Nobel Prize for Literature 1921 - 1925

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for literature from 1921 to 1925 including Yeats, Reymont, and Shaw as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.

1921 Anatole France (1844-1924), French. Work: Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard; Penguin Island.

Behind the Award--A debate raged over France's lack of idealism. Judge Harald Hjarne argued that for France's "dainty hothouse . . . the idealistic literature prize of Alfred Nobel was not intended." He favored Galsworthy. Judge Henrik Schuck pitched for France, insisting the author was not the kind of cynic "who with indifference has watched justice and humanitarianism trampled underfoot." The 77-year-old France came for his award shivering under 3 overcoats, sat through the ceremony sound asleep and snoring softly.

1922 Jacinto Benavente y Martinez (1866-1954), Spanish. Work: Bonds of Interest.

Behind the Award--James Joyce, who had published Ulysses the year before, should have been the winner. A minister of Ireland proposed to nominate him, but Joyce told the minister it would cost him his job. In 1946, when Dr. Sven Hedin, a Swedish literary judge, was asked if James Joyce had ever been considered, Hedin looked puzzled and said, "Joyce? Who is he?"

1923 William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Irish. Work: Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats.

Behind the Award--Secretary Erik Axel Karlfeldt urged his fellow judges to give the award to Thomas Hardy because of the "discontent and disappointment" in England over Hardy's constant omission, and because "Yeats, who is much younger, may be considered later." But Hardy's pessimism and fatalism counted against him. Of all the prizewinners who passed before King Gustav, the monarch liked Yeats the most "because he had the manners of a courtier." (King Gustav, who bestowed Nobel Prizes for 70 years, was so nearsighted he once presented a Nobel Prize to his own secretary by mistake.)

1924 Wladyslaw S. Reymont (1867-1925), Polish. Work: The Peasants.

Behind the Award--Guglielmo Ferrero, author of Roman History, was a strong contender. But the older judges considered him wanting in scholarship. The choice shifted to 2 Polish authors, Reymont and Stefan Zeromski. The people of Poland wanted Zeromski. The judges, naturally, gave the award to Reymont.

1925 George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), British. Work: Androcles and the Lion; Pygmalion.

Behind the Award--Receiving the award at the age of 69, with his great successes behind him, G.B.S. wanted to turn the prize down but was finally persuaded to accept it. He told the Nobel judges, "The money is a lifebelt thrown to a swimmer who has already reached the shore in safety!"

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