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The Stories of 10 Famous Literary Exiles

“J’Accuse!” Writer Émile Zola fled France today 114 years ago to escape imprisonment after being convicted for libel. He defended the innocence of a Jewish artillery captain in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus. The L’Assommoir author directed his letter — published in newspaper L’Aurore — at France’s President Félix Faure and the government, citing anti-Semitism and judicial corruption in the unlawful jailing of Dreyfus for espionage. Zola quickly took off to London and later returned to see Dreyfus pardoned.

History has proven that honest, intellectual, and creative freethinkers can be deemed dangerous — demonized and ostracized by their own societies. Many have been banished, but some have left their native countries of their own accord. Oddly enough, the experience has been a catalyst for some of literature’s finest work. See what famous figures made our list of literary exiles below.

Dante Alighieri

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura ché la diritta via era smarrita.”

Poet-politician Dante was exiled from Florence for supporting the Holy Roman Emperor (White Guelphs) over the Papacy (Black Guelphs). The banishment lasted Dante’s entire life, but influenced his masterpiece The Divine Comedy, which clearly expresses a parallel to his real-life experiences of wandering through “hell” seeking protection. Also see: lots of eternal damnation directed at the big bad.

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