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

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Opinion & Featured Articles

The Weird Tolstoy: Facts from the Life of a Legend

Leo Tolstoy
The serfs are long gone from Yasnaya Polyan, but the spirit of the writer and the moral reformer who was born there still shines brilliantly. Widely considered as one of the greatest novelists of all time, Count Leo Tolstoy was a paradoxical persona and an intriguing character. Here are some facts that made Tolstoy an interesting study:

Religious dogmatism marked by a lack of conviction

Tolstoy rejected the state and church and eventually went on to become a Christian anarchist. As an extreme moralist, he advocated theories like indictment of the demands of the flesh, and denunciation of private property.  In a series of pamphlets, he also indulged in free interpretation of the gospels. The Russian Church excommunicated Tolstoy for his theories. But the writer always sneered at the decisions of the church.

Ironically, it seems that Tolstoy himself was a victim of the flesh. His wife — Sofya Andreyevna Behrs — bore him 13 children. Sofya’s marriage to Tolstoy ruined her in a way; she was her husband’s copy editor, and was guiding him financially, but got limited attention from him. It is said that she copied the manuscript of War and Peace eight times by hand. Researchers suggest that Sofya, as someone who spent her entire life with Tolstoy, deserves a good measure of sympathy.

Failure as a student of law

Tolstoy was sent to law school, but he was a major disappointment there. His teachers found him completely unwilling to learn law business and Tolstoy was eventually sent home.

Shakespeare ain’t that good

Tolstoy had profound distaste for Shakespeare. He felt “no delight” but just “..an irresistible repulsion and tedium” by reading the famous works of the legendary British dramatist. George Orwell, in his essay Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool, says that Tolstoy’s arguments against Shakespeare are “weak”, “dishonest”, based on “arbitrary assumptions”, and depends on “vague terms”. Orwell further writes that Tolstoy’s attacks against the dramatist “..are, so to speak, evidence of malice.”

Hate story: Tolstoy and Turgenev

Dynamic and egocentric as few others on earth, Tolstoy had a strained relationship with his famous contemporary — Ivan Turgenev. The writer despised Turgenev for his love of Western Europe and the latter, in turn, was repulsed by the fact that Tolstoy had become a prophet. The animosity between the two reached such heights that Tolstoy challenged his adversary to a dual, backing-off and apologizing afterwards.

It’s worth mentioning that Turgenev recognized his fellow writer’s literary genius and in a letter to Tolstoy’s sister he wrote that “he’ll become a great writer”.

Preacher overwhelms the writer

The moralist in Tolstoy’s became such a freak that he started criticizing the “excessive” praise for War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The preacher in Tolstoy came into conflict with the writer in him and shocked everyone. The writer ended up misunderstanding himself and his creative nature.

Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky: the debate continues

Though the two never met, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy admired each other. Some modern critics argue that the author of Crime and Punishment exhibits more maturity than the writer of War and Peace. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina throws herself under a train; a godless existence succumbs to sin and there are no answers to any of the questions raised. Dostoevsky, on the other hand, has clearly defined goals and actions. Do you agree?

Yes, Leo Tolstoy never won a noble. With all his talent, he made some people on the jury quite nervous with his weird ideas. The Swedish Academy considered him too eccentric for such an honor. Tolstoy, of course, wasn’t sorry for himself because it saved him “from the painful necessity of dealing in some way with money–generally regarded as very necessary and useful, but which I regard as the source of every kind of evil.”

Here is a snapshot of Tolstoy and his contemporary writers:

Top row (from left): Leo Tolstoy, Dmitry Grigorovich, Bottom row (from left): Ivan Goncharov, Ivan Turgenev, Alexander Druzhinin, and Alexander Ostrovsky

Tolstoy and his contemporary writers

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