Will There Be a Nobel Prize in Literature This Year?

How did the crisis start?


Jean-Claude Arnault in 2015. He has been implicated in a sexual abuse scandal linked to the Swedish Academy.Credit Rex, via Shutterstock

The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reported in November that 18 women had accused the French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault of sexual assault or harassment. Mr. Arnault also ran Forum, a popular cultural venue in Stockholm that received support from the academy.

Mr. Arnault co-owns the club with his wife, Katarina Frostenson, a poet and a member of the academy.

The paper reported that Mr. Arnault had been accused of mistreating women over more than 20 years in properties that the academy owns in Paris and Stockholm.

Will There Be a Nobel Prize in Literature This Year?
Will There Be a Nobel Prize in Literature This Year?

According to news reports in Sweden, the victims included the Crown Princess Victoria, who said she was inappropriately touched by Mr. Arnault at an academy event.

Why did members start quitting?

Sara Danius, a literary scholar and first woman to lead the Swedish Academy, was forced out in mid-April after she severed the ties between the organization and Mr. Arnault and Forum. She also hired a law firm late last year to investigate the academy’s ties with Mr. Arnault.

That came a week after three other members of the academy walked out over the handling of the allegations of assault and harassment and the law firm’s findings, creating a Nobel-related crisis without precedent.

Idag kör hela teamet #knytblusfö

— Mikael Damberg (@mikaeldamberg) April 13, 2018

The ouster of Ms. Danius prompted an outpouring of support, regarded by many as a case example of a woman taking the fall for a man’s bad behavior.

The day after her removal, several public figures — including Sweden’s minister for enterprise and innovation, Mikael Damberg — dressed in Ms. Danius’s signature pussy-bow blouse and posted selfies on social media in a show of support.

Who’s left in the academy?


Sara Danius was forced out of the academy after she severed its ties with Mr. Arnault.Credit Jonas Ekstromer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Academy now has 10 active members instead of the full 18.

Members are elected for life, and there is no provision that allows them to resign. Under the current rules, the seats of members who quit will remain unfilled until their deaths.

King Carl XVI Gustaf, who is the patron of the Swedish Academy, has proposed changing the rules to allow members to leave voluntarily.

The board now finds itself in a curious predicament: Even if it could vote in new members to replace those who quit, it is short of the 12-member quorum required for their approval.

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Can the academy pick a Nobel Prize winner?

Eight members are needed to vote on a laureate with a simple majority. But the Nobel goes beyond the numbers.

“They need to also convince the world that they are actually doing hard, serious work on picking a suitable candidate for the prize,” said Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, a professor of comparative literature at the University of Aarhus, in Denmark.

In other words, the credibility of the prize is at stake. The literature prize, which is awarded to one of around 200 nominees, often baffles and provokes, but it confers instant status on the recipient.

Members usually decide on a shortlist of five finalists in May, and then have all summer to dive deep into their works.

“Either the Nobel Prize will be awarded this year or we will postpone it and award two next year,” Per Wastberg, an author and member of the Swedish Academy, said by telephone. He said that the two options would be discussed on Thursday and that a decision was likely to be announced in a statement on Friday.

James Wood, a prominent literary critic and professor at Harvard, said taking a timeout would be the right thing to do.

“They have this scandal overshadowing them,” he said in a Skype interview. “And particularly because it’s associated with a certain kind of humane values, I think it’s pretty risky to try to award the prize in a moment when the committee’s own values have been compromised in this way.”

Christina Anderson reported from Stockholm, and Palko Karasz from London.

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