1 July 2018 Susannah

The Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize for Literature

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.

The Nobel Museum and the Nobel Library, Stock Exchange Building, Stockholm.

The Nobel Museum and the Nobel Library, Stock Exchange Building, Stockholm.

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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Featured image credit- The Nobel Prize for Literature. Alfred Nobel photo – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33971553. Medal Photograph, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21229438
Body image credit-The Nobel Museum and the Nobel Library, Stock Exchange Building, Stockholm. By Arild Vågen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38145877

Comments (8)

  1. David Gray

    The Swedish Academy, the 232-year-old panel of writers and scholars that has conferred the prize since 1901, announced that it would take the extraordinary step of postponing this year’s award until next year, when it will name two winners — something it has not done since delaying the 1949 prize, bestowed on William Faulkner in 1950. (New York Times)
    That is, one of these two prizes will be from the 2018 shortlist.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a pity that no Nobel will be awarded this year, because the committee has not been able to behave itself! I would love to know what actually went on.

  2. Marisa

    I don’t know if Pearl S.Buck was deserving or not of the Nobel Prize, but I read many of her books during my teenage years and felt spell-bound by them. I read “The Mother” when I was 13 and it left such an impression on my juvenile mind that I’ve spent the past decades (literally) looking for it to read it again… to no avail, as it was out of print. Therefore, I was overjoyed when just last week I saw they were selling a second-hand copy online, and of course I lost no time in buying it! As I am currently on the move, I’m keeping it, as treat, for a quieter moment.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have never read The Mother. I hope you enjoy your re-reading. I did love The Good Earth and read a few of her others many years ago. You hardly ever see her books around these days and perhaps a Nobel winner’s books should be ones that last?

  3. Suzanne Williams

    Wonderful controversial comments Susannah re Nobel Prize winners…V.S.Naipaul is still considered by many to be the best modern writer in Britain what what about Hilary Mantel?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      We will need to discuss next time we go for a walk! I am not a huge Hilary Mantel fan, so I would not add her to my Nobel list, and yes, I think Naipaul has a good claim to be there.

  4. Pam Milthorpe

    An interesting movie to watch while thinking about the Nobel Prize for literature…The Wife starring Glen Close. It feathured in this year’s Sydney Film Festival. Fabulous movie. I expect it will come out for general viewing. All about husband and wife Writers. He wins the Nobel Prize but…….I don’t want give a spoiler. Worth seeing.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That does sound good. I will look out for it. Thanks.

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