A Journey to the Center of the Earth takes readers to the core of the planet, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, leads them besides Captain Nemo to the undiscovered mysteries of the ocean, and Around the World in Eighty Days speaks to their sense of wanderlust. Perhaps most importantly, From the Earth to the Moon was the first novel that dared dream of an event that would happen 99 years later. Many scientists have quoted Verne as a source of inspiration for scientific discoveries and journeys.

4. Marcel Proust

The most important French writer of the 20th century, Proust’s seven-volume masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, is regarded as one of the most important literary works in history. Proust’s incredible mastery of language has made him a must in every literature lover’s bookshelf, and in every literature major’s syllabus. Other shorter novels that showcase Proust’s genius include Pleasures and Days, and Pastiches and Mixtures.

5. Albert Camus

This Nobel Prize winner, born in French-Algeria is famed for his existentialist works (though he did not consider himself an existentialist), and his philosophy of the absurd. His most famous works are The Stranger and The Plague, which speak to the absurdity of human existence. His most famous essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, creates a bleak, yet interesting idea of the meaning of life.

6. Simone de Beauvoir

One of the most important female French philosophers and writers, she has earned a name for herself with her treatise on the female condition The Second Sex. Her most famous novels are She Came to Stay, and The Mandarins, though her three-volume autobiography has also been widely read. Her literary works and philosophical writings have influenced existentialism and the feminist movement.