Nobel Prize for Literature 1936 - 1945

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for literature from 1936 to 1945 including Eugene O'Neill, Jensen, Mistral, the interruption for World War II, as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.

1936 Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953), American. Work: Anna Christie; Mourning Becomes Electra.

Behind the Award--Since the medicine prize judges did not regard Dr. Sigmund Freud as eligible, Freud was nominated for the literary prize in 1936 by Thomas Mann and Romain Rolland. Learning of this, Freud wrote Arnold Zweig, "Don't let yourself get worked up over the Nobel chimera. It is only too certain that I shall not get any Nobel Prize. Psychoanalysis has several good enemies among the authorities on whom the bestowal depends. . . ." Freud was right. His enemies voted him down.

1937 Roger Martin du Gard (1881-1958), French. Work: The Thibaults.

1938 Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973), American. Work: The Good Earth; The Mother.

Behind the Award--Dr. Sven Hedin, a Nobel judge who was an old China hand and whose publisher in America was Pearl Buck's husband, enjoyed the Chinese background in Buck's books and convinced another judge, Selma Lagerlof, to side with him. The remaining 16 judges, who for the most part opposed this award, were led by Dr. Anders Osterling. Said Osterling, "I felt she did not deserve the prize and I fought her. She'd done a few good things, but most of her work was mediocre." Hedin and Lagerlof, because of their seniority, won over the others after a long debate. When notified, Pearl Buck graciously announced that Theodore Dreiser was more deserving of the honor.

1939 Frans E. Sillanpaa (1888-1964), Finnish. Work: Meek Heritage.

Behind the Award--Sillanpaa, "the most widely unknown author on earth," according no Nobel biographer Herta Pauli, was an impoverished giant who'd married his housekeeper and had 7 children by her. He got the $35,000 prize because one of the Nobel judges, 81-year-old Selma Lagerlof, angered by Russia's invasion of Finland (she had turned her own Nobel gold medal over to the Finns to be melted down), badgered the weaker judges into taking a symbolic stand against Soviet aggression. Ignored in the intense politicking were 2 superior authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf, who became ineligible in the next year and the year after because of their premature deaths.

1940 No Award

1941 No Award

1942 No Award

1943 No Award

1944 Johannes V. Jensen (1873-1950), Danish. Work: The Long Journey.

Behind the Award--The literary judges preferred Jensen, a fellow Scandinavian, to H. G. Wells, Willa Cather, and W. Somerset Maugham, the latter of whom they privately regarded as "too popular and undistinguished."

1945 Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), Chilean. Work: Havoc.

Behind the Award--Politics. Her poems were unknown in Sweden or to the judges save one. The dark horse nominees were Jules Romains, Benedetto Croce, Hermann Hesse. But, as judge Sven Hedin explained, "because one of our judges, Hjalmar Gullberg, a poet, fell in love with Mistral's verse, and translated all of it into Swedish to convince us, he single-handed swayed our entire vote."

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