Great authors who didn’t win a Nobel Prize for unlikely reasons

I used to believe that the Nobel Prize Winner was the supreme award an author can aspire to receive.I was wrong.Nobel Prizes in Literature are not solely awarded on the basis of a glimmering career ; a wide range of criteria needs to be satisfied as well.If up to 1912,the juries were scrupulously following Alfred Nobel’s will that idealism should be rewarded,as of 1913,they were more open but more biased.

Articles enumerating the authors snubbed by the Nobel Prize aren’t that hard to find over the net; however I had to go in the realms of the web to find out why the authors below weren’t awarded the much-coveted Prize.I hope you will learn from this post as much as I did from writing it.

1.Leo Tolstoy

Notable Works: Anna Karenina,War and Peace,A Confession

Reasons : In his report to the Academy,the chairman of the Nobel Committee said that while he admired “immortal creations” like War and Peace and Anna Karenina, he could not condone Tolstoy’s social and political theories, nor his presumption in rewriting the New Testament “in a half mystical, half rationalistic spirit,” nor, finally, his denial to both nations and individuals of the right of self-defence.Still,Leo Tolstoy was the one who laid the foundation stone for many other authors; Woolf,Flaubert,Chekov,Joyce,Faulkner,Proust and Nabokov all regarded him as the greatest of all novelists.For that reason alone he deserved a Nobel Prize,but sadly,his recognition by those modern authors came well after his death.

2.William Somerset Maugham

Notable Works: The Painted Veil, Of Human Bondage, The Moon and Sixpence

Reasons: He was deemed ‘too popular and undistinguished’. Undistinguished? Not in my opinion.Maugham was an established short storyteller,playwright and novelist.I don’t know if he deserved the award,but he was definitely dismissed for the wrong reasons.

3.George Orwell

Notable Works: Homage to Catalonia,Animal Farm,1984

Reasons: Had he lived longer,he would surely have been awarded a Nobel Prize.He died a little less than 1 year after the publication of his – arguably – best work: 1984.Among the other authors whose death prevented them from being awarded a Nobel Prize are Virginia Woolf,Marcel Proust and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

4.Jorge Luis Borges

Notable Works: Ficciones, The Aleph, The Book of Sand

Reason: The first ever Pulitzer Prize winner lived long enough to be considered many times for the Nobel award,but was continually disregarded presumably because of his support for dictators Pinochet and Jorge Rafael Videla.Unlike Tolstoy,he was much distressed to have never been awarded the Nobel Prize.

5.Robert Frost

Notable Works: A Boy’s Will, North of Boston,A Witness Tree

Reason: Widely regarded as the best poet of the 20th century,Robert Frost won the Pulitzer Prize four times,a record which he shares with Eugene O’Neill who did win the Nobel Prize in 1936.Frost was dismissed because of his “advanced age” in 1961– he was 86 at the time – with the jury deciding the American poet’s years were “a fundamental obstacle, which the committee regretfully found it necessary to state”. Forster wasn’t considered for the Nobel Prize for similar reasons.Over the years,age proved no longer an obstacle as Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize at the age of 87 in 2007.

6.James Joyce

Notable Works: Ulysses, The Dubliners, Finnegan’s Wake

Reasons: When Sven Hedin,one of the Nobel Prize judges,was asked why James Joyce wasn’t even nominated,he said: ”Who?”

7.Anton Chekhov

Notable Works: The Safety Match,The Duel,Ivanov

Reasons: Among the greatest short storytellers in history.In an attempt to defend his stand as a pro-Nazi, Sven Hedin made the bold claim that other Nobel Prize judges were as judgemental as he.A judge,he claimed,so hated Russians that he prevented Tolstoy,Chekhov and Gorky from winning the Nobel Prize.

8.Henrik Ibsen


Notable Works: Peer Gynt, A Doll’s House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler

Reasons: He is regarded as the most important playwright after Shakespeare.To get an idea of how great he actually was,know that he influenced quite a few eminent novelists and playwrights,namely Oscar Wilde,George Bernard Shaw,James Joyce,Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill.So why did so great a man never win a Nobel Prize? Because the judges deemed his works too realistic; they were looking for someone with more idealism.Another giant,Mark Twain,was dismissed for similar reasons.

9.Vladimir Nabokov

Notable Works: Pale Fire,Lolita

Reasons: He was nominated numerous times,but for some reasons,was always dismissed in favour of a lesser known author.For instance,in 1974,when Jorge Luis Borges,Vladimir Nabokov,Graham Greene and Saul Bellow were favoured candidates,the Nobel Prize was shared between Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, two Swedes who happened to be judges on the Nobel panel!

10.Arthur Miller

Notable Works: Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, All My Sons, After the Fall

Reasons: Pulitzer Prize Winner Arthur Miller was regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century and as the last titan of the American stage,with the other titans being Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill.In 1997,Salman Rushdie and he were favoured to win the Nobel Prize,but both were dismissed on the account that they would have been ‘too predictable, too popular’.Since then he was never again considered for a Nobel Prize.


20 thoughts on “Great authors who didn’t win a Nobel Prize for unlikely reasons”

    1. Thanks!
      I forgot Iris Murdoch but I had included Woolf in the Orwell area.In 1939,the year in which Woolf and F.Scott Fitzgerald were favourites,an unknown Finnish author was selected as the Nobel panel wanted to take a symbolic stand against Soviet aggression – Russia was invading Finland.Because of their premature deaths,Woolf and Scott Fitzgerald became ineligible for the following year and the year after!

  1. […] It’s been two years since I left school,so I’ve forgotten much about what I learned in statistics and thus, a revision is badly needed.As a result,I won’t have much time to devote to the blog.I will try to stick to my ‘Why You Should Read…’ series and my usual ‘analysis’ about a striking theme in the latest book I’ve read.I doubt you will ever see again – well,at least for a very long time you won’t – such posts as ‘9 Most Important Living Authors‘ or ‘Authors who Didn’t Win a Nobel Prize for Unlikely Reasons‘. […]

  2. Nobels are like Oscars 😀 Movies you think would deserve it, never win haha. I like Pulitzer prize far more, I think book that says “Pulitzer” means it has some new ideas and it’s in some way creative.

    I have not been too fond of Tolstoy after reading War & Peace. In the beginning of the War & Peace he writes that he has no interest what so ever to write about lives of the poors and merchants for what clever thoughts could they possibly have and focuses on describing lives of wealthiest families… … and it was sort of opposite of Hugo’s Les Misérables.

    1. In fact,the Pulitzer prize and the Booker prize are both great,and,as you said,the book awarded is always a little gem.

      However the Nobel Prize is not awarded on the basis of one single book; your entire career and the contribution you made to literature is taken into account.That’s why it somehow disturbed me that none of Tolstoy,Chekhov and Borges (three geniuses) won the Nobel,just because of some biased and chauvinist judges!

      Ah,you should give Tolstoy a second chance! :p
      He sort of repented when he turned old,as he embraced a sort of Christianism characterized by asceticism. :3
      Anna Karenina was wonderful,absolutely mesmerizing!!!

      1. Ah now that I remember…
        This list is only who those who didn’t win because of unlikely reasons.
        In Achebe’s case,he would have received it sooner or later had he not died unexpectedly.

  3. Nice work! Since I read “Ficciones”, I have always been bothered by Borges not winning the Nobel. The reasons for not awarding these writers seem ridiculous to me; this has changed how I see the prize.

    1. Thanks!
      You’re right.I too changed my opinion on the Nobel Prize.
      I mean,come on,Borges and Tolstoy didn’t win the prize because of political reasons!! Seriously?And they were well alive for a good 10 years to be handed the prize.

      Even for 2014 itself,it’s an unknown author,Patrick Modiano,who won it.No disrespect to the French author,but Atwood,Byatt or Kundera deserved it more.

    1. Haha,yep! It’s funny as well!
      And,as for Chekhov,it doesn’t surprise that he didn’t win the prize,given how arguably the greatest author of all time,Leo Tolstoy,was snubbed!
      Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

  4. Chekhov died in 1904! That put him at an extreme disadvantage. Among other ’19th’ c. writers who were survived long enough to be eligible but were not granted the award are Thomas Hardy and Henry James. And the first English language writer to receive the award was Kipling! If only James hadn’t wasted his time on the Golden Bowl or Conrad on Nostromo, they could have been numbered with Kipling and Sinclair Lewis and Pearl Buck as masters of the English language novel. And I don’t think anyone even considered giving the award to a backwoods funnyman like Mark Twain. Just the wrong tone entirely. Pearl Buck could give her peasants real dignity.

    1. Chekhov died in 1904.
      They had 3 years to give it to him.And for Tolstoy,arguably the greatest writer in history,they had 9 years or something!

      And yep.Pearl Buck won it because of reasons other than her talent.In fact she herself stated that there were others who were more worthy of the prize than her…

      And yep.I could have included Thomas HArdy and Henry James,but remember my post also explains why the authors didn’t win the Nobel Prize.For these two authors aforementioned,I didn’t find any explanation…

      Anyway thanks for commenting! Much appreciated! 🙂

  5. I’m surprised Han Suyin, the Eurasian writer who wrote “A Many Splendoured Thing’ never won it. Also, why didn’t the Swedes give it to Tenessee Williams?

    1. Hi there,thanks for commenting!
      I’ve just looked for reasons why Williams was not awarded the prize,and it turns out that homosexuality was not well-viewed at that time.His homosexuality would also permeate his story; his female characters,for example,are not the prim&proper ladies we use to see in other plays of his time.

      I’d have included him on his list,but realized I have no actual quote from anybody on the jury panel.

  6. Hello,
    Since I do not have time, at the moment, to do more than scan your Nobel misses, all I can offer is my congratulations on bringing the phenomenon to the surface, so to speak.

    My favourite on-going disgrace is Noam Chomsky, perhaps the only living person in the world who is clearly eligible for two Nobel Prizes: Science and Peace. That he will no doubt die having won neither tells us more about the Nobel people than it does about Chomsky and other civilized human beings.

    Add on the debacles of Alice Munro and Bob Dylan and all that’s missing is the laugh-track.

    Finally, please don’t make the mistake of overlooking Gore Vidal; America’s finest essayist of the twentieth century; and in the “living-but-unlikely” category, Brian Friel, the brilliant playwright (Irish) who has quietly been turning out cornerstone dramatic work for many years, but whose plays are far to rich in civility to ever entertain the Nobel jury. Let’s hope I’m wrong, regarding Friel. It could be that he’s just obscure enough to appeal to their self-congratulatory sense of marginal eligibility.

    Must run. Keep up the good work and I will return to your site when I can.

    Best regards,

    David Newel

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