10 Must-Read French Classics

4 Mins Read
rev bastille day feature image

Celebrate Bastille Day with These Best Classic French Books To Read 

Bastille Day, celebrated on July 14, marks the beginning of the French Revolution and symbolises the spirit of freedom and democracy. What better way to honour this occasion than by exploring some of the greatest French classics? 

The Charm of French Literature

French literature offers a distinct flavour, different from its English and American counterparts. It’s known for its elegance, philosophical depth, and profound exploration of human nature. While English literature often emphasises plot and character, French classics tend to focus on the intricacies of emotion and existential musings. Ideal for readers who appreciate thoughtful and reflective storytelling. 

Who should read French classics? They are perfect for those looking to broaden their literary horizons and gain insights into French culture and history.  

Where to start with French classics? Here’s a comprehensive list of 10 timeless French novels that will introduce you to the richness of French literature. 

10 Best Classic French Books To Read

Author: Victor Hugo 

Set against the backdrop of post-revolutionary France, Les Misérables follows the lives of several characters, primarily focusing on ex-convict Jean Valjean. It’s a tale of redemption, justice, and the struggle against societal oppression. This masterpiece is celebrated for its detailed depiction of Parisian society and its powerful moral and social themes. 

Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

This enchanting novella tells the story of a young prince who travels from planet to planet, learning about life, love, and loss. Through its simple narrative and whimsical illustrations, The Little Prince explores profound themes of innocence, friendship, and human nature. It’s a timeless book that appeals to both children and adults. 

Author: Alexandre Dumas 

A gripping tale of betrayal, revenge, and ultimate redemption, The Count of Monte Cristo follows Edmond Dantès, a man wrongfully imprisoned. He escapes and seeks vengeance against those who conspired against him. Known for its intricate plot and richly drawn characters, this novel is a classic adventure story that has captivated readers for generations. 

Author: Madame de La Fayette 

Published anonymously in 1678, The Princesse de Clèves is one of the first historical novels ever written.  Set in the French court of Henry II, it tells the story of a young noblewoman who navigates the complexities of love and duty. The novel is renowned for its psychological depth and its exploration of the conflicts between passion and social expectations. 

Author: Stendhal 

This novel chronicles the rise and fall of Julien Sorel, a young man from a humble background who seeks success through ambition and seduction. The Red and the Black is a penetrating study of French society and the conflicts between individual desires and social constraints. It is praised for its sharp psychological insights and vivid portrayal of 19th-century France. 

Author: Alexandre Dumas 

A swashbuckling adventure set in the 17th century, The Three Musketeers follows the young d’Artagnan and his three musketeer friends as they navigate political intrigue and fight for justice. This novel is beloved for its action-packed plot, memorable characters, and themes of friendship and honour. 

Author: Gustave Flaubert 

Madame Bovary tells the story of Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife who seeks to escape from the boredom of provincial life through romantic fantasies and adulterous affairs. Flaubert’s realistic portrayal of Emma’s desires and disappointments is a landmark in literary realism, offering a critical look at the constraints of bourgeois society. 

Author: Albert Camus 

In this existential classic, Meursault, a disaffected Algerian, commits a senseless murder and faces the absurdity of life and death. The Stranger explores themes of absurdism, existentialism, and the alienation of modern life. It’s simple yet profound narrative has made it one of the most influential works of the 20th century. 

Author: Victor Hugo 

Set in the 15th century, this novel tells the tragic story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre-Dame Cathedral, and his unrequited love for the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda. Also adapted into a popular Disney movie, Hugo’s vivid descriptions of medieval Paris and his exploration of themes such as fate and justice make this a compelling read. 

Author: Jules Verne 

This science fiction classic follows Captain Nemo and his submarine, the Nautilus, as they embark on an underwater adventure. Along the way, they encounter marine life, submerged ruins, and face various underwater perils. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is celebrated for its imaginative storytelling, detailed scientific descriptions, and its exploration of human ingenuity and the mysteries of the ocean. 

Interested in exploring classic literature? Also read: 10 Timeless American Classics Everyone Should Read