Why Tolstoy Was Denied the Nobel Prize in Literature

Are Nobel Prize Judges the wisest of the wisest or mere mortals?

Every year, the Nobel Prizes are awarded. But one cannot understand the hype it generates. Is it because the laureates created a work of distinction that supposedly confer ‘the greatest benefit to mankind’?

If so the members of the Nobel Prize Committee must be endowed with godly wisdom so as to decide what constitutes the ‘greatest work’.

Are they? May be! But here are some of the famous cases dug up from history of Nobel Prizes that suggest otherwise.

If a curious mind penetrates behind the scene, he will learn that the Judges or Members of the Selection Committee of the Nobel Prizes are mere mortals filled with high-flying vanities, prejudices, petty rivalries, frailties all perfectly blended with intelligence, honesty, wisdom and courage.

Alfred Bernhard Nobel {1833-1896} virtually opened the floodgates of controversies and congratulations by unintentionally [or deliberately?] omitting in his will the yardsticks to measure what constitutes ‘the greatest work’.

On 10th December 1901, the first crowning ceremony started off with a bang with five distinguished persons winning the Prize, but the bang did emanate some jarring notes that was to be heard for many long years to come.

Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy 1828-1910

Tolstoy authored War and Peace and Anna Karenina which were acknowledged as the greatest works of realist fiction.

Why Tolstoy was denied the Nobel Prize

When Sully Prudhomme {1839-1907}, a French poet was selected and awarded the Nobel Prize by Swedish Academy for his literary works that interpreted the conflict between emotions and reason, the world opinion protested. Not because Prudhomme got the Prize, but Tolstoy was ignored; and to this effect 42 scientists and artists signed a tribute to the slighted celebrity {Tolstoy} in protest against the Academy’s indifference to Tolstoy.

Yet the Swedish Academy did not consider him even for 1902 Literary Prize. Thanks to Swede’s only literary expert of the time, Carl David af Wirsen {1842-1912 the Academy’s Permanent Secretary and Chairman, Nobel Committee for literature whose verdict put out all hopes of Tolstoy ever winning the Prize.

Card David af Wirsen, the Powerful Judge on the Nobel Committee

Carl David af Wirsen, opined, “‘War and Peace’ and ‘Annakerenina’ deserved the Prize… while his religious sociological and political writings were regarded as both immature and misleading… he has condemned all forms of civilization and urged instead a primitive mode of life divorced from all forms of higher culture… though completely inexperienced in Biblical criticism he has ambitiously rewritten the New Testament in a half-rationalistic, half-mystical spirit confronted by such expressions of narrow minded hostility to all forms of civilization, one feels dubious. One does not like to bestow recognition… it would be wrong to force on the great writer such a reward… “

Having read the Chairman Wirsen’s report what one would say but sigh in vain!?

Maxim Gorky, the Revolutionary Writer

Even Maxim Gorky’s{1868 – 1936} famous autobiography could have been ‘placed in the front rank’ for the Prize. But the Academy found it difficult to arrive at a wholly objective judgment as the intellectual part he had played during the revolution and his other works were ‘politically colored’.

Judging literary merits on political colors! Truly, this is not one of the main stipulations in Nobel’s will. That explains why the Russians did not get even one Prize for the first 50 years until World War II in all the faculties except for minor writer Ivan Bunin {1870-1953; 1933} and Ivan Petrovic Pavlov {1849-1936; 1904} for literature and physiology respectively.

Likewise, since the initiation of the Nobel Prizes in 1901, there were several instances where so many deserving celebrated personalities suffered victimization and were denied the Nobel Prize.

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Chinese author Mo Yan whose citation read as, “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary”. Mo Yan is a pen name while the real name is Guan Moye. “Mo Yan” in Chinese language means “don’t speak.”

Source by P Jayanarayana

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