Marc Bloch

1886 – 1944 • France

Resistance Fighter • Historian

The son of a Jewish university lecturer in Roman history, Marc Bloch’s teenage years were spent under the shadow of the Dreyfus Affair. He did his higher secondary school studies at the prestigious lycée Louis-le-Grand in the rue St Jacques. Leaving top of the class he was accepted at the elite École normale supérieure in the Rue d’Ulm which he entered in 1904.

After two grants allowed him to study in Germany he taught at lycées in Montpellier and Amiens before being mobilised in 1914. Initially an infantry sergeant he was wounded but ended the war as a captain in intelligence with one of the 35,000 Legion of Honour decorations given for courage on the battlefield during the war as well as the Croix de Guerre.

In 1919 Bloch married Simonne Vidal. with whom he had six children, and was posted to the new university of Strasbourg. In 1929 Bloch, Lucien Febvre and André Piganiol founded the multidisciplinary historical journal Annales d’Histoire économique et sociale. This journal believed in ‘total history’, breaking with the silo mentality that had prevailed up to that point.

In 1936 Bloch secured a post at the Sorbonne, becoming Professor of Economic and Social History in 1938. From 1936 to 1939, Bloch lived in a flat above the Lutetia swimming pool at 17 Rue de Sèvres.

In 1939, aged 53, he volunteered to rejoin the army. He was appointed to undertake the mobiisation of soldiers in Strasboug, and then to work on logistics. He was evacuated from Dunkirk on May 31 1940, but immediately returned to France via Plymouth and Cherboug. When the Germans reached Normandy he made his way to rejoin his family at Le Bourg-d’Hem, where they had a holiday home.

France’s leading 20th century historian was then excluded from his Paris post In October 1940 as a Jew. The Germans requisitioned his flat and sent his library of books back to Germany under the law allowing them to do what they wanted with the Jewish property.

The Vichy Government’s new Secretary of State for Education, however, was an historian who had been taught by Boch’s father. Jérôme Carcopino decided to reappoint Bloch as a Professor ‘for exceptional scientific services to the French state’ and to post him to Strasbourg University in exile in Clermont-Ferrand. He therefore declined a job offer from the New School of Social Research in New York and moved to Clermont-Ferrand with his unwell wife and their children.

Early in 1941 Bloch was allowed to relocate to the University of Montpellier, where many other university lecturers were also now based. Bloch joined the intellectual resistance group that produced the underground papers Liberté and Combat.

With the occupation by the Germans of the southern zone on November 9 1942, Bloch moved into clandestinity. He quickly became a leading figure in the Lyon area Franc-Tireur movement. In preparation for the liberation in 1943 he was given the job of editing the resistance Political Notebooks.

Memorial to the 30 resistance fighters shot on June 16 1944 in Saint Didier de Formans, Ain. Marc Bloch’s name is fourth from the top of the left column. Four of those murdered were never identified.

Denounced by an informer he was arrested on March 8 1944 and then brutally tortured by Klaus Barbie among others without revealing any information. He was executed by the Germans with 29 other resistance fighters shortly after 8 pm in the evening of 16 June 1944. The youngest shot was 19, Bloch, aged 59, was the eldest.

In 1997 a small gap between redeveloped housing in a poor part of Paris was called ‘Place Marc Bloch’ to remember his name.

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Pierre Bourdieu

1930 – 2002 • France

Philosopher • Sociologist

A leading intellectual who believed in political engagement. He supported Algerian independence and the French strike wave of 1995, which he saw as one of many challenged to neo-liberalism.

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Georges Brassens

1921-1981 • France

Anarchist • Singer

A leading anarchist poet and songwriter of the 1950s and 1960s, he encouraged anti-authoritarianism.

Brassens contributed regularly in 1946-1947 under pseudonyms to the weekly anarchist newspaper Le Libertaire. In the 1950s Brassens’ donations enabled the Libertarian communist federation that ran the paper to move into an office in Rue Saint-Denis.

Brassens was one of many famous singers who appeared at the venue the Concert Pacra in the boulevard Beaumarchais.

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Aimé Cesaire

1913 – 2008 • Martinique


Aimé Cesaire in 1934 founded the Black cultural Negritude movement in Paris, becoming a poet, writer and politician

Studying in Paris in the 1930s, Cesaire moves towards Black nationalism and anti-colonialism.

He was elected an overseas deputy in the French National Assembly in 1945, sitting as a Communist until 1956, then as an independent until 1978, and finally as a socialist until 1993.

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Simone De Beauvoir

1908 – 1986 • France

FeministAuthor • Philosopher

A major writer, intellectual, existentialist philosopher, political activist, feminist and social theorist from the 1940s to the 1980s.

In Paris in 2016, I was still walking round following dreamers and lovers. It was 30 years since Simone de Beauvoir died. Along with George Sand, she is probably close to the top in France (and with a world-wide reputation) when it comes to fighting for women’s rights – both politically and personally.

Simone de Beaouvoir lived in a first floor flat above the café brasserie at the centre of the Montparnasse art scene before the First World War

So I headed back to La Rotonde on the boulevard du Montparnasse. When I first had a drink there with the ghosts of Trotsky and Rivera I didn’t know that when they were there in August 1914, the six-year-old Simone was living above their heads in the posh flat where she was born. That didn’t last long. Her maternal grandfather, who had funded her wannabe-actor legal secretary dad (his Breton name including ‘de’ doesn’t mean he was an aristocrat), went bankrupt after World War 1.

In 1919 the family was forced to move to a sixth floor (ie servants’) flat) at 71 rue de Rennes, without (like most Parisian working class families at the time) running water. (It’s not like that today!!). From there she went first to the Catholic Cours Desir secondary school in the Rue Jacob and then to the Lycée Fénelon, the first girls’ lycée in Paris that had opened in 1893 in the Rue de l’Éperon. It’s just down the road from where my father’s partner for 30 years still lives (she’s over 94 and going strong).
Simone de Beauvoir became an atheist at 14, around the time a close friend died.

She passed her Bac exams in 1924 and became the ninth woman to get a degree at the Sorbonne University where, at 20, she first saw the 23-year-old Jean-Paul Sartre at philosophy lectures.

In 1928, still living at home, she completed the equivalent of a Masters dissertation on Leibniz under the supervision of the husband of the leading feminist, Cecile Brunschvicg.

Philosophy student Jean-Paul Sartre in his 20s

A year later, she had moved out to the Avenue Denfert-Rochereau. That same year, in 1929, De Beauvoir and Sartre met again at the Cité Universitaire (where I first lived in Paris in the Maison de la Tunisie in 1964), and that was it. For the rest of their lives they kept a close intimate and work relationship going. Over the years, De Beauvoir had many other lovers, men and women, while Sartre had many women lovers.

Simone De Beauvoir in 1945 at the end of the Second World War

From 1929 to 1943 de Beauvoir taught at various lycées to support herself. Her independence was crucial to her thought. In 1931 and 1932 she was allocated to Lycées outside Paris teaching first in Marseille and then in Rouen.

In 1936-37 she was back in Paris, teaching at the Lycée Molière in the wealthy 16th arrondissement while living in the royal Bretagne hotel in the Rue de la Gaîté. On mornings when she wasn’t teaching, she used to have breakfast at the Dôme, the haunt of many German refugees who read newspapers there and played chess.

At one point Sartre proposed marriage to her so that they could both be sent to the same region of France, but she rejected this idea. Her independence was not for sale.

In September 1937 both de Beauvoir and Sartre were assigned teaching posts in Paris, and they both rented rooms in the Hôtel Mistral in Rue Cels. They lived there until September 1939 when Sartre was called up. This was where de Beauvoir began to work on her first novel (L’Invitée, published in 1943, in English ‘She Came to Stay’). There is now a joint plaque to them outside the Hotel.

After Sartre was mobilised into the army, de Beauvoir moved to the Hotel Danemark in the Rue Vavin. From there she moved to the Hotel d’Abusson on the Rue Dauphine. When Simone was thrown out of teaching in 1943 after being subject to political and personal criticisms the pair moved into separate rooms in the even cheaper Hotel Louisiana in the Rue de Seine.

Strangely, though, given her huge reputation, I only found one individual plaque to her. There was no plaque at what is now an expensive restaurant with an average-priced brasserie attached, La Closerie des Lilas. This was where Sartre and de Beauvoir organised a ‘Socialism and Freedom’ meeting attended by 50 people in 1941 after Sartre returned from a prisoner of war camp.

From 1948 to 1955 De Beauvoir lived in a three-room flat in the Rue de la Bûcherie. She then moved to a first-floor flat in the Rue Victor-Schoelcher opposite the Montparnasse Cemetery with Claude Lanzmann.

A rare plaque in Paris to a leftist who opposed the Algerian War and was an inspiration to the world feminist movement

This was her final move. She lived there until until 1986, where a plaque recognises her presence.

De Beauvoir’s most important work, ‘The Second Sex‘, was published in 1949. Its central argument is that women are constructed as a subordinate ‘Other’ by men, but that they can choose freedom rather than accept this construction. She certainly did this.

After two hours walking I sat down at another cafe – not far from where the couple had shared much, and near the Montparnasse Cemetery were they now lie together.

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Paul Eluard

1895 – 1952 • France

Author • Poet • Communist

A surrealist poet in 1924, Eluard joined the Communist Party in 1926 with Breton, and then left in 1933 when Breton was expelled, and rejoining in 1942 when he wrote in most famous poem, Liberty.

In 1947 another PCF member, Fernand Leger, illustrated Paul Eluard s most famous poem, ‘Liberty I write your name’
  • 43 Rue Louis-Blanc – Eluard ( then Eugène Grindel ) in Paris from 1908 to 1913.

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Michel Foucault

1926 – 1984 • France

Author • Philosopher

One of the world’s most cited philosophers, in the 1970s he campaigned for prisoners’ rights and migrant workers.

In the 1980s he moved towards the reformist ‘Second Left’ such as Michel Rocard, Pierre Mendès France and Edmond Maire.

He was one of the first public figures in France to die of AIDS.

Foucault was one of the 137 intellectuals who called for a silent anti-racist protest from the metro station on the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle on Saturday 16 December 1972 against the machine-gun murder by an officer of the police at the Versailles police station of a 32-year-old Algerian Mohamed Diab. Banned by the government the march became a battlefield with dozens of arrests of the predominantly migrant demonstrators.

Pierre Wiazemsky, the nephew of Claude Mauriac, one of those who called the demonstration, came back afterwards and completed several sketches, including one of Foucault running away from the CRS attack more speedily than Mauriac. Foucault’s skull narrowly missed being struck by a police batten before they were all arrested.

Jean Genet, Michel Foucault, Claude Mauriac and Alain Geismar sketched together in a Wiaz drawing after their arrests on 16 December 1972

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André Gide

1869 – 1951 • France

Author • Anti-fascist

One of France’s leading writers in the early 20th century, in the early 1930s he moved close to the Communist Party. in 1937, after his first visit to Russia, he denounced the Moscow trials and simultaneously campaigned against fascism.

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André Gorz

1923 – 2007 Austria

Literature, Marxism, Ecology

Philosopher and from the mid-1970s the theoretician of ecology, Gorz’s actual name was Gerhard Horst.

Based in Paris from 1949 Gorz moved from existentialism, through neo-Marxism to become a major global thinker about political ecology.

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Benoîte Groult

1920 – 2016 • France


Best-selling novelist who embraced feminism in the 1970s, she founded the monthly ‘F Magazine’ in 1978. She was the first to denounce female genital mutilation, and she fought for the right to die with dignity.

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Ernest Hemingway

1899-1961 • USA

Journalist • Author

Hemingway’s only vote was for the socialist Eugene V Debs. In 1921 he moved to Paris, leaving in 1927 after his first divorce. In the 1950s he was spied upon by the FBI for supposed Communist sympathies.

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Victor Hugo

1802-1885 • France

Author • Republican

Poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest and best-known French writers.  But his life (and loves) were much more complicated. He started as a monarchist and ended a principled republican.

Huge celebrations were held in Paris on 28 February 1882 to celebrate Victor Hugo’s 80th birthday. An estimated 600,000 people paraded beneath his windows at 124, avenue Victor Hugo, that had been renamed in his honour the year before. This was also the address where he died on 22 May 1885.

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Stéphane Mallarmé

1842 – 1898 France

Poet • Literature • Dreyfus

Stéphane Mallarmé was a major symbolist poet who joined Zola and others in 1898 just before his own death in campaigning for Dreyfus to be acquitted of treason and released in the defining dividing line between left and right in France.

Stéphane Mallarmé painted by his friend Édouard Manet, who did the illustrations of Edgar Poe’s ‘The Crow’ that Mallarmé translated in 1875.

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George Orwell

1903 – 1950 • India

Author • Literature

Eton-educated Orwell ran out of money in Paris soon after arriving there in 1928. His job as a bottle-washer lasted 18 months and became the basis of his first book, ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, published in 1933.


  • 6 Rue du Pot de Fer

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Jacques Prévert

1900 – 1977 • France

Poet • LiteratureSurrealismCommunism

Surrealist, briefly Communist, film director and major 20th century poet, he opposed of the forces of law and order in 1968 and supported Angela Davis in 1970.

A member of the Surrealist Group from 1926 to 1929, he became increasinglly interest in film-making with the introduction of sound. For four years from 1932 to 1936 he was the principal organiser of the theatre group called October.

He lived in Rue Vaugirard as a child and went to the primary school next door. in 1907.

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George Sand

1804-1876 • France

Feminist • Novelist • Socialist

George Sand was a feminist and republican who described herself as a communist in 1848, when she worked in the Workers’ Commission in the Luxembourg Palace. Many French feminists wanted George Sand to stand in the 1849 presidential elections when universal suffrage still excluded women.

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Jean-Paul Sartre

1905-1980 • France

Existentialism • LiteratureCommunism • Philosopher

A major philosopher of existentialism, he described it as a form of humanism. In 1941 he helped found ‘Socialism and Liberty’ with Simone de Beauvoir to bring together various intellectuals in a resistance organisation. His support for Algerian independence saw the OAS choose to place a plastic bomb outside his door in the Rue Bonaparte.

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Victor Serge

1890-1947 • Belgium

AnarchismLiterature • Trotsky

Serge lived in Paris from 1909 and jailed for five years for his writing about the Bonnot gang, he was an independent socialist. His life took him from anarchist, to Bolshevik, jailed under Stalin. and associate of Trotsky. Back in Paris at the end of the 1930s he eventually escapes to the US, and then Mexico. He was a journalist and novelist.

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Flora Tristan

1803-1844 • France

Feminism • Divorce rights • SocialismTrade unionism

In 1843, at the time the young Karl Marx was living in Paris, Flora Tristan published a small pamphlet called ‘The Workers’ Union’ (L’Union ouvrière). 

In it the 40-year-old Parisian woman made the case that workers were a single social class. Workers must organise themselves as such. She aimed to bring all men and women workers into a giant working class party, the Workers’ Union.
She was totally original at the time: she focused on the working class, all who worked without any property other than their labour power, and stressed the need for men and women workers as well as national and foreign workers to come together in a common project of social change. 

Flora Tristan drawn in the 1830s when she was shot by her husband as she campaigned for a woman’s right to demand a divorce

Tristan was also a determined feminist.

In the booklet’s section called ‘Why I mention women’, Tristan denounced the way women were either ignored or treated as persona non grata by the Church and all political parties. Only if male workers recognized the need for unity could they share their different experiences and create real common objectives.

‘Workers, without women, you are nothing!’, she explained.

And, just as subversively, Tristan stressed that only if workers organised work themselves could they ever win liberty.
After the Workers’ Union pamphlet was published she set off on a national tour to promote local committees of the Union. Between April and November 1844 Flora Tristan criss-crossed France selling her pamphlet and holding meetings. 

‘With my union project in my hand, from town to town, from one end of France to the other, to talk to the workers who do not know how to read and to those who do not have the time to read….I will go find them in their workshops; in their garrets and even, if needed, in their taverns.’

The campaign effectively killed her. She died in Bordeaux, probably of typhoid, just 41 years old. 

Tristan’s memorial stone in Bordeaux has a copy of her book the Workers’ Union at the top

Eight thousand people attended her funeral in Bordeaux. In the aftermath of the 1848 revolution, workers throughout France gave donations to erect a monument to Flora Tristan. It was inaugurated on 22 October 1848 in the Bordeaux Cimitière de la Chartreuse. The monument, a broken column, circled by a garland of oak and ivy, has a copy of her most important book, The Workers’ Union, at its top.

She was an extraordinary woman. Brought up by a mother widowed when Flora was four, the pair eventually had to live in one of the Restoration’s worst Paris slums in the Latin quarter’s Maubert area. Tristan lived in the Rue du Fouarre from 1815 to 1821.

She started work as an engraver and porcelaine painter. In 1821, aged 17, she married her employer, the painter and lithographer André François Chazal. Four years later, pregnant with Aline, and already mother of two children, she moved out of Paris back to her mother’s, near the Jardins du Roi (now the Jardins des Plantes), and began a life-long struggle for the right to divorce.
She lived working as a maid and lady’s companion, experiencing this as humiliation, but enabling her to visit England.

She visited London in 1826 and again in 1839, where she heard about the Grand National Consolidated Union and the Tolpuddle martyrs of 1834. In Paris, she became influenced by the Christian socialism of Saint Simone and others. She became a committed feminist socialist. and writer.

She criticised George Sand for hypocrisy. While applauding her use of ‘the novel as a medium to call attention to the harm done to women by our laws’, nonetheless Sand ‘has signed her works with the name of a man. How effective can accusations be when they are disguised as fiction?’ Tristan wanted to know. 

In 1838, after she published a denunciation of her abusive marriage and a call for the right to divorce her violent husband stalked, and then shot her. Only then did the wounded Tristan get a legal separation, while the ex-husband got a 20-year prison sentence.

Tristan’s early death during her campaign for working class unity meant she could play no part when radical feminists put up a woman candidate in the 1849 male-only suffrage presidential election under the Second French Republic. And we will never know what she would have thought about the first Socialist president of the Fifth French Republic creating a Flora Tristan stamp in 1984.

In 1984 under France’s first socialist president Mitterrand a memorial stamp was issued with Flora Tristan featured

But we can be pretty certain she would still be fighting for Socialism and Feminism. She would also be quite surprised and probably particularly upset that an 1892 painting titled ‘When will you marry?’ by her grandson, Aline’s son, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), would fetch prices of over £200m in 2017.

The grandson Flora Tristan never knew painted ‘When will you marry?’ half a century after her early death

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Émile Zola

1840-1902 France

SocialismLiterature • Novelist • Dreyfus

In 1898 Émile Zola, the pre-eminent 19th century social realist novelist, helped change the course of French history when he took up the cause of Captain Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer framed for treason.

From that moment onwards the republicans divided between those on the left who were internationalist and opposed racism and sought to improve the conditions of the vast majority of French people, and those on the political right who sided with the monarchists and Bonapartists and unconditionally supported the army and ‘strong government’.

Unlike most significant left figures in French history, Zola’s magnificent literary output followed by his premature death meant he has three plaques to him around Paris as well as an avenue named after him.

One plaque confirms his place of birth on the fourth floor of 10 Rue St Joseph, even though the family moved away when he was three years old.

Most Parisians rented their homes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Like them, Zola moved around a great deal when he first arrived in Paris to study for a Bac diploma in science (following in his father’s footsteps), staying primarily in the cheap Latin Quarter.

In 1858 to 1859, Zola lived first at 63 Rue Monsieur le Prince and then moved a short distance to 241 Rue St Jacques. After failing to get a Bac in science he gets a job as a clerc on the docks for two months before moving again in 1860 to 35 Rue St Victor. Evicted from there for non-payment of his rent his next move was to 4 Rue Rollin and then to 11 Rue Soufflot – all within a short distance of each other.

On March 1 1862 Zola starts a job at the Hachette bookshop thanks to an offer by its owner, Louis, and on October 31 1862 is naturalised French.

He is then living at what is now 7 Impasse Royer-Collard. Still employed at the bookshop, after a short stay with his mother at 5 Rue des Feuillantines, he then moves back to Rue St Jacques, this time to No. 278. This is where he was living in 1864 when his first novel was published, Contes à Ninon (Stories from Ninon).

In late 1864 Zola started a relationship with Éléonore-Alexandrine Meley, a seamstress also called Gabrielle, whom he married in 1870. The couple first lived together in 1866 in a sixth floor room with a view of the Luxembourg Garden from the terrace of 10 Rue de Vaugirard.

On 12 January 1898 Zola wrote ‘j’acccuse‘, a letter to the French President, Felix Faure, at his marital home since 1889 at 21 Rue de Bruxelles. He then took it to the offices of the ‘Aurore’ newspaper edited by Georges Clemenceau at 144 Rue Montmartre, now remembered by a plaque. It was published the following day.

Zola’s letter to President Faure was published on January 13 1898. It led to him being put on trial and to the discloure of evidence proving the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus.

Zola died of carbon monoxide poisoning from an alleged faulty heater in September 1902.

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Places associated with Émile Zola