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.
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.