Nobel Literature Prize put off to 2019 after #MeToo turmoil

Jean-Claude Arnault, who has been accused of rape, with his wife and Swedish Academy member Katarina Frostenson.AP

Jean-Claude Arnault, who has been accused of rape, with his wife and Swedish Academy member Katarina Frostenson.AP  

Swedish Academy says it needs time to recover public confidence

For the first time in almost 70 years, there will be no Nobel Literature Prize this year, after the Swedish Academy that selects the laureate failed to contain a deep crisis stemming from the anti-sexual harassment #MeToo campaign.

“We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the Academy before the next laureate can be announced,” the Academy’s interim permanent secretary Anders Olsson said in a statement on Friday, adding that two prizes would be announced in 2019.

The body has been in turmoil since November, when in the wake of the global #MeToo campaign, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published the testimonies of 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Jean-Claude Arnault, an influential figure on the Swedish culture scene.

Mr. Arnault, the French husband of Academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson, has denied the allegations. The revelations have sowed deep discord among the Academy’s 18 members about how to handle the matter, and in recent weeks, six of them have resigned, including permanent secretary Sara Danius.

“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,” Mr. Olsson said.

Seen as bearers of high culture, the Academy, founded in 1786, is traditionally known for its integrity and discretion, with its meetings and decisions shrouded in secrecy.

But the row has turned into a titillating public spectacle, with Academy members dealing ugly blows to each other in the media.

Member Horace Engdahl, for example, called Ms. Danius “the worst” permanent secretary in the Academy’s history.

Previous instances

The last time the institution delayed a prize announcement was in 1949, when William Faulkner received the prize a year later, when Bertrand Russell was also honoured.

The same scenario, in which two laureates are announced in one year, has also occurred on four other occasions.

“I think it’s wise, this is the best decision they could make. They’ll have a chance to restore [the Academy] this year and fill the empty seats, and come back with a strong Academy that can award the prize,”Dagens Nyheter’sliterature critic Maria Schottenius said.

Several Academy members had recently suggested the 2018 prize could be postponed because of the crisis, which has dragged the body’s reputation — and that of the Nobel Literature Prize — through the mud.

After the women spoke out in the media, the Academy cut all ties with Mr. Arnault’s cultural centre Forum in Stockholm, which it had subsidised for years and which was a key meeting point for the country’s cultural elite.

Prosecutors announced in mid-March that they had dropped parts of their investigation against Mr. Arnault due to lack of evidence. The rest of the investigation is still ongoing.

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