The French language has no ambassadors that can compare to its famous authors. Novelists or philosophers, romantic or humanist, these literary figures through their beautiful words transcend the eras they lived in.
François Rabelais (1494-1553) – Emblematic figure of the Renaissance, Rabelais is one of the most well-known humanists of his time. As seen in the burlesques stories of his two giants Gargantua and Pantagruel, he tended towards philosophical renewal and the elevation of man, all in keeping with the idealist movement of the era.
- The anecdote – In France, the expression “le quart d’heure de Rabelais” means that it is time to pay. This image comes from a comic episode in the life of the writer: One day, finding himself without money in Lyon and wanting to travel to Paris, he left several packets of sugar out in plain view on which he wrote “poison for the King.” Arrested, he was taken to Paris by the police and thus traveled there for free. The king, François the 1st, laughed so hard when he heard the story that he paid the sum out of goodwill.
- To read - "Les horribles et épouvantables faits et prouesses du très renommé Pantagruel" (1532)
"La vie très horrifique du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel" (1534)
Molière (around 1622-1673) Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière, is without a doubt the man who would permanently leave his mark on French theater. Author and actor, this genius will always remain the grandfather of the French comedy. Five centuries later, his pieces are still the most-performed.
The anecdote – The story goes that Molière died on stage while acting out an imaginary disease. Actually, he died at home a few hours later.
To read - L'école des femmes (1662), Le médecin malgré lui (1666), L'avare (1668), Le bourgeois gentilhomme (1670), Le malade imaginaire (1673)
La Fontaine (1621-1695) Jean de la Fontaine left his mark on French literary history with the tales that bear his name. La Fontaine’s fables which showcase talking animals are always read and appreciated by children. Though at first glance they might appear light-natured, his stories are a profound reflection on the state of man, his nature and his morals.
The anecdote – "La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure" "Rien ne sert de courir ; il faut partir à point" "Aide-toi, le Ciel t'aidera" are also attributed to la Fontaine.
To read - Fables (1668, 1678, 1693)
Pierre Corneille (1606-1684). He was a dramatic author dealing in gigantic productions, from theater to the novel. Emblematic of his era, he exalts the greatness of man.
The anecdote – Without meaning to, Corneille invented a new adjective: "cornélien". It is a reference to his literary production and its first meaning signifies literary power and density.
To read - Le Cid (1636), Cinna (1641), Polyeucte et Horace (1642)
Montesquieu (1689-1755) Thinker and philosopher, considered by many as the father of liberal thought. The work of Montesquieu is distinguished by the novelty of his ideas, such as the separation of powers, the basis of all democracies according to him. His principle work "De l'esprit des lois" greatly influenced the French and European constitutionalists.
The anecdote – Born into a bourgeois family, son of a baron, Montesquieu would not lose sight of the social realities of his time. Maybe because his parents chose a beggar to be his godfather, Montesquieu would later write that “in order to do great things, one doesn’t have to be a genius: one shouldn’t place oneself higher than other men but rather with them.”
To read - Lettres persanes (1721) De l'esprit des lois (1748)
The century of the Enlightenment and the Lumières contains far too many important figures to mention them all. The century that gave birth to the American and French revolutions remains the symbol of intellectual rebirth, both philosophical and political. Voltaire is but one of the writers representing this era.
Voltaire (1694-1778) could easily symbolilze the new energy of this period. Philosopher, writer and poet, I knew glory, but also prison and exile. The man was a libertarian, a liberal, and profoundly democratic. His life’s work includes over 50 books.
The anecdote : Whether true or false, the following quotation is attributed to Voltaire. In either case, it is perfectly in keeping with his other words and actions. “I do not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to for your right to say it.”
To read - Candide ou l'Optimisme (1759)
A lire - Candide ou l'Optimisme (1759)
Victor Hugo (1802-1885) Considered as the greatest author of French Romanticism, he offered to French literature some of its most beautiful work. Novelist, chronicler, but also politician and academic, Hugo rests at the Pantheon, the last of the great men.
To read - Dernier Jour d'un condamné (1829) Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) Les misérables (1862), Quatre vingt-treize (1874)
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) Philosopher, writer and illustrious representative of the Existentialist school of thought, Sartre left work of titanic proportions and will be remembered as an engaged intellectual type, notably for his joining the resistance in 1941.
The anecdote : In 1964, he refused the Nobel prize for literature. According to him, no man deserved to be honored like that while he was still alive.
To read - La Nausée (1938) L'existentialisme est un humanisme (1945) Le Diable et le Bon Dieu (1951)
Albert Camus (1913-1960) Among the geniuses of French literature, Camus the philosophical writer is noted for humanism that is exacerbated. Opposed just as much to communism as he was to religions, Camus never ceased to defend “his” conception of the human condition.
To read - L'étranger (1942), Caligula (1944), La Peste (1947)