by Cat Edwards
Thomas Fischer via Flickr.com
The Nobel Prize for Literature was established in 1901, alongside four other prizes in fields that the scientist Alfred Nobel deemed of great importance to society. Since its first presentation, the prize has been issued every year, with exceptions made only for the inter-war years. In 2018, the award for Literature was not given, as, following the #MeToo campaign, the awarding board became the subject of speculation regarding instances of sexual misconduct and utilizing the position on the board for private financial gain.
In April this year, author Jean-Claude Arnault, husband to board member Katarina Frostenson, was involved in a scandal regarding sexual harassment and assault as eighteen victims came forward to recount their trauma. Although Arnault denied the accusations, he was later convicted of rape and received a two-year jail sentence. It was also speculated that Frostenson and her husband had been leaking the names of the winners before the official announcements, in order for friends to benefit from bets that they had placed on certain nominees before the formal announcements.
Following the scandal, three board members resigned, as they felt that the board secretary failed in her decision not to pursue legal action against Arnault. There are currently only ten active members of the committee following various disputes amongst the members and the prize-giving body. Considering the prize committee was initially made up of eighteen members, this does not bode well for the future of the prize, as they do not have enough active members in order to agree on an additional member of the committee according to their initial guidelines.
2018 has been a year of histories of sexual assault coming to light, and persecutors facing the disgrace they deserved. The courage shown by those affected by Arnault’s actions is admirable, and his discrediting is a step in the right direction. Investigations have been launched into the actions of both Arnault and board member Frostenson, and this year’s award has been postponed to 2019.
However, their public silence on the issue and the board members’ inability to condemn these actions is disheartening. Without proper action, the Nobel Prize and its committee face losing the authority that they have garnered over the last century. Perhaps, in their silence and refusal to provide an award this year, they are attempting to offer a rebuttal, but this argument lacks gravity. As women were previously silenced about their abuse at Arnault’s hands, it does not feel like the Nobel Prize for Literature committee, in refusing to actively challenge these accusations and voice their disdain for Arnault’s abuse, is taking a firm stance.
These great institutions must be able to address the moral problems that threaten to corrupt them and must lead the way for a future where there are no Harvey Weinsteins or, in this case, Jean-Claude Arnaults, in positions of power. The Nobel Prize for Literature is assessing its current position, as well as not issuing an award this year, and I believe that this active pause calls for a regeneration. The current system is broken, and so, in order to evolve in this new era of accountability for sexual misconduct, the organisation must be able to hold itself to account and prove itself as an example for how to properly address and move forward from issues of corruption and assault. The lack of a prize for literature this year must take on a symbolic stance in the history of the prize and demonstrate that sexual assault and behaviour of this kind will not and should not be tolerated.