Exile in Literature Essay - Critical Essays

Exile in Literature


Exile in Literature

The theme of exile has engaged the imagination of many writers in the course of literary history, either because they experienced having to leave their native country for political reasons, or because they felt a disaffection with their society and consciously chose to live elsewhere. In fiction, as in life, there are many kinds of exile, as individual as the people experiencing and writing about it.

Martin Tucker, Celeste M. Schrenck, and Edward W. Said, among many other scholars, have written about the general characteristics and implications of exile. Schenck focuses on the special displacement experienced by women writers in exile, while Said emphasizes the personal and literary repercussions of exile—in his own case, as a writer from Palestine. Discussing the generation of American expatriate writers who lived in Paris in the 1920s, J. Gerald Kennedy comments on some of the reasons why, for them, Paris “inescapably reflects the creation of an exilic self.” Many scholars have also dealt with the theme of exile in fictional works, linking a writer's treatment of that theme with the writer's own situation. For example, Samuel Lyndon Gladden has discussed Oscar Wilde's writings following the completion of his prison sentence and move to France; Leo Gurko has written about Joseph Conrad's experience as a Pole living in England and writing in English; and Kennedy has focused on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night (1934) as it reflects Fitzgerald's temporary self-exile in France.

Sometimes historical circumstances dictate that a number of a nation's leading intellectuals and writers leave in order to seek personal as well as artistic freedom. Such was the case in Germany just before and during World War II, for example, when many liberals and anti-Nazi writers left the country in protest, creating a parallel body of German literature written outside of Germany during that period. Wm. K. Pfeiler, Thomas A. Kamla, and Egbert Krispyn have analyzed the general historical climate that led to the German writers' exodus and have highlighted some specific cases, like those of Konrad Merz, Thomas Mann, and Arthur Koestler. Günter Berghaus has written about the community of German writers and artists living in Great Britain during the war years and beyond, noting their contribution to intellectual life in their new environment.

Representative Works

Djuna Barnes
Nightwood (novel) 1936

Samuel Beckett
Molloy (novel) 1951
En Attendant Godot [Waiting for Godot] (drama) 1953

Béla Belász
The Theory of the Drama (criticism) 1922

Joseph Conrad
Lord Jim (novel) 1900

e. e. cummings
The Enormous Room (prose narrative) 1922

F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tender Is the Night (novel) 1934

Joris-Karl Huysmans
Á rebours [Against the Grain] (novel) 1884

James Joyce
Dubliners (short stories) 1914
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (novel) 1914-15
Exiles (drama) 1919
Ulysses (novel) 1922
Finnegans Wake (novel) 1939

Arthur Koestler
Spanish Testament (autobiography) 1937
Scum of the Earth (autobiography) 1941

Thomas Mann
Die Geschichten Jaakobs [Joseph and His Brothers] (novel) 1934
Lotte in Weimar [The Beloved Returns] (novel) 1939

Konrad Merz
Ein mensch fällt aus Deutschland (novel) 1936

Czeslaw Milosz
Ziemia Ulro [Land of Ulro] (poetry) 1977

Vladimir Nabokov
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (novel) 1939

Anäis Nin
The Diaries of Anäis Nin (diary) 1966-80

Saint-John Perse
Eloges [Eloges and Other Poems] (poetry) 1911
Anabase [Anabasis] (poetry) 1924

Isaac Bashevis Singer
Shosha (novel) 1978

Oscar Wilde
Sebastian Melmoth (prose) 1904

Stefan Zweig
The World of Yesterday (autobiography) 1943

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

Celeste M. Schenck (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: Schenck, Celeste M. “Exiled by Genre: Modernism, Canonicity, and the Politics of Exclusion.” In Women's Writing in Exile, edited by Mary Lynn Broe and Angela Ingram, pp. 225-50. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Schenck discusses the poetry of female modernists in terms of their state of being exiled from the political, cultural, and social mainstream.]

When I first mapped out an essay on what I'd like to call modernist women's exiles, I envisioned an article on the exchanges between gender and genre, raised exponentially to include geography in the case of those triply exiled expatriate women poets. The task...

(The entire section is 9329 words.)

Martin Tucker (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Tucker, Martin. An introduction to Literary Exile in the Twentieth Century: An Analysis and Biographical Dictionary, edited by Martin Tucker, pp. xiii-xxiv. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

[In the following excerpt, Tucker attempts to define the concept of exile in historical, cultural, and literary terms, comparing various exiles' notions about the theme.]

Because the awareness of exile has recently grown to such an extent—witnessed by the many studies of it published in the past fifty years and by university courses specifically centered on the definition and experience of exile—the term has become a generalized one. Exile as a concept and as an...

(The entire section is 6607 words.)

J. Gerald Kennedy (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Kennedy, J. Gerald. “Place, Self, and Writing: Toward a Poetics of Exile.” In Imagining Paris: Exile, Writing, and American Identity, pp. 1-37. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Kennedy analyzes how Paris became for such writers as e.e. cummings, Ernest Hemingway, and Anaïs Nin a place that “inescapably reflects the creation of an exilic self.”]

Shortly after returning from a prison camp in France, E. E. Cummings composed The Enormous Room (1922), an experimental novel recounting his ordeal as a Norton Harjes ambulance driver arrested (with his friend Slater Brown) on suspicion of German sympathy and incarcerated...

(The entire section is 14004 words.)