Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

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John F
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Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

Post by John F » Sat Jan 05, 2013 6:27 am

It went to John Steinbeck, and many - writers, critics, myself - wondered why. Here's why.

No Wrath, but Some Discontent, When Nobel Prize Was Awarded to Steinbeck
By DAVE ITZKOFF
John Steinbecknobelprize.org John Steinbeck

When their best-laid schemes of mice and men, and authors and writing, went awry, the members of the Swedish Academy made the best of what they thought was a bad situation in 1962: they awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to John Steinbeck. The decision came amid their general dissatisfaction with the candidates for the prize that year, according to documents recently released by the academy.

As has become its custom, after a 50-year waiting period the Swedish Academy released documents on the internal deliberation of its committee members as well as a privately kept shortlist for the literary prize, The Guardian said, citing a report in the Svenska Dagbladet of Stockholm.

According to The Guardian, 66 authors were put forward for the literature Nobel in 1962, and the list was narrowed down to Steinbeck, Robert Graves, Lawrence Durrell, Karen Blixen and Jean Anouilh. But after looking at the field of contenders a committee member, Henry Olsson, wrote, “There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation.”

Blixen, the Danish author who wrote “Out of Africa” under the pen name Isak Dinesen, became ineligible when she died in September 1962. Graves, whose novels included “I, Claudius,” was nonetheless regarded primarily as a poet and Olsson, The Guardian said, was reluctant to give the prize to an Anglo-Saxon poet until Ezra Pound, whose work he greatly admired, died. (Although Olsson objected to Pound’s politics.) Durrell’s series of novels “The Alexandria Quartet” was not yet considered a significantly substantial body of work (the author had also been passed over in 1961), while Anouilh, the French dramatist, had the bad fortune to come between the 1960 Nobel victory of his countryman Saint-John Perse and the ascent of Jean-Paul Sartre, who would win in 1964.

So the prize was given to Steinbeck, whose body of work consisted merely of such enduring novels as “Of Mice and Men,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Cannery Row” and “East of Eden.” In awarding the Nobel to Steinbeck, the Swedish Academy offered no public hint of its internal weariness, citing him for being among “the masters of modern American literature” and “for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and a keen social perception.”

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/ ... steinbeck/
John Francis

IcedNote
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Re: Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

Post by IcedNote » Sat Jan 05, 2013 2:07 pm

Did you believe it should have gone to someone else? Or do you mean that you simply found Steinbeck's selection curious at the time? In other words, what would have been your preferred alternative?

Curious,

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John F
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Re: Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

Post by John F » Sat Jan 05, 2013 2:56 pm

Oh, I never think of candidates for the Nobel Prize, but though Steinbeck was popular and successful he lacked the literary importance of other American Nobel laureates such as Eliot, O'Neill, Hemingway, and Faulkner. Ezra Pound is mentioned, and on the merits he should have been given the prize, but his rabidly fascist broadcasts from Italy during the war put him hors concours.

The Swedish Academy, which is the jury, has made some other dubious choices. It's remarkable that John Galsworthy received a Nobel Prize but James Joyce did not.

Non-literary politics plays a role in these awards. So does the requirement that the authors' works be available in Swedish translation, as I've heard.
John Francis

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Re: Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:31 pm

John F wrote:Oh, I never think of candidates for the Nobel Prize, but though Steinbeck was popular and successful he lacked the literary importance of other American Nobel laureates such as Eliot, O'Neill, Hemingway, and Faulkner. Ezra Pound is mentioned, and on the merits he should have been given the prize, but his rabidly fascist broadcasts from Italy during the war put him hors concours.

The Swedish Academy, which is the jury, has made some other dubious choices. It's remarkable that John Galsworthy received a Nobel Prize but James Joyce did not.

Non-literary politics plays a role in these awards. So does the requirement that the authors' works be available in Swedish translation, as I've heard.
I read the article as implying that Steinbeck was the best of those authors (he is certainly the one whose work has most endured) and that the outcome was ironic in that they were looking for ways to reward inferior (though not poor) writers and arriving at Steinbeck only by a process of elimination.

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John F
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Re: Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

Post by John F » Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:52 pm

I have to wonder why Robert Graves - a very considerable poet - made the final cut, but W.H. Auden, the greatest British poet since Yeats, never received the Nobel. Of those named in the article, however, I'd say Graves's reputation is bigger than Steinbeck's, in academia anyway, and academia is a major source of nominations. But maybe Steinbeck reads better in Swedish? I'm told that Poe's poetry is much better in French than the original. :mrgreen:

Personally, I'd rank Anouilh above both of them, for the size and scope as well as the quality of his work; those of his plays that I've seen (Antigone, Waltz of the Toreadors, Becket) go very well on the stage too, though I don't know that this signifies with the Swedish Academy.
John Francis

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Re: Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jan 05, 2013 4:42 pm

John F wrote: I'm told that Poe's poetry is much better in French than the original. :mrgreen:
Also, Jerry Lewis movies must be much better with French subtitles. :roll:
Personally, I'd rank Anouilh above both of them, for the size and scope as well as the quality of his work; those of his plays that I've seen (Antigone, Waltz of the Toreadors, Becket) go very well on the stage too, though I don't know that this signifies with the Swedish Academy.
Bertolt Brecht never won the Nobel Prize either.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

Post by IcedNote » Sun Jan 06, 2013 2:59 pm

I've always been amused by how these types of awards will sometimes go to a specific accomplishment and other times to a "lifelong achievement." But hey, whatever floats their boats! :D

-G
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jbuck919
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Re: Nobel for literature 1962: inside story

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jan 06, 2013 3:09 pm

IcedNote wrote:I've always been amused by how these types of awards will sometimes go to a specific accomplishment and other times to a "lifelong achievement." But hey, whatever floats their boats! :D
Sometimes a specific accomplishment is the life achievement. William Golding, who was shocked to receive the Nobel and was the first to assert that he did not deserve it, never wrote anything even as important as the perennial trifle Lord of the Flies.

It is interesting that you make that comment in the context of Steinbeck. All my life I've been hearing that he won specifically for the relatively little-known and late Winter of Our Discontent. For this thread I went back and read the Nobel presentation speech (I can't find the committee citation complete), and while it does indeed mention that book by name to support the notion that Steinbeck still had what it takes, it was clearly an award for his overall achievement as a novelist.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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