hroughout history, many great writers have been exiled from their homelands for various reasons, however, this did not stop them from using their invaluable craft to write and pass on their knowledge and intellect. The truth has not always been seen in a bright light by everyone as the truth would make some look like the villains they are for the lives they chose to live therefore they feel the need to kill, or in this case, exile those that portray their persona in a negative way.
In the past, free-thinking was not always allowed, and the authorities did not allow anyone to criticize the state unabashedly. Dramatic for many writers, exile, even of the self-imposed kind, nevertheless gave way to some of the most important literary works in history. In this article, I want to present to you writers from different periods of history and the work they created while in exile as well as provide you with the various reasons why they have been thrown in exile apart from the one mentioned above.
Émile Zola (1840–1902)
In 1898, the writer Émile Zola was fleeing from France because he was wanted by the police. He had been convicted of slander following the publication of the manifesto “J’Accuse !”, which defended Captain Dreyfus. The author publicly condemned anti-Semitism in French society and corruption in the justice system, as well as the illegal arrest of Dreyfus for espionage. As a result, Zola had to flee to London and did not return to Paris until after the Dreyfus scandal ended.
Bertold Brecht (1898–1956)
Bertold Brecht, director and writer, left Germany in 1933 after Hitler came to power. He first retired to Sweden but then migrated to the United States after 1940. He, like many other writers and scholars of German descent, knew the trouble that Hitler would bring. He had written many famous movie scripts for old American movies but even with his great success overseas, he decided to move back to Europe, not to Germany but to Sweeden where he had gone to the first time he departed from Germany. He was not exiled directly but indirectly because his return to Germany during the Second World War would have most probably meant his death for being a “traitor”.
Pablo Neruda (1904- 1973)
The poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda came into conflict with the authorities in Chile in the late 1940s when he publicly protested against the repression of the communist movement. He spent several months hiding in a friend’s cellar, then fled to Europe, from where he returned only in 1952. The writer (despite being a diplomat) had seen a rough life because communism had great power over central and east Europe, therefore his more capitalistic ideology was not well seen by others and as his face can tell, he was not a man to keep his words and thoughts to himself.
Salman Rushdie (1947–2007)
British author of Indian origin Salman Rushdie published the famous novel Satanic Verses in 1988. Considered a blasphemy by conservative Muslims, the book brought Rushdie a ticket to his death sentence. In Muslim countries, the book was banned and burned on the stake in public, sparked numerous protests, and even resulted in the death of some of its translators. Rushdie had to be put under the protection of the British Government and lived for many years in hiding, under a false name.
David Herbert Lawrence (1885–1930)
D. H. Lawrence was one of the most controversial British authors in history. First, he became the target of the authorities because of his views against the war (we are in the years of World War I) and could not publish, for this reason, the novel Women in Love. He left England and spent the rest of his life traveling through Australia, Italy, India, the United States, Mexico, and France. But the scandals followed him, especially after the publication of the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his best-known book, banned for many years in various countries because some scenes were considered obscene.
Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888–1965)
Born in America, T.S. Eliot left for Britain in 1914. It was a decision that haunted him for a long time: he tried to strike a balance between the sense of obligation and intellectual curiosity towards the United States and the feeling of belonging to the religious, political, and literary community in England. The fact that he left America was crucial to his career, as his friendship with the poet Ezra Pound (and his expatriation) inspired his work and propelled him onto the British literary scene. As you can see from this example as well as many others, being exiled has helped many writers reach great success.
Stefan Zweig (1881–1942)
Stefan Zweig, an Austrian writer of Jewish origin, was at the height of his career in the 1930s. At that time, he was living in Austria, a country he left after Hitler came to power in Germany spreading his fascist ideology. He lived first in England, then left for the United States and, in 1940, Brazil. The drama of exile and the suffering caused by the war and the destruction of Europe that he adored (which he talks about in his book, The World of Yesterday, written in those years) pushed the writer to suicide. This shows the power that not only the writer can have upon the readers but also the power that the readers and their feedback in different forms can have on the writer.
Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)
The story of Oscar Wilde’s exile is very sad. The Irish writer was imprisoned for sodomy and indecency, and his health was badly affected by prison. After his release, he left England, and in exile changed his name to Sebastian Melmoth. Located in Paris, he started writing again, the result is one of his most famous pieces, The Importance of Being Earnest. But he gave up on literature, saying that he had completely lost the joy of writing. Many believe that it wasn’t the loss of joy for writing that made him stop writing but his sad and disturbing life which had affected him in many different ways making him not want to write anymore.
Victor Hugo (1802–1885)
Victor Hugo was quite the writer who lived a melancholic life for many years. He was forced into exile after political conflict with Napoleon III for sharing different political views in his works. Although he was pardoned, he remained in the UK, his adoptive country, with pride. Here he was to write his best-known book, Les Misérables, in which the central theme is social injustice, against which he had fought vehemently in France before his exile.
Lord Byron (1788–1824)
“Playboy” poet Lord Byron was already a devoted writer when he decided to leave England in a self-imposed exile. The reasons: an incestuous and scandalous relationship with his step-sister, the accumulation of debts, and the problem of some lovers from his past. Others said that British intolerance towards homosexuals and the danger of being convicted was the real reason. Byron settled in Geneva for a period, where he became friends with Percy and Mary Shelley, and never returned to England (he died in Greece).
François-Marie Arouet (1694–1778)
François-Marie Arouet did not adopt the pseudonym of Voltaire until after his second sentence in Bastille. He already had a dangerous history of the attack on the royal family and controversial writings against the French Church (he was terribly irritated by religious fanaticism), but his fate was sealed after a conflict with a nobleman. Voltaire left for London and returned home three years later, after writing Letters on the English, in which he presented his views on the British monarchy, literature, and religion. The English seemed much more tolerant and liberal, which gave rise to another controversy around Voltaire.
A small part of history was literally written by these writers with or without being forced into exile. Many historians say that famous writers who have realized their writing careers after being in exile are a result of the experience offered by going through exile and living (as they say) a life of exile. I hope that the lives of these writers will inspire you to be thankful that we live in a time where freedom of speech won’t put your life in danger (to a certain extent).