Authors Who Lived in More Than One Country

I recently finished Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and, after musing about how clever that novel is, I read a Wikipedia biography of the author.

It turned out that Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian before switching to English — after which he authored his two most famous books: the controversial Lolita and the aforementioned Pale Fire, which consists of a poem followed by an extended, often-hilarious analysis that’s less about the poem than about the weird analyzer (who may or may not be a king who escaped to the U.S.).

Nabokov’s life got me thinking about other authors who lived in more than one country, and what effect that had on their work. Obviously, writers with multinational backgrounds might be compassionate or bitter about leaving one’s place of origin, more cosmopolitan, more knowledgeable about the world, more attuned to the pros and cons of various countries and political systems, more aware that human emotions anywhere tend to be alike rather than different, and so on.

The brilliant Nabokov was born in Russia and then lived in Germany before emigrating to America. Ending up in the U.S. is the template for many authors, and I’ll mention some of them first. But there are also a number of U.S.-born writers who went abroad, as well as serial-country authors who never lived in the fifty states. I’ll discuss some of those authors second and third. Meanwhile, I’ll mention here that Nabokov later left the U.S. for Switzerland.

German novelist Erich Maria Remarque also ended up in Switzerland, but lived a number of years in America after getting on the hate list of the vile Nazi regime. His last novel — Shadows in Paradise — is set in the U.S., but doesn’t measure up to his masterpieces such as the antiwar All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of Triumph, and The Night in Lisbon.

There’s also Khaled Hosseini, whose riveting novel The Kite Runner was obviously inspired in part by his move from Afghanistan to America (with an in-between stay in France). English writer Aldous Huxley of Brave New World fame spent much of his life living in “The New World” (California, to be exact). Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) resided a number of years in the U.S., too.

American-born authors living overseas for long periods? Two prime examples are Henry James (England) and Edith Wharton (France). Then there’s James Fenimore Cooper (in Europe from 1826 to 1833) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (in Europe from 1853 to 1860, when he strayed from his fiction’s usual New England settings to place The Marble Faun in Italy). Also, authors Richard Wright and James Baldwin went to France, partly to escape America’s virulent racism. Willa Cather lived in the U.S., but spent many summers at the only house she ever owned — in Canada (the setting of her little known but superb historical novel Shadows on the Rock). Another American author, Mary McCarthy, spent a lot of time in a second home in Paris.

Multinational authors with little or no time in the U.S. include, among others, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia, Venezuela, Spain, Mexico); Fanny Burney (England, France, England); Polish writer Joseph Conrad (who ended up in England); Kazuo Ishiguro (whose family moved from Japan to England when he was five); Russian writer Ivan Turgenev (who spent significant time in Germany and France); and Emile Zola (who left France for England to avoid jail after his brave role in debunking the anti-Semitic framing of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus).

Who are some of your favorite authors with lives lived in two or more countries? Why is this an advantage to a writer? Any disadvantages? (The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else’s comment.)

A note: After today, I will not post a new piece for perhaps three weeks or so for the usual summer reasons, but will pick up the pace starting in mid-August!

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’ve also written more than 50% of a literature-related book. But I’m still selling my part-funny Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir that recalls 25 years of covering/meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The memoir also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. I can be contacted at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which has a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson, among others.

Servants in Literature

Some real-life servants are treated badly by their rich employers, but many fictional servants are treated nicely by their authors. A small, wish-fulfilling solace for readers in this time of soaring economic inequality.

Literature’s servants and other “hired help” are often smarter, funnier, and more compassionate than their “betters.” Perhaps that’s partly because they have to work hard for a living, while some of the wealthy get their money the old-fashioned way — inheriting it. Ah yes, the merit system…

Servants in literature also help us judge their masters. You can tell a lot about an affluent person’s decency (or lack of) by how they treat their so-called “inferiors.”

Some stand-out servants in fiction? Jeeves, of course, in the engaging and hilarious works of P.G. Wodehouse. That valet is incredibly bright and well-spoken, and helps his congenial but somewhat dim “master” Bertie Wooster out of many a scrape.

Another famous servant character is Nelly Dean, who’s the pragmatic voice of reason in a Wuthering Heights novel filled with hyper-passionate and/or weak-minded people. Nelly grounds Emily Bronte’s superb book, and helps make the hard-to-believe events in it seem believable. Of course, another servant in that novel is boorish religious fanatic Joseph, but we won’t talk about him… ­čÖé

Nineteenth-century English literature also offers us Nanny from the longish short story “The Sad Fortunes of Reverend Amos Barton” in the Scenes of Clerical Life collection George Eliot wrote before embarking on her astonishing career as a novelist. Nanny is the servant who memorably denounces a freeloading countess who overstays her welcome in the Bartons’ struggling household and even endangers the health of Amos’ kindhearted wife Milly.

How about Lee in John Steinbeck’s gripping East of Eden? That servant is an intellectual guy who cleverly deals with anti-Asian prejudice in the American West of the late 1800s/early 1900s and serves as a surrogate father to the Trask sons when biological father Adam is traumatized by a disastrous marriage.

Then there are the underlings/sidekicks such as Sancho Panza in Miguel Cervantes’ iconic Don Quixote and Samwise in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In the former book, squire Sancho is a humorous/competent companion to the less-than-practical Quixote. In the latter work, gardener Samwise becomes an invaluable friend to Frodo — who, while admirable and brave, would have been in dire straits without Sam’s help during the Tolkien trilogy’s epic quest.

Speaking of funny characters, and characters named Sam, it’s hard to beat Sam Weller of Charles Dickens’ The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club when it comes to literature’s all-time underlings.

There’s also Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, in which loyal butler Stevens comes to regret a major missed opportunity in his life.

Last but by no means least, we can’t forget the many fictional African-American characters forced into servant work or outright slavery┬á — whether it be in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Alex Haley’s Roots, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and many other novels. “Uncle Tom” became a derogatory term, but Tom in the book is quite courageous in his turn-the-other-cheek way — and is clearly the moral center of Stowe’s story.

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and Rita Mae Brown’s Murder at Monticello are among the numerous other novels that have interesting references to the horrific institution of slavery — the ultimate servanthood.

What are your favorite literary works featuring servants, butlers, maids, valets, and others of that station in life? (The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments. But your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area, unless you’re replying to someone else’s comment!)

(Thanks to Eric Pollock for reminding me of The Remains of the Day, to Geoff M./hopper250 for recommending the exciting works of James Fenimore Cooper, and to Carolyn L./giftsthatpurr for recommending Rita Mae Brown’s engaging mysteries.)

I’ve written more than half of a book with a literature theme. But in the meantime, I’m still selling my Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir.

In that often-humorous book, I recall 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors.┬áOn the personal front, the memoir also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my divorce and remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times.

You can contact me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of Comic (and Column) Confessional┬á— which includes a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson and others.

And for three years of my Huffington Post essays on literature, click here.