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Famous French Intellectuals of the 20th Century

Famous French Intellectuals of the 20th Century

Looking for some reading material for your upcoming trip to France? Kick your brain cells into gear with this selection of some of France’s greatest thinkers of the 20th century. Of course, there are many we had to leave off the list, but these seven will do as an introductory sample.

France was a hub of passionate writers, philosophers and political activists during the 20th century. Why was that? The country was ravaged by two World Wars, which opened the door to more liberal inclinations and Progressivism. Riots, political unrest and an economic depression did little to calm the flames, and intellectuals found themselves with a powerful voice, which they expressed through literature, philosophy and political debate.

Marcel Proust 1871-1922

Those who have studied A la recherche du temps perdu will know it’s not an easy read. But the Parisian writer is considered as one of the greatest of all time. Virginia Woolfe famously commented on Proust’s work: “Oh if I could write like that!”

Jean-Paul Sartre 1905-1980

Philosopher, novelist, critic, playwright and activist, Sartre was one of the twentieth century’s intellectual heavyweights, leading the way in Marxism and Existentialism. La nausée, l’Age de raison and Le mur are among his most studied pieces.

Louis Aragon 1897- 1982

Aragon’s poetry is still popular today, picked up by songwriters and inserted into contemporary music. Louis Aragon wrote poems, novels and was an important newspaper editor. He moved from Dadaism to Surrealism, and his role in the development of the modern French novel was paramount.

André Breton 1896-1966

Breton and Aragon used to be close friends, but fell out around 1935 over political ideals. Breton was a writer and poet, but is most famous as the father of Surrealism, which he saw as a revolutionary movement. Indeed, Surrealism would go on to have a global effect on literature, film and art.

André Gide 1869-1951

A few years before his death, the French author Gide was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1947 for the ensemble of his writings. Known for his variety of works, from translations to essays, Gide is also a popular intellectual to study because of his interesting, intriguing life and beliefs.

Michel Foucault 1926- 1984

Philosopher, historian and literary critic, Foucault is one of the biggest names in French intellectual theory. His concern was predominantly with the question of societal power and limitation, and his work still has a strong influence on French activism and academia today.

Simone de Beauvoir 1908-1986

It took a strong woman to make a mark in such a male-dominated world, but Simone de Beauvoir did just that. She was a writer, theorist and feminist, known especially for her 1949 treatise Le Deuxième Sexe and her lifelong partnership with Sartre: they were even buried together, and have a square named after them.

Join us on our Latin Quarter Walking Tour which was frequented by all seven of these famous individuals and discover more Parisian history. From architecture to politics, the ‘City of Light’ is a well of fascinating information.

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”” text=”Tour the Paris Latin Quarter at Night” ]

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