They're of two sorts, IMO. One are the writers who draw form their minds. To wit: Corneille and Racine. Voltaire and Sartre. I think many French see themselves as intellectual aristocrats, and that's one reason they worship those dudes.
But the other great French writers, those who write from the heart—not without great skill and mental prowess—are the giants, to my mind.
At the pinnacle, Molière and Balzac.
I doubt anyone would contest Balzac. But I would wager most French wouldn't place Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka, Molière, at the very top. I'm on shaky ground, of course, not being French. How dare I! Well, as the French say, enfoiré! Roughly translated—well, look it up.
One reason, I think, is because Molière is funny. Comic writers have always securely occupied a second rung in literature, never the first. Which is fucking ridiculous.
But who is not one of the greatest writers who ever lived if not Cervantes, a comic writer to the marrow?
To wit. In his play, Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid), a doctor is trying to woo a young woman. To entice her, he proposes:
"...I invite you to come see one of these days, to amuse yourself, the dissection of a woman, about whom I'll lecture."
The woman's servant drily replies:
"A very agreeable amusement. There are some who would take their lady love to a play, but a dissection is something much more gallant."
|A scene from an American production of The Imaginary Invalid|
In fact, Le Malade imaginaire was Molière's last play. Sick with TB, he insisted, in true theatrical tradition, that the show must go on. He collapsed and died shortly thereafter. He was refused burial in sacred ground because he was an actor. WTF? Never mind that he was also an author. 144 years later, the French woke up and had his remains transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery.
What I would give to see what he would do with our present times.