Like most countries in the world, France has scores of famous people, many of whom have become historical figures. These famous French people are representative of the country’s ethos and values. They define their nation’s culture and display to the world the best qualities of their country.
Ranging from artists to authors to fashion designers to political philosophers to architects to musicians to scientists… the French have excelled in every profession and field possible.
Here is an account of 10 most famous French people who made a mark both in their own country as well as the world.
10 Famous French Men and Women
Born: 28 June 1712
Died: 2 July 1778
He was a philosopher as well as a composer during the movement in Europe known as the Enlightenment. Rousseau’s political ideas were highly influential on the French Revolution, the formation of socialist and liberal theory, and the development of nationalism.
His writings, like the Confessions, influenced various thinkers like Hegel, Freud, and so on. Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, which was a novel written by Rousseau, was an instant best-seller not only in France but also in other parts of Europe, which played an important role in the development of romanticism. Rousseau was also a composer as well as a theorist of music.
Born: 15 August 1769
Died: 5 May 1821
Profession: Emperor of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French general and then later became the Emperor of France due to the consequences of the French Revolution. He introduced several measures which are still the basis of many French institutions that exist today such as a law that decreed setting up lyces, or state grammar schools, with the aim of providing well-trained civilians and army officers.
France was continuously at war while Napoleon ruled, and the empire he built was huge. By the year 1812, Napoleon had the major part of Western Europe under his control. He was finally defeated when the British, Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies invaded France. He was then exiled to the island of Elba from where he escaped and then went on to rule France once again, which lasted for a hundred days, when he was defeated at Waterloo by Wellington. He was then sent to St. Helena as a prisoner.
Honoré de Balzac
Born: 20 May 1799
Died: 18 August 1850
Profession: Novelist and Playwright
He was a novelist as well as a playwright. His best piece of writing consisted of a sequence of about 100 plays and novels, which were entitled collectively as La Comédie Humaine, which is a representation of a panoramic view of French life during the years as well as after the fall of Napoleon.
Due to Balzac’s keen powers of observation of the minutest details as well as the stark depiction of society, he is considered as one of the pioneers of realism in European literature. His writing had an influential effect on various famous French writers such as Gustave Flaubertt, Emile Zola, and Marcel Proust, as well as other famous authors like Jack Kerouac, Henry James, and Charles Dickens. His works continue to be an inspiration to many writers and many of them have been made into films.
Born: 14 November 1840
Died: 5 December 1926
Claude Monet was one of the pioneers of the impressionist painting style in France. Plus, he was the most prolific and consistent practitioner of the philosophy of this movement, which basically is about depicting nature according to one’s impression of it, particularly when depicting plein-air landscape painting.
In fact, the very term ‘Impressionism’ has been derived from a painting of his named ‘Impression, Sunrise.’ One of Claude Monet’s most famous paintings is ‘Water Lilies’, which he created in his own garden that he had designed himself.
Born: 22 August 1862
Died: 25 March 1918
Profession: Music Composer
He was a famous French composer. The musical style that was developed by Debussy, which included exploring new harmonic relationships as well as dissonances, was often called Impressionist music. His compositions made use of the entire tonal scale, instead of being limited to the traditional scale used in Western music.
It was his music that was definitive as the transformation from the latter part of the Romantic style to the modernistic style of the 20th century. He is particularly famous for his well-known piano pieces like Suite Bergamasque, which contains the exquisite Clair de lune, The Children’s Corner, and Estampes.
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel
Born: December 15, 1832
Died: December 27, 1923
He was an engineer famous for designing and constructing the Eiffel Tower in 1889. At the time it was constructed, it was the world’s tallest structure. In recognition of this achievement, Gustave Eiffel was awarded the Legion of Honor medal.
Although it was at first meant to be a temporary structure, but because of its immense popularity, Eiffel Tower still stands tall today and has become one of the most evocative symbols of Paris. Gustave Eiffel also built a railway bridge in southern France, which was the tallest one in the world for many years, and he also was the designer of the Statue of Liberty’s framework, a gift given to New York by France.
Joan of Arc
Born: ca. 1412
Died: 30 May 1431
Profession: Historic Heroine, Roman Catholic Saint
The history of France would have probably been different, had it not been for Joan of Arc’s contribution to its victory in the Hundred Years’ War. Also known as The Maid of Orleans, she was born in a peasant family.
However, not only did she lead the French army to some important victories, she was captured and burned at the stake by for claiming divine communication. Twenty-five years after her execution, however, a retrial declared her innocent. She was then declared a martyr, and was canonized in the year 1920.
Born: 19 June 1623
Died: 19 August 1662
Profession: Scientist, Writer, Philosopher
Did you know Pascal invented the first mechanical calculator? A child prodigy, Blaise Pascal is most significantly known for his contributions to mathematics and physics. He helped complete the groundwork for such branches of mathematics like probability, projective geometry to be established. He also worked on understanding the basics of fluids, pressure and vacuum as concepts of physics.
Pascal’s triangle, Pascal’s theorem and Pascal’s law are concepts in science that many spend quite some time gripping… and to imagine one single man formulated all of these is amazing! As for his contributions to philosophy, Pascal is most famously known for the Pascal’s Wager (an idea that says a man should wager God’s existence, since there is a lot more to gain from doing so than from denying His existence); a thought so simple, it leaves you in awe of the mind that first thought it!
Born: February 8, 1828
Died: March 24, 1905
Profession: Sci-Fi Writer
One of the earliest authors to delve into the world of science fiction, Jules Verne paved the way for an entire genre of writing. His most famous, appreciated and adapted works include 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days.
What gives these books an exceptional touch of genius is the fact that they were all written at a time when man did not know how to fly in the air or travel underwater! He is the second most translated author of all time. Each of his 54 novels belonging to the series Voyages Extraordinaires (Extraordinary Voyages) has been translated into many languages. A lot of his work is posthumous as well.
Born: December 27, 1822
Died: September 28, 1895
Profession: Microbiologist and Chemist
There won’t be a microbiologist who hasn’t heard of Louis Pasteur, the man who gave mankind the gift of vaccines. Historically known for making the first vaccine ever (for anthrax and rabies), Pasteur was one of the earliest scientist to support the germ theory of diseases; until then people believed that disease were incurred by the wrath of God!
Pasteur is also celebrated for developing a procedure that helps protect milk and wine from spoiling, a process now commonly called pasteurization. As for chemistry, Pasteur was the first person to demonstrate chirality of molecules.
So those were some famous French people. It makes you realize, Franc sure has made some notable contributions to the world! Vive la France!