At home abroad : an exploration into the genres of expatriate literature

Veeder, Sarah Marshall (2019) At home abroad : an exploration into the genres of expatriate literature. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis is in two parts, the first part consisting of the creative submission and the second part consisting of the critical submission. The creative portion is titled ‘Finding Felicia’. In this diaristic memoir, I recount my first year and a half as an expatriate, living in London while attending Kingston University. During that time, the title character, Felicia, becomes instrumental in my personal growth as well as structuring how I approached expatriation. As friendship with Felicia grows, the realization dawns that I am becoming dependent on her as the cornerstone of the life I am building abroad. However, she is scheduled to leave a year before me. As her departure date nears, the focus turns toward securing my place abroad— applying for visas as well as trying to make sure life would not be entirely empty when Felicia flew back to the States. The second portion of this thesis consists of the critical submission, ‘At Home Abroad: An exploration into the genres of expatriate literature’. The critical thesis is an examination of possible categories within the overarching theme of expatriation. The thesis begins with an exploration of the expatriate literature from the 1920s post-war era through to the Beats living in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s to inform the categories of modern expatriate literature. The categories I propose split the overarching theme of expatriation into three, with each group representative of the ways in which expatriation might be approached, from narratives that show an intense focus on becoming a part of the new culture to an ambiguity concerning the expatriate’s ability to integrate. Where the protagonist of the 3 texts falls on the spectrum from isolation to community involvement is a major marker of the goals and expectations held by the expatriate, which in turn helps to situate the text within a category. The three categories I propose are the sabbatical, the bohemian, and the trailing spouse expatriate narratives. The sabbatical expatriate narrative, as exemplified by Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy (1996), shows the focus of the expatriate to be integration as a pseudo-local, the narratives showing the expatriate’s integration process through the use of food, attention to landscape and history, as well as a focus on learning the language, all as ways to further ingratiate themselves into their chosen community. The bohemian expatriate narrative, as exemplified by Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station (2011), shows the focus of the expatriate to be less on the actual facts of their expatriation, and more on the possibility of creating a new life or experimenting with possible identities. The third category I propose is that of the trailing spouse expatriate narrative, as exemplified by Brigid Keenan’s Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse (2005). The trailing spouse expatriate narratives show a different starting point for expatriation—going abroad for work, or for someone else’s work—as well as show the possible difficulties of raising a family abroad and the constant sacrifices demanded to maintain the new lifestyle. All these categories address the threats to self and identity that arise with expatriation, but it is how these threats are approached by the expatriate that determines the category. This research relates to my own creative work as they both explore what it means to be an expatriate today. My creative work challenges the research by complicating different aspects of the three categories of expatriate literature discussed, despite fitting most comfortably within the bohemian narrative category.Community is addressed in the space of literature and representation, where Nancy’s figure of ‘myth interrupted’ is presented as an important dimension of communitarian thought. Through interrogating the representability of community, its mythic foundations are subjected to a process of radical openness that allows for a vibrant and dynamic form of community to emerge. Situating these capacities in the works of authors Jackie Kay, Jon McGregor and Ali Smith, literature is presented as a singular space through which communitarian possibility can be glimpsed. The conceptual figures of ‘death’, ‘gender transformation’ and ‘magic’ are proposed as offering new possibilities in our understanding of community, demonstrating how literature can offer productive and innovative ways of reimagining our understanding of community in the contemporary moment. In this way, this thesis contributes to ongoing debates about the significance of ‘community’ in contemporary thought, drawing on literature to propose the ‘politics of community’ as a productive avenue for addressing this.

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