Nobel Prize Award for Literature 1901 to 1904

About the Nobel Prize Award for Literature 1901 to 1904 including the authors such as Mommsen and Bjornson, their works, and history.


1901 Rene F. A. Sully Prudhomme (1839-1907), French

Work: Stanzas and Poems

Nobel Laureate: Forced to abandon an early interest in science because of eye trouble, the Parisian-born poet began writing essays and verse while serving as a law clerk in Paris. His first work to be published was L'Art in 1863, followed by Stanzas and Poems in 1865. His contributions to Le Parnasse contemporain reflected his distaste for the excesses of Romanticism, but his connections with the Parnassian movement remained tenuous because of personal differences. His later, more formalistic verse reflects his early scientific interest and his philosophical idealism.

Nobel Lore: Leo Tolstoi seemed the obvious choice for the initial Nobel Prize in literature, but one of the Nobel judges, Dr. Carl David af Wirsen, criticized the Russian author for his "narrow-minded hostility to all forms of civilization." The conservative academy members concurred and gave the award to the less controversial Sully Prudhomme, whom they cited for "lofty idealism, artistic perfection, and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect." Unlike Tolstoi's, his works have since become rather obscure period pieces.

1902 Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), German Work: History of Rome

1903 Bjornstjerne Bjornson (1832-1910), Norwegian

Work: Sunny Hill; Beyond Human Power

Nobel Laureate: "Norway's Father," the pastor's son who thrived on controversy, was a big, broad-shouldered, exuberant Norseman, part poet, part warring politician. While still a student, he turned to literary criticism and journalism. At 25 he wrote his first play and became manager of the national theater at Bergen. He married an actress and traveled through Europe. In 1862 he produced the dramatic trilogy that brought him, for the next few years, a sizable "poet's pension" from the Norwegian parliament. He wrote problem plays, peasant tales, pamphlets, and poetry, including the lyric that became Norway's national anthem. And he never stopped campaigning for the establishment of a Norwegian republic. He spent many of his later years abroad, not always of his own volition. The government's reaction to one of his outspoken plays sent him to Germany for refuge until the furor subsided. He died in Paris. "Mentioning his name," remarked critic Georg Brandes, "is like hoisting the flag of Norway."

Nobel Lore: Bjornson was favored by the Nobel judges over his friend and rival Henrik Ibsen because the creative powers of the latter had allegedly waned, because his works were lacking in idealism, and because Nobel himself had admired the works of Bjornson. High-handed? Yes, and yet it was high-minded of these Swedish adjudicators to honor this outspoken protagonist of Norwegian separatism.

1904 Frederic Mistral (1830-1914), French Work: Mireio

Jose Echegaray y Eizaguirre (1832-1916), Spanish

Work: The World and His Wife

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