23 March 2013

Less Than Noble Nobel Considerations

Earlier this year, the Guardian reported on disclosures from the Swedish Academy about the discussion behind the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. They show how many considerations there were besides literary quality.

For example, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) might well have had the inside track as a Scandinavian—but then she died, and the prize can’t be awarded posthumously. (A person can die between the announcement and the awards ceremony.)

The academy was evidently waiting for Ezra Pound to die as well. Its members considered him the greatest poet then working in English, but also politically unacceptable. That meant they wouldn’t give him the prize, but equally they wouldn’t give it to another English-language poet until he died—and that scotched the chances of Robert Graves (shown here).

So eventually the academy awarded that year’s prize to…John Steinbeck. Even at the time, he was considered not up to the standard of other literature laureates. But Steinbeck’s stature has obviously been raised by the Nobel. I wonder whether, if those other considerations hadn’t intervened, he would have had been such a presence on my junior-high reading list?

No comments: