5 Famous Bilingual Authors

I never cease to be impressed by authors who write in more than one language. This week’s blog post is dedicated to 5 such authors.


Samuel Beckett 

Samuel Beckett

(13th April 1906 – 22nd December 1989)

Irish born avant-garde novelist, playwright and poet Samuel Beckett is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century. His accolades include having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Beckett was a skilled linguist, who studied English, French and Italian at Trinity College, Dublin, and went on to live most of his adult life in Paris.

After the War Beckett published mostly in French, including arguably his most famous work, En attendant Godot (1953). With the exception of Molloy, Beckett translated all of his works from French to English himself.


Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad

(3rd December 1857 – 3rd August 1924)

Remembered as one of the greatest English language novelists of all time, the Polish born Conrad did not learn to speak English until he was in his twenties. Though Conrad never completed his schooling he was also well versed in German, Greek and Latin, in addition to speaking fluent French.

Conrad’s career in the merchant navy led to him moving to England, where he embarked on his writing career. In 1899 his seminal work Hearts of Darkness was published, a book that is regarded as one of the most important works of the 20th Century.


Vladimir Nabokov


(22nd April 1899 – 2nd July 1977)

The Saint Petersburg born Nabokov was brought up speaking French and English, in addition to his native Russian. Nabokov’s first nine novels were written in Russian, but it is his later English language efforts that he is best remembered for. His most famous work, Lolita, is considered to be one of the greatest and most controversial novels ever written. Lolita is one of Modern Library’s 100 best novels of the 20th Century. In 1967, twelve years after he had written Lolita, Nabokov translated it into Russian.

Click here to read my review of Lolita.


Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

(12th March 1922 – 21st October 1969)

American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac primarily wrote autobiographical novels in a spontaneous prose style.  His most famous book, On the Road, set against a backdrop of poetry, jazz and drug use, was the defining work of the postwar Beat Generation.

It has only recently been discovered that the young Kerouac initially began writing in Quebecois French, the language he has been brought up speaking by his French-Canadian parents. Kerouac went on to write poetry in French, in addition to two novels, which remain unpublished.

Click on the links to read my reviews of On the Road and Maggie Cassidy.


Nancy Huston

Nancy Huston

(Born: 16th September 1953)

Canadian born essayist and novelist Nancy Huston is a prolific author, who has published over 45 books comprising both fiction and non-fiction. Huston, who writes primarily in French, translates her own works into English. Her most famous book to date, Les variations Goldberg (1981), won the Prix Contrepoint prize. Huston is also more than capable of writing in English. Her critically acclaimed novel Plainsong (1993) was initially written in English and then self-translated into French.


Please note that I am currently overseas, and have only limited internet access.  As a result it may take me a while to reply to any comments.


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  • Guy, I hope the weather is better where you are than it is in the UK. Manchester is certainly earning its reputation as the rainy city of late. I have every respect for people who are multi-lingual – it’s an exceptional talent. I tried to study two languages at secondary school and, as with most of my friends, I found that I constantly got the two muddled up until I eventually dropped one and focused on just one of them. Another interesting post. 🙂

    • Thank you Diane. British schools seem to be adept at failing to teach their pupils foreign languages. I am in Argentina at the moment, so not sure what the weather is like in London. I barely speak a word of Spanish which can make things quite difficult over here. At least we had a good weather this summer and September in the UK.

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