Exile is such a common theme in literature. From ancient to modern times, this theme has appeared throughout novels, short stories, and poetry. Given all this, it hardly comes as a surprise that many authors were themselves exiled from the place they called home, sometimes by force, sometimes due to political reasons, sometimes even self-imposed. Whatever the reason, their exile considerably effected their work.
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More often than note, someone who expresses opposition to those in power faces consequences- usually bad. Such was the case for Victor Hugo, who made clear his feelings of opposition towards Napoleon III and his empire. Banished from his native France, Hugo was forced to flee to the small island of Guernsey in the English Channel. Once there, he took to writing and completed several works including his masterpiece Les Miserables, which he had previously abandoned.
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Other authors enjoyed positions in politics themselves before their empires collapsed. Such was the case for Dante Alighieri, who learned the hard way that what goes around really does come around. It was only after Dante exiled several rivals of his own that he found himself banished from his native Florence due to his opposition of the Pope. During his 20 years of exile, Dante composed his work The Divine Comedy, still considered one of the world’s greatest poetic masterpieces to his day. Dante paid homage to the struggles of being a political exile in his work. He may not have been in Hell, but it certainly seems as though he felt as if he were.
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As strange as it might have seemed to Dante, some writers chose to be in exile. Centuries later, Ernest Hemingway was sent to France while working as a journalist. He was so taken with the culture of expatriates that he found in Paris that he opted to stay. During his time in Europe, he completed his modern classic The Sun Also Rises. Like Dante, he paid tribute to the culture of others like him in his work, acknowledging that even going to another country couldn’t help you get away from who you were.
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Hemingway wasn’t the only expatriate of the literary world. Poet T.S. Eliot abandoned his home in New England as a young man and took up residence in the UK. Judging by the things he wrote during this time, such as The Wastelands, it is clear that his feelings regarding his homeland were conflicted. This self-imposed exile would ultimately prove pivotal to his career, though. During his time in the UK, he was introduced to the British literary scene, which influenced his work considerably. Much of this was due to his friendship with fellow expatriate writer and poet Ezra Pound.
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No exiled author’s story seems to be as extreme as that of Salman Rushdie. The publication of his 1988 work The Satanic Verses ignited a firestorm of controversy in the conservative Muslim world, resulting in the book being commonly banned and even burned in some places. Violence ensued and things became so heated that Rushdie needed police protection. He ultimately fled to New York City, where he has continued to write.
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