It was announced last month that this year no Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded. There have been sex-abuse allegations and “other issues” within the ranks of the prestigious Swedish Academy which decides on and awards the prize.
This will be the first time since WWII that no prize has been handed out. This month, on my Literary Tour of Scandinavia, I will be visiting the Nobel Prize Museum. I will also be dining in the restaurant where the Nobel judges dine to discuss contenders and then make their decision. All this is making me think about the award and which authors have been honoured with the prize.
As is the case with any literary prize, there have been some good choices and some shockers. The very first person to win what is considered the world’s most prestigious literary prize was French writer Sully Prudhomme, in 1901. Have you read any Prudhomme lately?? I haven’t! And have you heard of Paul von Heyse (a German who won it in 1910), or Romain Rolland (French, 1915), Carl Spitteler (Swiss, 1916), or Grazia Deledda (Italian, 1926)? Kipling is quite rightly on the list (the youngest author ever to win it), so are four Irish writers (Shaw, Yeats, Beckett and Heaney), and Camus, TS Eliot, Faulkner and Hemingway are all worthy contenders. But does Pearl S. Buck really deserve to be there, or do John Galsworthy, Saul Bellow, Saint-John Perse, Nadine Gordimer, Dario Fo, or V.S. Naipaul? When John Steinbeck won it in 1962, he himself didn’t think he deserved such an honour. And two years ago Bob Dylan was a highly controversial choice for a literary prize. Yes, he has written good lyrics, but he is known primarily as a musician, and musicians and composers have their own set of prizes and should not trespass onto literary awards. That’s my view – do some of you think it heresy?
The French have won more literary Nobels than any other nation, with USA and UK in second place. However, there is a large number of Scandinavians (hardly surprising when all the judges are Scandinavian too), but it’s a bit unbalanced when Swedish writers have won more than all of Asia and South America combined. Some writers have declined the prize (eg. Pasternak, Sartre) but it was awarded to them anyway. Patrick White (winner in 1973) is the only Aussie on the list and he refused to attend the ceremony in Stockholm because of privacy concerns (he sent Sidney Nolan to receive it for him).
You can easily find the list of all the winners on the web. Who do you think is missing? I think Katherine Mansfield should be there, Kenneth Grahame, LM Montgomery, and there are many more I’d add. When I sit on one of the judge’s chairs in Stockholm, I’ll try and send them by osmosis the ability to make sensible choices in the future, after their rather scandalous 2018 ‘holiday’ from this weighty task.
Tell me your thoughts about the Nobel Prize by leaving a comment.
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