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A Guide to Exiles, Expatriates, and Internal Emigrés

First let me say what I think these terms signify in common speech. An expatriate is different from an exile. In early use an exile was a banished man, a wanderer or roamer: exsul. “For I must to the greenwood go, alone, a banished man.” In ancient Greek times, a man with a price on his head unable to return home until he had ransomed his blood guilt. The Wandering Jew, I suppose, is the archetypal exile, sentenced to trail about the earth until the Second Coming. Or Dante, a fuoruscito, waiting for a Second Coming in the shape of the German emperor who would make it safe for him to return to Florence. Ovid, banished by Augustus and writing his Tristia.

James Joyce
James Joyce; drawing by David Levine

The exile is essentially a political figure, though the offense he has committed may have been in the sphere of morals. He has incurred the displeasure of the state by some sort of levity of conduct or looseness of tongue—a political crime in a tyranny, ancient or modern. Or he is an unhealthy element sent to lonely quarantine in some remote spot, like Prometheus on his rock.

Though the term easily lends itself to metaphorical inflation—“I am in exile here, in this unsympathetic environment into which fate has cast me,” as Mme Bovary might have sighed to the notary clerk—it has not lost its primary, political sense. The exile waits for a change of government or the tyrant’s death, which will allow him to come home. If he stops waiting and adapts to the new circumstances, then he is not an exile any more. This condition of waiting means that the exile’s whole being is concentrated on the land he left behind, in memories and hopes. The more passive type, summed up in the banished poet, lives on memories, while the active type, summed up in the revolutionist, lives on hopes and schemes. There is something of both in every exile, an oscillation between melancholy and euphoria.

More than anybody (except lovers), exiles are dependent on mail. A Greek writer friend in Paris was the only person I knew to suffer real pain during the events of May, 1968, when the mail was cut off. In the absence of news from Greece, i.e., political news, he was wasting away, somebody deprived of sustenance. They are also great readers of newspapers and collectors of clippings. The fact that the press of their country is censored (a corollary, evidently, of their exile) makes them more hungry for scraps of rumor and information which they can piece together.

Classically, exile was a punishment decreed from above, like the original sentence of banishment on Adam and Eve which initiated human history. Today deportation of native-born citizens is illegal, so far as I know, in most Western countries, where the opposite punishment—refusal of a passport—is meted out to political undesirables, and assignment to forced residence, which is really a form of imprisonment, is practiced most notably by the colonels’ regime in Greece and by the Soviet Union, as in the case of Solzhenitsyn. Today a man may be an exile from his homeland even though he left voluntarily—the Jews who managed to get out of Nazi Germany, defectors from the East, Cuban runaways, American draftresisters and deserters.

A person who cannot return home without facing death or jail for acts committed against the government is an exile. Eldridge Cleaver in Algiers. Or for acts he may commit if he remains true to himself, a whole being. Or for no acts at all, if he belongs to a proscribed category owing to his race, class, or religion. But in recent times, it is worth noticing, a new word, “refugee,” describes a person fleeing from persecution because of his category. Taken from refugié, it was first used in England in 1685 of the Huguenots seeking asylum after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

The exile is a singular, whereas refugees tend to be thought of in the mass. Armenian refugees, Jewish refugees, refugees from Franco Spain. But a political leader or artistic figure is an exile: Thomas Mann yesterday, today Theodorakis. Exile is the noble and dignified term, while a refugee is more hapless. At one point in your flight you may be a refugee and later, covered with honors, turn into an exile. If a group of Greek writers draws up a manifesto, they are writers-in-exile, but if we are trying to raise money to help them, they are refugees. The Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao peasants fleeing from the war zones are, of course, refugees; former Vietnamese politicians living in Paris are exiles.

What is implied in these nuances of social standing is the respect we pay to choice. The exile appears to have made a decision, while the refugee is the very image of helplessness, choicelessness, incomprehension, driven from his home by forces outside his understanding and control. We speak of flood refugees, earthquake refugees, persecuted by nature on account of the place they live in, war refugees harried by men for no other reason than that. Since refugees are seen as a mass the immediate thought is to process and resettle them. After first aid and minimal feeding. But no bureaucrat or social worker would dream of resettling exiles. The whole point about them is their refusal to put down new roots.

They are more like birds than plants, perching wherever they are, ready for homeward flight. Even when they have funds to buy a little house, take a long lease on a flat, they prefer transient accommodations—bedsitters or hotel rooms, like Nabokov at the Hotel Montreux-Palace in Montreux. If an exile buys a house or takes a long lease on a flat, it’s a sign that he’s no longer a true exile.

An expatriate is almost the reverse. His main aim is never to go back to his native land or, failing that, to stay away as long as possible. His departure was wholly voluntary. An exile can be of any nationality, but an expatriate is generally English or American. The type was not seen in any numbers until the Romantic period. His predecessor was the eighteenth-century traveler, someone like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, but the true expatriate is not a gadabout. Nor a wanderer like the exile. He tends to take up residence in some fixed spot (which he may change definitively, as Henry James did when he moved from France to England) and to buy property or lease it. In fact, the acquisition of desirable property, also in the form of furniture, paintings, statues, bibelots, seems to be one of the motives for expatriation. This is clear enough in James’s novels.

The expatriate is a hedonist. He is usually an artist or a person who thinks he is artistic. He has no politics or, if he has any, like the Brownings he has acquired them from the country he has adopted. The average expatriate thinks about his own country rarely and with great unwillingness. He feels he has escaped from it. The expatriate is a by-product of industrialism. The Industrial Revolution sent him abroad, in headlong flight from ugliness. At the same time, of course, he owes his presence abroad to the prosperity induced by the factories and manufactures he is fleeing from. This too is clearly, though somewhat coyly, stated by James.

The expatriate’s need is to locate as far as possible from the source of his capital and to be free of the disapprobation of the administrators of the same. He is somewhat less compromised if he is “only” receiving checks, like Scott Fitzgerald, from the Saturday Evening Post or royalties from Scribner’s, like Hemingway. Least compromising of all is to find work in the adopted country, like the poet Allen Tate acting as a janitor in a Paris basement, but the expatriate is seldom willing to work at a job, since the nine-to-five routine is part of the spiritual oppression he is escaping from. Dependence on money from a despised source tends to demoralize any but very young people. This demoralization is felt all though expatriate literature.

The exile, too, is dependent on money remitted from the homeland and other doubtful sources. The draftresister’s parents send checks; relations of the East European defector smuggle out icons and bits of jewelry which he can offer for sale. Without papers, the political refugee may have trouble finding work; if he is an author, he has exiled himself from his audience: at home his books are banned. But since he is not a hedonist money is not very important to him. As soon as he gets any, he is likely to share it with others or start a magazine.

Magazines are very important to exiles, and for literary expatriates they are morale-builders. To start a magazine—e.g., transition, Blues, Broom—is to start a sort of literary government-in-exile; up to then, you were just expatriates sitting in cafés. For the genuine exile, a magazine in the native language, like Herzen’s The Bell or today’s Polish Kultura, is almost as vital as mail. It is not only a forum for discussion but a transmission belt to the home underground. Texts and news of secret trials, assassination attempts, purges, executions are smuggled out of the mother country, and copies of the magazine are then smuggled back in, to circulate in clandestinity.

The expatriate writers of the Twenties and early Thirties, mainly located in Paris, mainly rather poor or at any rate struggling, were also mainly American. Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Djuna Barnes, and so on. And of course Gertrude Stein and Edith Wharton, who were not poor. T. S. Eliot, Pound, and Conrad Aiken were living in England. The Irishmen Joyce and Beckett were living in Paris, Joyce having moved on from Trieste and Zurich. Norman Douglas and Percy Lubbock were in Italy. D. H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield had died in some awful combination of exile and expatriation, since their health forbade England to them. She was already an expatriate from New Zealand to England.

But when the dollar dropped in value during the Thirties, after the crash, the Americans, by and large, went swiftly home, proving that even those who like Malcolm Cowley (author of a book called Exile’s Return) had imagined themselves to be exiles were only expatriates. The few who stayed were driven back to the United States as refugees after the fall of France in 1940. Those few were the ones who returned when the war ended: the others had “refound their roots.”

Today the expatriate writer is mainly a memory. In Paris there are only Graham Greene, Beckett (unless he counts as French), James Jones, Nancy Mitford, Lesley Blanch, Italo Calvino, so far as I know, though there is a rumor that Lawrence Durrell is around. S. J. Perelman in England. A few live in Tangiers, a few still in Athens; in Rome, Gore Vidal and Muriel Spark. James Baldwin, in the South of France and before that in Turkey, is more of an exile than an expatriate. That is true of Burroughs too.

Expatriate writing, a potpourri of the avant-garde and the decadent, has almost faded away. In fiction, Henry James had set the themes once and for all. Everything that followed can be seen as a variation, however grotesque. South Wind, The Sun Also Rises, Nightwood, The Alexandria Quartet, The Merry Month of May, even Tropic of Cancer. From James on, too, there is a certain Jackie-and-Ari color-supplement flavor to most of this fiction. The characters from Isabel Archer to Henry Miller’s hero have come abroad to lead the beautiful life in one form or another. They are impersonating figures in a work of art—something few people dare to do at home.

The great exception is Joyce. But he considered himself an exile, not an expatriate. He proclaimed it in the title of his single play, Exiles, and in Stephen Dedalus’s famous vow of silence, exile, and cunning. Of course, this was rhetoric: it was only in his own mind that Joyce was driven into exile by the tyranny at home. He could have come back without risk whenever he wanted and did several times. Yet he willed his rhetoric so fiercely that it commands belief, particularly since the difficulties of publication pitted him against the forces of order in the shape of censors wherever his native language was spoken. He was able to go home freely, but his books could not. In this, he differed from expatriates like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, who never had any problems with censors or customs.

Moreover, Joyce was no hedonist, though fond of white wine and song. He had come abroad with a purpose “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” He was engaging himself in a conspiracy against the ruling forces of Ireland, and the infernal machine was to be his literary work. It was a plot, to be executed with the typical methods of the revolutionary: silence (i.e., secrecy) and cunning.

As an exile and a conspirator, he had no moral shrinking from accepting money from his hard-up brother, from his rich patron, Miss Weaver, from any available source. It was as impersonal as raising money to buy a mimeograph machine or material for making bombs. Unlike other exiles, he was a real loner, a conspiracy of one, yet he had great organizational talent and was always able to recruit a staff of collaborators: Herbert Gorman, Stuart Gilbert, the Jolases, Sylvia Beach, Samuel Beckett, Frank Budgen, Robert McAlmon, Padraic Colum, not to mention typists, copiers, miscellaneous helpers. In London his chief agent, Pound, was active. In Paris there was a small cell of Frenchmen, headed by Valéry Larbaud. The expatriates who helped him fabricate the big bomb, first known as Work in Progress, became, as it were, honorary exiles, and the organization did not dissolve with his death.

He had the exile’s characteristic restlessness: the Joyces were constantly moving. Yet he regarded his exile as permanent and definitive and was rather upset when the Irish finally got their freedom, which he feared might suggest that he no longer had any reason to stay away. He was making a literary revolution, whose strategy required his physical absence to foster mental concentration. True to form, he was nourishing himself on memories. Nothing could be farther from the expatriate “international novel” than his careful reconstruction of Bloomsday—June 16, 1904—with its remembered Dublin containing real streets and real people, like the scale model of some famous battle with all the generals, foot soldiers, and artillery pieces in place. Finnegans Wake is still set in Dublin with a cast of native characters, seemingly pre-World War I, who have become eternal.

Ada, you might say, is Nabokov’s Finnegans Wake, polylingual, full of puns and linguistic jokes, placed in an imaginary future-past, where America and Russia have merged and annexed bits of France and Switzerland into their author’s sovereign territory. The characters, like the Earwicker nuclear family, are closely related and prone to split and fuse; though not primordial or eternal, they attain patriarchal ages without taking leave of adolescence, as though playing naughty tricks on time. If the self-banished Joyce was making a one-man literary revolution, Nabokov, a genuine displaced person, has been trying throughout his career to make a one-man literary restoration, using his prodigious memory to undo the present. “Speak, Memory,” he commands royally, in a title, and the masque begins.

Though he has the reputation of a modernist, his language is antique Mandarin, like his life style, and he is probably the greatest enemy of modernism extant. He is against psychoanalysis, every kind of “new” politics, atom bombs, avant-garde art. He is not just any White Guard exile but a dethroned monarch, like Charles the Beloved, in Pale Fire, traveling under the incognito of Kinbote-Botkin, a poor mad refugee. Nabokov’s relations with English are often highly autocratic: witness his controversy with Edmund Wilson—an international incident. He has written a long poem—and some shorter ones—to the Russian language, which he seems to regard as a national treasure the usurper Bolsheviks appropriated from him, to turn over to the rabble.

Ada is his supreme revenge. There he at last reinstates himself in a supranational, supercilious palace of culture, with a queen by his side; the mirror pair of children, like the Ptolemys, are brother and sister. “A Family Chronicle” is the subtitle; “Dynastic” would be better. Nothing could be more remote from the Family of Man or Here-Comes-Everybody of Finnegans Wake, which takes place in a pub.

Ada, in my view, is a failure, a misfired coup d’état, and this, I think, is not unrelated to the crows of triumph that shrill through it. The theme of need in all its sad and threadbare forms (Gogol’s overcoat), so characteristic of the author, has here been cast aside or molted, like last year’s set of feathers. But this theme and the allied one of insuperable distance, which everybody has experienced, if only when in love, have up to now supplied a human element, compensating for a great deal of extravagance and foppery in Nabokov’s writing. We forgive the vanity and arrogance of the Pretender exile because, like Pnin, like Humbert Humbert, like Botkin, he is at least half a refugee. In Ada, there is no shared mass misery of furnished rooms, German boarding-houses and park benches, underpaid language lessons, émigré magazines and newspapers, sectarian bickering, leading on to American lectureships, missed trains, common room snubs, motels. One of the chief interests, instead, is genealogy. It is as if the author, once a Russian exile in America, with all that implies of loss and grieving, had metamorphosed into an American expatriate living on a Swiss mountaintop “above it all.”

Nabokov insists that he is indifferent to current Russian events, but that is only his way of snubbing the Soviet Union, just as his pose of being indifferent to politics is a snub to engagé literature. Actually, he is far from apolitical and continues to feud in books and interviews with left-wingers as a body and with Russian left-wingers in particular, including Chernyshevsky, author of What is to be done?, who died in 1889. More peculiar is his malice toward Pasternak, whom he half-admired as a poet and who was dead, too, and disgraced when Ada came out: there Nabokov cites, among other repellent titles, Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago—i.e., mertv (death plus merde). This must be a case of novelist’s jealousy. Nabokov, an exile, envied Pasternak, an “internal émigré“—a Soviet term of abuse often applied to Pasternak and meaning something like an internal expatriate, if that can be conceived.

As novelists, Nabokov and Pasternak were in rivalry for “the Russian land,” a legacy they had from Tolstoy and Aksakov. They belonged to the same milieu, the old educated class—what the Soviets called “former persons,” like ghosts—though Pasternak’s family were lower on the czarist social scale, artists and bohemians, city people and apartment-dwellers, rather than well-to-do landowners. But the external exile, despite his much greater worldly success, envied the internal exile—the man-in-possession.

Perhaps it was sometimes mutual. In Dr. Zhivago (page 312 of the English edition) Pasternak appears to be emitting a signal of some kind to the other writer. “Folding and unfolding like a scrap of coloured stuff, a brown speckled butterfly” flies in and out of the story for the length of a single paragraph, giving rise to some reflections on mimicry and protective coloring. Yury Zhivago, says Pasternak, has alluded to this subject in his medical publications. But Nabokov too, as a professional lepidopterist, has published on protective mimicry—a fact probably known to Pasternak, who certainly was aware of him as a butterfly-hunter. Yet if the passage was intended as a fraternal greeting, it got a cold response.

The characters in Dr. Zhivago, many of them exiles from their former way of life, are swept up by the storm of the Revolution and become refugees. Sooner or later, everybody is in flight or hiding—refugees from war, from the Red terror, from the White terror, peasants who have lost their homes, townspeople driven into the countryside by hunger. The long and beautiful train trip across the Russian land into the Ural Mountains, which recalls a trip in Aksakov’s memoirs, is the great major sequence of the book, combining an idyll with an epic trek. The revolutionary storm spares nobody, not even the commissar Antipov, who is found toward the end hiding in a farmhouse encircled by wolves. With one big exception, the evil genius Komarovsky, Lara’s seducer. He is last seen riding off in a wagon-lit to become, not an exile, for he has never been “political,” but a true expatriate, doubtless smoking a cigar and heading for Manchuria. Another exception, who does not belong, though, to the naturalistic plane of the novel and who, like Komarovsky, is not even listed among the principal characters, is Yury’s half-brother and miraculous protector, Yevgraf, the Angel of Death. According to Nadezhda Mandelstam, in her book Hope against Hope, the mysterious Yevgraf is simply some high-up bureaucrat whose miracles are worked by knowing “the right people,” that is, by having a transmission belt to Stalin.

Pasternak’s own situation varied between periods of internal exile and official favor and protection. With Solzhenitsyn, you get internal exile at its bleakest and in nearly all its forms and stages. Deportation, forced labor in a camp, forced residence, confinement in a cancer ward—in his novel of that name the sick are treated by the staff and people outside rather as if they were willful exiles from a healthy society. His books take place in a climate so frozen and immobile that Pasternak’s orphans in the storm, by comparison, are enjoying the wildest liberty. The revolution described by Pasternak still has something of a Tolstoyan natural force, awesome and fierce, but in Solzhenitsyn, the savage natural is replaced by the universal ordinary. He does not write about former people but about Soviet people and about Soviet society, almost as if there had never been any other kind. Nobody is homeless or buffeted by circumstance, since everyone must be registered. There are no outlaws hiding in the forest: Pasternak’s red rowanberry trees have probably been leveled by a bulldozer to make a detention camp.

Nor is there any refuge in memory. For most writers-in-exile—e.g., Joyce, Nabokov, the internal exile Pasternak—recollections of childhood are a literary food source and have been hoarded, squirrel-wise, against the winter, and it does not appear to matter whether the childhood was happy, like Nabokov’s, or dingy, like Joyce’s. Solzhenitsyn, a Soviet man (born in 1918), seems to have had no childhood to look back to for sustenance. That other dimension, the past, is seldom glimpsed in his books up to now, unless it is through the old peasant woman Matriona, who is herself a reminiscence, a piece of stout material left over from some prehistoric eon.

Unlike Pasternak, he has no influential connections, which would relate him to a sphere “higher up.” At present he is being sheltered by the cellist Rostropovich, who is risking his passport by harboring him. His only “outlet” seems to have been teaching mathematics. One of the most interesting things about the drama of his getting the Nobel Prize award was the official threat not to let him back into the country if he went to Stockholm to receive it. They knew their man: Solzhenitsyn did not go to Stockholm. But he accepted the prize. He chose internal exile against the other kind—a decision some Westerners found mysterious since so many Soviet citizens are doing their best to get out. Solzhenitsyn insisted on his right to stay and to receive the prize.

The decision was typical of today’s internal exiles in the Soviet Union, not only writers but scientists. Probably Mme Mandelstam, Sinyavsky, and Daniel would respond in the same way in the circumstances, and Akhmatova too, if she were alive. It is a question of politics and of pride—in fact, of national pride.* The internal exiles seem to have made it a principle to behave toward the Soviet Union as if it were a normal country, with an operative constitution. As though by their determination they could oblige the “as if” to come true. To go into exile, on the one hand, or conform, on the other, would be to give up any hope of that’s happening and to accept the Soviet Union as some sort of clinical monstrosity outside the norms of law. This notion they refuse. And they do not compare Soviet justice with US justice or English justice or czarist justice, but with articles in the Soviet constitution and laws in the statute books. Thus their frame of reference is Soviet reality, which they also occupy with their bodies rather like sit-in strikers.

This political determination is clear in Solzhenitsyn’s books. He writes as coolly as if there were no censorship and no conceivable interference with publication. His books appear as simple statements of fact, without exaggeration or fantasy. That may be why memory of the distant kind (“the laundryman in the lavender flannels”) has no place in them. One of the few rhetorical reminders of anything “outside,” of a larger frame, is the title of The First Circle, which refers to Dante’s Hell. The prisoners there are relatively privileged spirits, like Dante’s virtuous heathen, the First Circle being Limbo. Their punishment is light, compared to Ivan Denisovich’s, and consists simply of exclusion, but it has the hellish characteristic of permanence. A better metaphor for internal exile might be Purgatory, a place where you wait, like exiles in a foreign land, to go home. Solzhenitsyn is home, and yet he declines to recognize the immediate political geography as permanent. This might be a definition of the internal exile: a man who has taught himself to behave as if he had already crossed a frontier while refusing to leave his house.

  1. *

    In this connection, see A Question of Madness by Zhores and Roy Medvedev (Knopf, 223 pp., $5.95).