Friday, 23 December 2016

Refusing a present

We rarely refuse a Christmas, or any other sort of, present. I certainly like getting something for nothing. I was interested to read that the author Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) turned down the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for his novel Arrowsmith.

He explained why in the following terms:

"I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel Arrowsmith for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.
All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for Novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.
Those terms are that the prize shall be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood." This phrase, if it means anything whatsoever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment."

Similarly, Jean-Paul Satre (1905-1980) was awarded and declined the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature, pointing out that he always declined official honours and saying that "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution".

These are high ideals when so much money is on offer. Would that more people were seen to be like that these days.