Why is there no Nobel Prize for Literature this year?

Sexual assault allegations against Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of Swedish Academy member Katarina Frostenson, leave awards organisation in disarray

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 01 October 2018 16:51 BST
Jean-Claude Arnault
Jean-Claude Arnault

As James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo celebrate being awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, you might be wondering why no honour for literary achievement is being handed out this year.

The Swedish Academy was forced to announce the postponement of the Nobel Prize for Literature in May 2018 after 18 women made sexual assault allegations against French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, 72, husband of member Katarina Frostenson.

Arnault was found guilty of raping a woman in a Stockholm apartment by a Swedish court on Monday and sentenced to two years in prison.

He has also been ordered to pay the victim £10,000 in damages over the attack, which took place on the night of 5 October 2011.

Arnault’s accusers were emboldened to come forward by the example of the #MeToo campaign in the US after similar accusations were made against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017.

Arnault denied all of the charges against him - which date back as far as 1996 - and, following an investigation by Swedish prosecutors, all but one was dropped due to a lack of evidence.

The Academy conducted its own internal investigation in April – as several of the alleged attacks were understood to have been carried out on its property – and ultimately decided against removing Ms Frostenson, a poet and writer, from its 18-person committee.

The case against Jean-Claude Arnault came at a time when the Academy was also facing conflict of interest accusations and was seeking to locate the source of leaks revealing the names of prizewinners in advance.

The turmoil eventually led to a slew of withdrawals, including that of Ms Frostenson and the organisation’s head, Professor Sara Danius. Members cannot resign from their posts but can refrain from taking a further part in proceedings.

When the postponement of the literature prize was announced on Friday 4 May, Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the board of the Nobel Foundation, said in a statement:

“The Swedish Academy has decided to postpone the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature, with the intention of awarding it in 2019. According to the Swedish Foundations Act, the Nobel Foundation is ultimately responsible for fulfilling the intentions in the will of Alfred Nobel. During the past several weeks, we have pursued a continuous dialogue with the Swedish Academy, and we support Thursday’s decision.

“In principle, the Nobel Prize shall be awarded every year, but decisions on Nobel Prizes have been postponed on a number of occasions during the history of the prizes. One of the circumstances than may justify an exception is when a situation in a prize-awarding institution arises that is so serious that a prize decision will not be perceived as credible.

“The crisis in the Swedish Academy has adversely affected the Nobel Prize. Their decision underscores the seriousness of the situation and will help safeguard the long-term reputation of the Nobel Prize. None of this impacts the awarding of the 2018 Nobel Prizes in other prize categories.

“The Nobel Foundation presumes that the Swedish Academy will now put all its efforts into the task of restoring its credibility as a prize-awarding institution and that the Academy will report the concrete actions that are undertaken. We also assume that all members of the Academy realise that both its extensive reform efforts and its future organisational structure must be characterised by greater openness towards the outside world.”

Assuming the Academy can resolve the current crisis, the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature will be handed out at 2019's ceremony, alongside the award to next year's winner.

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