Let’s celebrate the migrant authors of English literature

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6 comments on “Let’s celebrate the migrant authors of English literature”

The Reading Bug February 20, 2017

Great idea for a post, and very timely. Her novels are irresistibly readable, and resolutely English. Her Mary Poppins novels are early magical realism, and paved the way for the flowering of the everyday fantastic in children’s fiction, from Joan Aiken onwards. Jean Rhys came to Europe from Dominica, and changed forever the way we read Jane Eyre with her novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). Oscar Wilde is famously Irish, even though he died before Ireland achieved its independence from Great Britain. He’d host the corner where people tell   grim tales of horrifically dark humour and drink beer. Thank you, Joseph Conrad: have a drink on us, and tell us sea stories. Actually yes: it’s one of the standard works of English literature that we all study at school. Rhys’ Mrs Rochester is allowed to have a voice, and her West Indian roots are openly discussed. The legendary Sir Salman Rushdie is Indian, and the dominant literary name in English magical realism. Kate February 20, 2017

It’s the migrant writers who lived and worked in the UK who count, so Beckett is dubious, Shaw absolutely. Is Heart of Darkness as ubiquitous and necessary in our daily lives as a Polish dentist? Gin and It for him, I think. Anyway, Thomas Stearns Eliot became a director at Faber & Faber, and also wrote some of the most influential and most quoted modern English poetry of the twentieth century. See what else is happening in your area. She’s the witty one delivering snark over a cigarette and a Martini. If I could invite them to a party to celebrate their contributions, these would be top of my list. Was this the beginning of post-colonialism in Eng lit? She would have a rival salon to T S Eliot, and would make us all do impromptu readings from Hamlet, quaffing ale. In a GOOD way. Michelle Ann February 20, 2017

Roald Dahl was actually born in Wales

Kate February 20, 2017

Norwegian parents, though. The Victorians knew this already – have you actually read the Brothers Grimm, or Hans Christian Andersen? Of all the Irish authors glittering in the crown of English literature, he is the one least likely to be reappropriated as Irish, and is forever ‘English’. Give this man a storytelling carpet and a tall refreshing lassi. I was going to say Conrad but you have included him! Hock and seltzer for the gentleman in velvet, please. Can you imagine the bon mots cascading effortlessly from his lips as he circulates the party, looking for prey? The critieria used to select these names was the spontaneous feeling of ‘My goodness, I thought they were BRITISH …’. Kenny February 20, 2017

I always thought the statue of Oscar Wilde near Kings Cross that describes him as “British Author” was a bit rubbish as the “British” government sentenced him to prison and ultimately an untimely death. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence. He was born in the Ukraine but we all know him as that Polish bloke who was brilliant at modulating nineteenth-century realism into an early form of modernism. Then there’s Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. The New Zealander Ngaio Marsh is the one of the four monumental Queens of Crime in the Golden Age of English detective fiction. Related

About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher (in no particular order) in and on British literary history. She lived in England, and elsewhere in Europe, and brought a game-changing approach to writing what she saw and how her characters felt, revolutionising the writing of interiority. Then there are a host of other great Irish writers including Beckett and Shaw. She used the theatre as her stage for classical police procedurals, and used her artist’s eye for setting and dramatic effects. Roald Dahl changed children’s literature by allowing the natural tolerance of the child for horror and the Gothic to be admitted into the children’s section of the library. His august tones and formidable knowledge would change the room into a salon. Orwell was already English, he was just born out there. Katherine Mansfield, she of the exquisitely, viciously funny short stories of In A German Pension (1911), was a New Zealander. She’ll break up the cliques and make the party Go by arranging conga lines and scary cocktails.  
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One Day Without Us is a British grassroots campaign to celebrate the contributions that EU citizens and migrants from all over the world make and have made to daily British life. It culminates in a national day of action   all over the UK on Monday 20 February 2017. That counts. Tea for her, and a slosh of whisky. They lived in the UK, they were born elsewhere, but they changed British literary culture for ever. Oversexed, overpoetical, and over here, no wait, that’s a different American. It was the voice of the colonised underdog and the excluded outsider; forcing a way into calcified ideas of what ‘English’ literature was. Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. Kate February 20, 2017

It wasn’t the British government that sentenced him, but English law (maintained by a British government, yes I know.) P L Travers, an Australian, did something similar by allowing children’s fiction to be inexplicably sad, to allow misery and the uncomfortableness of the real world to be part of the story. George Orwell was born in India, not sure if that counts? (two Germans, and a Dane, incidentally) – but it took a Norwegian to wrench open the cage doors of cuteness and whimsy again. What have migrants ever done for English literature? Another giant of twentieth-century literature – a formidable mainstay of British publishing as well as THE defining poet of modernity – is a Yank. Who of your favourite migrant authors would you invite to the party, and what would you offer them to drink? His novels and short stories changed the way we think about modern literary realism and his persecution from adherents to the fatwah issued against him made English literature stand for artistic expression in the face of religious and state objections.