Nobel Prize for Literature 1946 - 1955

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for literature from 1946 to 1955 including Faulkner, Hesse, Eliot, Hemingway, and Winston Churchill, as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.

1946 Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), Swiss. Work: Steppenwolf; Demian.

Behind the Award--He was nominated by his friend Thomas Mann. Since German-born Hesse's best novel was published 19 years before this award, Swedish newspapers questioned it. The Swedish Academy judges explained they voted for Hesse because he was "one of those who 1st eluded German suppression of free opinion." They did not explain that the German suppression Hesse eluded was not Hitler's--but the Kaiser's in 1912. They also did not explain that Academy secretary Hallstrom did not feel Hesse's novels would have been approved by Nobel "unless the inventor of dynamite had wanted to glorify an instinct for evil"--but once Hesse turned from novels to poetry, a prize to him could be justified.

1947 Andre Gide (1869-1951), French. Work: The Immoralist; The Counterfeiters. Behind the Award--Off and on for 20 years, Gide was runner-up in the secret balloting. The judges respected him but were troubled about his self-confessed homosexuality. Finally, although one liberal judge switched his vote to denounce Gide on moral grounds, the conservative majority changed its mind and elected him a Nobel laureate.

1948 T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), British. Work: The Waste Land.

1949 William Faulkner (1897-1962), American. Work: The Sound and the Fury; Sanctuary.

Behind the Award--Robert Coughlan, in his biography of Faulkner, wrote that a week after learning of his Nobel award, Faulkner went on his annual hunting expedition with friends, started drinking heavily, and was in an alcoholic stupor until the week before he was to leave for Stockholm. His friends were worried, but suddenly Faulkner stopped drinking, remained cold sober throughout the ceremony, and delivered one of the great acceptance speeches in Nobel Prize history.

1950 Bertrand A. Russell (1872-1970), British. Work: Human Knowledge.

1951 Par F. Lagerkvist (1891-1974), Swedish. Work: Barabbas.

1952 Francois Mauriac (1885-1970), French. Work: Therese.

1953 Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British. Work: Second World War Series.

Behind the Award--Despite protests from literary purists that Churchill was more a politico than an author, the judges stood firm. They insisted rightly that he was an author in the tradition of Burke and Disraeli. They pointed to his reportage from India and the Sudan, his biography of Marlborough, his epic history of W.W. II, his public speeches ("How many flashing phrases . . . have been imprinted in our consciousness!").

1954 Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), American. Work: The Old Man and the Sea; A Farewell to Arms.

Behind the Award--A Nobel Prize judge said: "He had been put to a vote several times before, and once he was very, very close to winning. Our conservatism had kept the award from him." But finally, it was not high regard for Hemingway (Albert Camus and Concha Espina were favored over him) but high regard for one of their own that determined the 1959 award. The senior judge, Per Hallstrom, was about to retire, and Hallstrom was a Hemingway fan who loved The Old Man and the Sea. So the judges voted the award to Hemingway because they wished it to be considered, in the words of one of them, "a gesture of courtesy toward the dean of the Academy, who at that time was nearly 90 years old."

1955 Halldor K. Laxness (1902- ). Ice lander. Work: Independent People.

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