Nobel Prize Award for Literature 1946 to 1947

About the Nobel Prize Award for Literature 1946 to 1947 including the authors such as Hesse and Gide, their works, and history.


1946 Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), Swiss (b. Germany)

Work: Demian; Steppenwolf

Nobel Laureate: The "last knight of Romanticism" was born in the Black Forest, offshoot of a long line of preachers and missionaries. His father sent him to a seminary. But the reluctant seminarian ran away and became in turn a watchmaker's apprentice, a bookseller, and an antiques dealer. He wrote about psychoanalysis (which he had undergone), and he wrote under the heady influence of Eastern mysticism. Reactions to Steppenwolf, his fantastical fable of self versus society, instinct versus reason, ran the gamut from "a sonata in prose" to "a repellent example of that beery old thing, German Romanticism, being sick in the last ditch before Nazism." This vociferous antimilitarist quit Germany before W.W. I--amid cries of "Traitor!" from his ex-compatriots. "My relationship to that enigmatic people," he mused, "has always been thorny and intricate, two-edged and difficult." He settled in Switzerland and in 1923 became a Swiss national. About 275 of his poems have been set to music. The old Swabian peasant--"theoretically a saint who loves all humanity and practically an egotist who never wants to be disturbed"--liked to cultivate his garden and work in watercolors.

Nobel Lore: More than usually befuddled rationalizing went on behind the smoke screens. Thomas Mann, Hesse's best friend, nominated the "unjustly unknown" author of Steppenwolf, a widely untranslated opus and not exactly fresh off the printing press. Academy Secretary Hallstrom maintained that Hesse's prose works would not have pleased Nobel, "unless the inventor of dynamite had wanted to glorify an instinct for evil by blindly causing human thought to explode" (obviously an untenable hypothesis), but allowed that Hesse's lyric poetry was another matter. When the Swedish newspapers questioned the award, the committee explained that Hesse was "one of those who first eluded German suppression of free opinion." A deliberate confusion of chronology and context, for the allusion was to Hesse's elusion, not of Hitler, but of the kaiser in 1912.

1947 Andre Gide (1869-1951), French

Work: The Immoralist; The Counterfeiters

Nobel Laureate: His life was a passionate paradox, swirled with controversy and contradiction. Key factor in the Freudian equation: a domineering, puritanical mother. A trip to North Africa in 1893 and a nearly fatal illness helped young Gide cast off the constraints of conventional morality. "I have found my own form of normality," he announced. His relationship with the wife he worshiped was purely platonic. But he had an affair with--and a daughter by--another woman. He wrote probing books about complex characters and complex concepts; helped found the influential Nouvelle Revue Francaise; and over a period of 60 years kept a remarkable diary that ran to more than a million words. Publication of the anticlerical Vatican Swindle and the prohomosexual Corydon caused such an uproar that in 1925 he sold his estate and sailed to equatorial Africa to hunt rare butterflies. He came back with a scathing report on French colonial policy that caused another uproar. He made news when he turned openly to Marxism in 1932--and made even more news when he turned away, disillusioned, after a visit to the U.S.S.R. in 1936. Honors came late in life. He was 78 when he received a doctorate from Oxford and a laurel from Stockholm. Said Gide: "Catholicism is inadmissible; Protestantism is intolerable; and I feel profoundly Christian." In 1952, a year after his death, his work in its entirety was consigned to the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books.

Nobel Lore: This was hardly a snap decision. Gide had been under consideration for 20 years because--according to the committee's convenient cop-out--his work had to be seen in perspective. The fact is, they needed a little time (say, two decades) to surmount the homosexuality hurdle. Finally, the unexpected happened. While one liberal committeeman switched votes to denounce the nominee on moral grounds, the conservative majority rose above their scruples to acclaim this controversial personality.

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