Nobel Prize for Literature 1911 - 1915

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for literature from 1911 to 1915 including Maeterlinck, Tagore, and Rolland as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.

1911 Maurice Maeterlinck, (1862-1949). Belgian. Work: Blue Bird.

Behind the Award--Said Secretary Osterling in Nobel, the Man and His Prizes: "The only occasion on which Strindberg came near being officially considered. He was, in fact, proposed by the future Archbishop of Sweden, Nathan Soderblom, later on a member of the Academy, but the nomination came a few weeks too late, and instead of being laid aside for consideration the next year, as was by then the custom, it was returned at the sponsor's own request, and was never submitted by him again. . . . It seemed futile to submit Strindberg's name to a panel made up as the Academy was in those years. He died, moreover, only a month before Wirsen, who had been his sworn opponent ever since he had been bitterly satirized in Strindberg's book The New Kingdom." The winner, Maeterlinck, an ex-attorney and beekeeper, was able to curse in Flemish and lived out of wedlock with French actress Georgette Leblanc. He wound up in Los Angeles, one more exile from Hitler's terror.

1912 Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946), German. Work: The Weavers.

1913 Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Indian. Work: Collected Poems and Plays. Behind the Award--This almost unknown Indian got the award mainly because of the enthusiasm of one Nobel Prize judge, an Orientalist and fellow poet, Verner von Heidenstam, and one unnamed Swedish professor who knew Bengali. The committee was preparing to give the award to the French Heidenstam read Tagore's only collection of poetry in English (translated by Tagore him-self) and told his colleagues, "I cannot recall having seen for decades anything comparable in lyric poetry." The body of judges then decided to read Tagore, but alas, he had not been translated into Swedish. So his work was turned over to a Swedish professor who could read Bengali. The professor became so enthusiastic that he insisted the judges learn Bengali so they might read Tagore in the original. Recalled Dr. Osterling, "He gave me a language book on Bengali, but the alphabet was so long, so complex, I gave it up and waited for the professor's Swedish translations tions clinched the medal for the man called to come through." The professor's translaliterary historian Emile Faguet, when von the Bengal Shelley. Tagore was knighted by the British King, gave up his knighthood in protest over British repression in India. He composed 3,000 songs, took up oil painting at 68, and wrote 100,000 lines of poetry--against Milton's 18,000. He was the 1st non-European to receive the literary prize.

1914 No Award

Behind the No Award--The Swedish judges all had the award lined up for Carl Spitteler, a Swiss jack-of-all-writing whom Nietzsche admired and had recommended for the job of critic on a Munich paper and whom Romain Rolland called "the greatest German poet since Goethe." But then came Sarajevo, and the award was shelved, not to be dusted off for Spitteler until 6 more years had passed.

1915 Romain Rolland (1866-1944), French. Work: Jean-Christophe.

Behind the Award--Rolland got the prize not for his novels but for his pacifism. Before the voting began, the Spanish author Perez Galdos was backed by a majority of judges and considered a shoo-in. Then, the great Rolland caught in Switzerland by the advent of World War I, denounced the war, in fact all wars, and was savagely attacked in both France and Germany. When Anatole France was asked why he had not joined Rolland in speaking out against the conflict, France said, "I was afraid." But hear this--6 years later when Anatole France's enemies declared his Nobel Prize was illegal because he had not been properly nominated for it by a member of the French Academy, it was proved he had been recommended by one member--Romain Rolland. Anyway, the Swedish judges, although not moved by Rolland's epic Jean-Christophe, were moved by his courageous pacifism, which conformed to Nobel's ideals, and they switched their final votes to him.

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