The Swedish Academy has announced there will be no Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018, amid an ongoing scandal involving allegations of sexual misconduct by the husband of a member of the world-renowned institution.
Instead, the prize will be postponed, and two prizes will be awarded in 2019.
“The active members of the Swedish Academy are of course fully aware that the present crisis of confidence places high demands on a long-term and robust work for change. We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the Academy before the next laureate can be announced. This, out of respect for previous and future literature laureates, the Nobel Foundation, and the general public,” says Anders Olsson, interim Permanent Secretary, in a press release.
The Academy has been in turmoil in the past month, with six members resigning due to internal conflicts. Many had held this outcome likely, arguing that the Academy has lost its credibility and risked tainting the Nobel Prize if it were to be awarded as usual.
What is this scandal about, exactly?
The crisis revolves around the Swedish Academy’s handling of its connections to Jean-Claude Arnault, dubbed ”The Culture Profile” in Swedish media. Arnault is married to former Academy member Katarina Frostenson (she resigned on April 14), and for many years ran the prestigious culture venue Forum in Stockholm.
It all began during the #MeToo movement in November 2017, when Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s biggest daily newspapers, revealed serious allegations of sexual assault and harassment by Arnault. 18 women told Dagens Nyheter the events had taken place at Forum, as well as in properties in Stockholm and Paris owned by the Swedish Academy. The alleged incidents took place between 1996 and 2017, although some cultural figures have said they had been aware of Arnault’s supposed behaviour since the 1980s.
”He didn’t say many words before he grabbed me between my legs, and did a pussy grab. It was like he was digging. Nothing motivated the incident, and there had been no flirtation or touch. I just found a hand up my crotch,” author Gabriella Håkansson told Dagens Nyheter.
The Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet even reported that three sources had said they had witnessed Arnault groping the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria.
Arnault is represented by lawyer Björn Hurtig, who says his client denies all allegations.
Shortly after the accusations of sexual misconduct, it emerged that Arnault for many years had allegedly been leaking names of Nobel Prize Literature laureates before they were officially announced. An investigation by the legal firm Hammarskiöld & Co, seen by Dagens Nyheter in April, concluded that he had revealed the names of Nobel laureates on seven occasions, including Bob Dylan in 2016.
For many years, Forum had also been receiving donations of money from the Swedish Academy.
The legal firm furthermore recommended reporting Arnault to the police, which the Swedish Academy did not do. At some point in early 2018, the Academy voted on whether or not to expel Arnault’s wife, Katarina Frostenson, but she was kept on.
The members decided, however, to tighten its rules regarding conflicts of interest and secrecy.
Who resigned when – and why?
On April 6, three members resigned in protest: author and historian Peter Englund, writer and literary historian Kjell Espmark and writer Klas Östergren.
”[T]he majority have, in my view, shown too much consideration for certain individuals, and much too little consideration for the statutes, yes, to the whole idea with this congregation,” Englund told the newspaper Aftonbladet.
Academy member Horace Engdahl harshly criticised the Permanent Secretary Sara Danius, writing in the newspaper Expressen that Danius was “the one of all secretaries since 1786 who has performed the worst in doing their task.” Engdahl, himself permanent secretary between 1999 and 2009, is friends with Jean-Claude Arnault.
After the Academy’s weekly meeting on Thursday, April 12, Permanent Secretary Sara Danius announced she was resigning from her position immediately. Arnault’s wife Katarina Frostenson also resigned, it was announced.
On Friday, April 14, the hashtag #knytblus (pussy-bow blouse) was trending on social media. Swedish politicians, authors and other well-known profile wore Sara Danius’s signature garment, the pussy-bow blouse, in support of the ousted permanent secretary. The following Thursday, a couple of thousand people gathered in a pussy-bow blouse rally outside the Swedish Academy’s headquarters in Gamla Stan in Stockholm.
Academy member Sara Stridsberg announced on April 28 that she, too, was leaving the Swedish Academy.
What is the Swedish Academy anyway, and what’s it got to do with the Nobel Prize?
The Swedish Academy was founded in 1786 by King Gustaf III of Sweden, and consists of 18 members, all of whom are elected for life for one of 18 seats. The Academy’s main purpose is to advance the Swedish language and Swedish literature. Its motto is “Talent and Taste.”
The Swedish Academy has awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1901. It has been tasked with doing so by the Nobel Foundation, which provides the prize money. There have been speculations that the Foundation could assign the task to another body, but doing so would be complicated and lengthy as the Foundation needs to ensure the will of Alfred Nobel is met.
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf is the patron of the Academy. He recently stepped in to change the arcane rules of the Academy, allowing members who have been absent from their seats for more than two years to be replaced.
Has the Nobel Prize ever been cancelled before?
The Nobel Prize has been cancelled seven times in the past, mainly during war years, although in 1935 it was cancelled because the Academy could not find a suitable candidate. The last time it was cancelled was in 1949. The prize has never before been cancelled due to conflicts within the Academy itself.
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