Celebrate Bastille Day with These Badass French Writers

Posted by Elizabeth Knauss

Bastille Day is one badass French holiday.

It all began in the summer of 1789 when a mob of Parisians stormed the Bastille fortress to collect a large supply of ammunition and put a fork in royal rule.

Widely thought of as the key in the French Revolution ignition, this time period spawned radical social change and brought about many influential writers and activists. As an ode to this holiday, we’ve gathered some pretty badass French writers who have not only made their way into classic literature with their worthy accomplishments, but they’ve also made us say Mon Dieu!

François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (AKA Voltaire): One day, Voltaire got locked up in the Bastille Prison for insulting a French nobleman. He was put away without a trial, no bail, and no form of defense. Fearing a lifelong sentence, he proposed that he be exiled to England instead, which authorities accepted.

Instead of cursing out the government, he made it his goal to improve the French judicial system via his well crafted, observant, and persuasive writings. Go Voltaire! And… he wrote a science fiction piece about aliens visiting Earth only to witness humankind’s foibles. Yes!

Émilie du ChâteletThe romantic puzzlepiece to Volatire, Émilie is famously known for her translation and commentary on Isaac Newton‘s work Principia Mathematica. To this day, it is still the standard version used among scholars. Émilie was an astute writer who used her mathematical brilliance and academic writing to unravel the mysteries of life. In fact, some say she was writing about energy and velocity 150 years before Mr. Einstein even had a tongue to stick out. Science faux pas.

Jean-Jacques RousseauRousseau inspired the modern autobiography with his writing titled Confessions. It sounds like a scandalous piece of writing, but he was far from a scoundrel. He was an influential philosopher and writer who fought on behalf of education for all. He left us with the Discourse on Inequality, which changed political thought, and he gave us these words of wisdom: “You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

Alexandre DumasAlexandre wrote The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Crisco, The Man in the Iron Mask, and many other beloved adventure tales. His stories pivoted on piracy, conspiracy, love, passion, jailbreak, death, duels, treasure and awesome quotes…all for one and one for all!

Dumas was banned from Russia for writing a vivid account about the Decembrist Revolt, he began his own Italian newspaper called Indipendente, he wrote an eight-volume series on European criminals, and he wrote a cookbook for Peter’s sake, but the most badass thing of all (arguably)… in 2002, his coffin was exhumed and transported to the Panthéon of Paris. Draped in blue velvet and held by guards dressed as Musketeers, he was carried away by the characters from his imagination.

George SandGeorge Sand is the pen name to novelist and memoirist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. She also had crazy awesome hair. During the height of her publishing debut, Sand became a voice for women of France during the 1848 Revolution. Astonished by the lack of rights available to women, she initiated her own newspaper via a workers’ cooperative where she published political essays on the need for change.

It makes me smile that she wore men’s clothing, smoked cigars, ignored gender roles of the time, frequented men’s clubs, and was called by the poet Alfred de Musset “The most womanly woman.”

Jules VerneTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Nuff said.

Arthur RimbaudDescribed by Victor Hugo as the “Infant Shakespeare,” Arthur Rimbaud created most of his poetic masterpieces before he was old enough to legally throw back a cold one. Besides writing perennial beauties like The Drunken Boat and A Season in Hell (considered one of the first works of free verse), he is also infamous for his nomadic lifestyle. At sixteen, he ran away from home and engaged in an erratic affair with the poet Paul Verlaine.

Even though Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the wrist while he was juiced, he did help publish and immortalize the poet’s works after his death at only 37. These posthumous works would later inspire the works of French Symbolists, Surrealism, and many Beat artists such as Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison.

Antoine de Saint-ExupéryAntoine’s most notable works include his novella, The Little Prince, and Wind, Sand, and Stars, a lyrical account of the dangers and isolation of piloting—a subject close to his heart. In 1935 he tried to break the speed record for flying from Paris to Saigon, but he crashed in the Libyan Desert instead.

Living on hors d’ouevres such as fruit, wine and crackers (c’est la vie!), he was found three days later and was reported to have had hallucinations, feeling the desire to walk in the one direction where he would later be found.

Albert CamusReasons why Albert Camus is my hero: Father of absurdism, Nobel Prize for Literature, journalist with great hair, editor of a French resistance group called Combat, football goalie.