Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Expats through the ages: The literary expatriates of the 20th Century

There are many reasons why people decide to move abroad. They might be sent by their company, to look for a change in their life or that they are seduced by the international lifestyle.

But what are the other reasons that have driven expatriation through the ages? This post looks into the expats who took Paris by storm in the 20th century.


Image Source: Flickr
In the 1900s, the public viewed Paris as a cultural capital and so thousands of tourists travelled there to take advantage of what the city had to offer. This reputation meant that intellectuals who felt that their home country lacked creativity migrated to Paris more permanently, enticed by the innovative spirit, freedom of speech and café culture. While artists and philosophers participated in feeding the cultural appetite, many people remember the authors and poets that made Paris their home.

Image Source: Flickr
There was a distinct wave of expat activity between the first and second world wars. Many creatives felt stifled by the practicality and frugality of post-war Europe and were enticed by the bohemian spirit of Paris. This wave of expats became known as the ‘lost generation’ and included significant numbers of literary figures including James Joyce, Henry Miller and Ford Madox Ford. The migration halted during the second world war but picked up again in 1945, as intellectuals - faced with the aftermath of another world war - flooded to Paris in nostalgia for the lost generation. Among this new wave of expats was Samuel Beckett who wrote with equal facility in French and English and whose avant-garde style and black comedy epitomised the sentiment of the time.


Image Source: Flickr
During both periods, the expats contributed to the energy and excitement of Paris, adding to the cultural buzz which drew in even more tourists and expats, and creating the audience for the works they produced. These groups hubbed into specific areas such as Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-des-Prés , and formed their own expat communities, working together to develop the cultural offering. Within these districts, the expatriates famously met to discuss their ideas in restaurants and cafés.

Image Source: Flickr
To this day, the expats legacy prevails with Paris’café culture still associated with the mystique of these famous authors. The modern expat can experience this creative spirit by wandering along the boulevards and taking in the mime artists and performers who entertain the Parisian streets. To delve even deeper into the lost generation, head to a café such as Les Deux Magots, which was once frequented by the likes of Hemingway and Camus. This café has become famous for being a place of rendezvous for intellectuals and still remains in the literary sphere by awarding an annual literary prize to a French novel every year, a tradition that has continued since 1933. 

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