October 22 in Literature: Jean-Paul Sartre Turns Down Nobel Prize

The most significant events in the history of books on the 22nd of October

1844: Sarah Bernhardt is born. In 1900, she would become the first actor ever to portray the character of Shakespeare’s Hamlet on film.

1870: Lord Alfred Douglas is born. Most famous – or infamous – for being Oscar Wilde‘s lover, Douglas, the son of the Marquis of Queensbury, was also a poet. However, most people only know one line of his poetry: ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, from his 1894 poem ‘Two Loves‘.

1919: Doris Lessing is born Doris May Tayler in Iran. She would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007. Here are Jean-Paul Sartreten of the best Doris Lessing quotations from our archives. Our favourite: ‘That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.’

1964: Jean-Paul Sartre turns down the Nobel Prize for Literature; he writes about his refusal of the award on Le Figaro. His reasons were several, but he tended to decline offers of honours (he turned down the Legion of Honour after WWII), and thought the writer must ‘refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution’. But what is most interesting about this is that he had warned the Nobel Prize committee that, if they offered him the prize, he would turn it down. But they went ahead and awarded him it anyway, knowing it would be refused. In many ways, the committee felt that his refusing it was an honourable act, not a snub but a declaration of Sartre’s sincere beliefs and commitment to various causes he held dear.

1995: Kingsley Amis dies. He lived to be 73, having once remarked, ‘No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home in Weston-super-Mare.’ He also opined: ‘If you can’t annoy somebody with what you write, I think there’s little point in writing.’ For four decades he enjoyed a prolific and close correspondence with his university friend Philip Larkin, whose best poems we have selected here.

Image: Jean-Paul Sartre, via Wikimedia Commons.

One Comment

  1. I did not know this about Sartre. Now I love him a bit more:)