Exile in Literature Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.