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26 Apr, 2018 15:44

Nobel Literature Prize could be postponed in 2018 after #MeToo scandal rips apart awarding body

Nobel Literature Prize could be postponed in 2018 after #MeToo scandal rips apart awarding body

The Swedish Academy is considering cancelling the most prestigious prize in world literature for the first time since World War II, following the biggest sex scandal and power struggle in its history.

"We're thinking about it. We'll let you know soon," Anders Olsson, the academy's interim permanent secretary, told Swedish Radio on Wednesday.

The station reported that the prize could be held back for a year, with two laureates feted together for 2018 and 2019 next year.

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"Given the situation the academy currently finds itself in, and given the best interests of the prize, it might be best to postpone it for a year," said Peter Englund, another academy member.

Comprising the elite of the country’s literary establishment, the 18-member academy has awarded every Nobel Prize for Literature since its inception in 1901.

Long-running grievances exposed

But the secretive organization was rocked in November last year, when Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of poet and academy member Katarina Frostenson, was accused by 18 women of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo scandal.

While Arnault is not himself a member, nor have any of the charges against him been proven, he was deeply involved in the academy as the owner of the Stockholm club where members met, which was part-funded by the academy. He was also later accused of leaking names of winners days in advance of the official announcements, although he denies this and all the other charges.


But the spark set off a full-scale rift between the traditionalists and the feminist reformers, which has focused on Sara Danius, who had chaired the academy since 2015. In interviews to local media, she has told journalists that she took to presiding over meetings in the persona of Gittan P. Jonsson, an aggressive and domineering feminist with a harsh accent and choice vocabulary.

Having already aggravated several of the members, Danius pushed hardest for the punishment of Frostenson, who has now been suspended. But, at the same time Danius has herself been forced to step down, after her leadership and handling of the crisis was criticized, a situation that has led the Swedish media to point out that the two women have been the only confirmed victims of a sex scandal purportedly provoked by male misbehavior. Three more members have also decided to voluntarily boycott any further participation following the vicious in-fighting.

The clean-out could have served as a stepping stone to potential reform, but members are chosen for life, and have not traditionally been allowed to resign. In fact, together with previous boycotts there are now only 11 active academy members, fewer than the 12 needed to elect a newcomer.

King Carl XVI Gustaf, the patron of the body, established back in 1786, has been obliged to step in, saying that the Swedish Academy’s charter will be altered, so that old members can resign permanently, and new ones be elected in their stead.

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But for the moment it remains unclear who exactly will be judging this year’s literature prize, which is due to be announced in October, or if the members will have sufficient time to read books between internal politicking and apologetic media interviews.