Why wasn’t Leo Tolstoy rewarded with a Nobel Prize?

Try to recall, who of the great Russian writers was awarded with a Nobel Prize? Mikhail Sholokhov, Ivan Bunin, Boris Pasternak, and then there was Iosif Brodsky. The latter was a remarkable occasion. Brodsky is not actually known in Russia as a poet. I asked about 40 of my colleague-journalists, but no one of them recalled even one line by Brodsky.

There is actually nothing surprising about this award. Who can recall the name of the first Nobel Prize winner in the field of literature? This prize was awarded in 1901 to French poet Sully Prudhomme. I dare to say that  this poet is not known even in France. There are a lot of such doubtful prize winners! Mark Twain, Chekhov, Oscar Wild, Leo Tolstoy and other great writers were living and creating during that time as well, by the way.

When you look through the long list of literature workers that were awarded with Nobel Prize in literature, you get an impression that you never heard four names of each ten names. Their awarded works have been forgotten forever. Does it mean that Nobel Prizes in literature were given not for literature, but for some other achievements? The answer is positive, judging by  Iosif Brodsky’s life and works. Of course, I was not the first man, who got such an idea. The public opinion of Sweden and other countries was shocked with the decision of the Nobel Academy. A month after the scandalous award, Leo Tolstoy received a letter from a group of Swedish writers and artists.

“In connection with the first award of the Nobel Prize, we would like to express our admiration to you. We see you not only as a respectable patriarch of the up-to-date literature. We also see you as one of those powerfully moving poets that are worth recalling first and foremost. We feel the need to address to you with this welcoming letter, because we believe that the institution that was in  charge of the award, does not represent either the public, or writers’ opinion. Let everybody know that the true art is the art that is based on the freedom of thought and creativity.”

The letter was signed by more than 40 conspicuous Swedish writers and artists. Everybody knew it in the world: there was only one writer that deserved the highest award in the world. This writer is Leo Tolstoy.

A Swedish newspaper published an article in one of its issues back in 1902. The author of the article claimed that the majority of the academy members were “unfair craftsmen and literature amateurs, they call a rhyming line a poem.”

The first Nobel Prize was not awarded to Tolstoy. It was given to an exquisite poet of the second-best kind. After that, the best Swedish writers sent letters to Leo Tolstoy, protesting against such a reward.

Numerous letters and addresses made Leo Tolstoy write something in response: “Dear friends, I was very happy to know that the Nobel Prize was not awarded to me. First of all, it deprived me of a big problem of how to use this money. I am certain that this money, as well as money as it is, can only bring evil. Second of all, I was honored to get so many letters of sympathy and support from the people that I don’t know. I really enjoyed them. Please accept my sincerest gratitude. Leo Tolstoy.”

The story continued. Tolstoy’s new work “Great Sin” was  published in 1905. This work has been unfortunately forgotten. The book was about the hard life  of a Russian peasant. They do not recollect this work now, because Tolstoy set out his protest against the private property on land. The Russian Academy of Sciences decided to nominate Tolstoy for the competition to win the Nobel Prize in literature. The nomination note was approved by Russia’s highest literature institutions. In 1906 the note was sent to Sweden together with a copy of Tolstoy’s “Great Sin.”

As soon as Tolstoy learnt about this honor, he wrote a letter to his Finnish friend, writer Arvid Ernefeld: “If it was meant to happen, then it would be very unpleasant for me to refuse from it. That is why, I have a favor to ask. If you have any links in Sweden (I think you have), please try to make it so I would not be awarded with the prize. Please, try to do the best you can to avoid the award of the prize to me.”

Nine of ten Nobel Prize winners in literature were common “literature craftsmen.” They did not leave anything worth remembering. Only one or two of those ten winners were genius. So, why were they rewarded? It seems to me that the presence of a genius was giving Nobel Prize ceremonies the illusion of trustworthiness.

Probably, this is the way the Nobel committee is trying to show influence on literature and political predilections of the society and of the whole humankind. A Nobel Prize winner sounds so high and elevated. Yet, one should keep in mind the fact that the traitors of our country, Mikhail Gorbachev, Alexander Solzhenitsin, were also winners. Money makes the world go round. It seems that Leo Tolstoy was the first to realize that. He did not want his name to be used for such a horrid idea. So, why wasn’t the Nobel Prize awarded to Tolstoy? He wouldn’t have accepted it.

Andrey Cherkasov

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Author`s name Olga Savka