Opinion & Featured Articles

Nobel Prize in Literature: The League of Extraordinary Losers

zola chekhov tolstoy joyce virginia woolf

So you screwed up, huh? Couldn’t win a simple Nobel Prize? What’s the explanation dude? Well, you can’t explain, of course. Even if you could, you won’t because if you do, you are not “worth the prize”. So let me explain.

The case of a pulp fella: You’ve won a trillion hearts, but you haven’t won the right minds. Your vampires and time machines just didn’t conjure up the right image. The Nobel Committee and their pet penguins hate you. Ask H.G Wells or Anne Rice. Be serious boyo.

Are you an idealistic moron? Alfred Nobel clearly stated in his will that the Prize, in the field of literature, should be awarded to someone ‘who shall have produced the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency…”. Accordingly, the esteemed Nobel Committee feels pretty uncomfortable dealing with volatile items. So being the author of Lolita would automatically disqualify someone even if he is the best non-native English writer ever. Feeling itchy Mr. Nobokov?

Anna Karenina was one of the greatest novels ever written, but it was out of the track. Tolstoy’s faith in anarchism and contempt for organized authority did not make him a suitable contender for the prize. Same was the case with Emile Zola and Mark Twain.

P for Politics: It is widely believed that Anton Chekhov was denied Nobel Prize because of Sweden’s historic antipathy towards Russia. Graham Greene was rejected in favour of Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, who were a part of the jury. Salman Rushdie will possibly leave the good old earth without winning a Noble because he is a bad boy condemned by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  W. H. Auden was out of consideration because he suggested Dag Hammarskjöld, 1961 Peace Prize winner, was homosexual — a comment that didn’t go down well with the Nobel Committee. In the intricate spider web of politics, you ought to play by the rules of the game.

Found and lost: The sole honor goes to Mr. Jean- Paul Sartre who flushed the Nobel Prize down the toilet, so that someone could sell it on ebay. Mr. Sartre wanted to be an experimental jerk, but a Nobel Prize would transform him “into an institution” and make him an insufferable bore. Boris Pasternak had the wisdom to accept the prize, but had to give up under pressure from the USSR, his homeland.

OMG: J.R.R. Tolkien, a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, was rejected due to his “second rate prose”.

Do you think the Nobel Prize in literature is a big joke? Can you really compare books written in different languages? How much difference can translation make?

Among the greats who never won a Nobel Prize:

  • Vladimir Nabokov
  • Anton Chekhov
  • W. H. Auden
  • Aldous Huxley
  • Arthur Miller
  • Robert Frost
  • Emile Zola
  • Henrik Ibsen
  • Marcel Proust
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Joseph Conrad
  • George Orwell
  • James Joyce
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Mark Twain

6 thoughts on “Nobel Prize in Literature: The League of Extraordinary Losers

  1. Translation can both ruin a masterpiece and somewhat redeem a sub-standard work. Nobel should be confined to English works. Else, it will result in rather unfair judgement and won’t do justice to foreign writers.

  2. Is this fair? The Nobel only for English speaking writers???? In the above list, among other missing names, those of Borges, García Lorca, Pessoa, Rafael Alberti, Carpentier and so on, should be included among these “losers”. Shame on you guys.

    • The list, for obvious reasons, is indicative, not exhaustive. And the concept of adding a separate category for non-native writers is just to make the competition fair, not to rob anyone of anything.

  3. Loving this post. It points, yet again, to the snobbishness of the high-brow literary community. But that leads me to wonder if snobbery isn’t a necessary prerequisite for these kinds of awards. Surely a line has to be drawn somewhere in regards to good/bad writing?

    Tolkien was a genius in terms of creating worlds/settings, characters etc, but stylistically speaking, I’m not so sure he’s really ‘up there’. Then again, Sigrid Undset snagged the prize for her mediocre ‘Kristin Lavransdatter’ so what the hell? Shame about Nabokov though.

    • How to define good/bad writing is a million dollar question. No two people agree on books, music, and food 🙂 Yes, snobbery is possibly unavoidable here. Even Oscar and Grammy have their share of snobbery and bias, but I feel the Nobel Committee is too fond of hopelessly ridiculous theories and weird logic rather than following tangible and consistent guidelines.

      Thanks for bringing up Kristin Lavransdatter 🙂 I haven’t got a chance to read that one.

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