Embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal, the Swedish Academy announced Friday that it will not award a Nobel Prize in literature in 2018.
It has declined to award the prize seven times before, in years of war and when the academy determined that none of the nominees deserved it. The last time a Nobel literature prize was postponed was over six decades ago.
“The Swedish Academy intends to decide on and announce the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2018 in parallel with the naming of the 2019 laureate,” according to a statement posted on the Nobel Prize website. “The crisis in the Swedish Academy has adversely affected the Nobel Prize. Their decision underscores the seriousness of the situation and will help safeguard the long-term reputation of the Nobel Prize.”
It added that the awarding of the other prizes would not be disrupted.
The announcement came days after Swedish media reported that French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of an academy member and a recipient of academy funds, groped Swedish Crown Princess Victoria at an academy event in 2006. Arnault had already been accused of sexual harassment or assault, in some cases on academy property, by 18 women in November. He also allegedly leaked the names of at least seven Nobel winners but has denied all accusations against him.
In connection with the scandal, the head of the academy, Sara Danius, has stepped down, and several other academy members, including Arnault’s wife, poet Katarina Frostenson, have given up their active membership. Eleven members of the 18-person committee remain active.
Swedish officials welcomed the decision to postpone the announcement of the prize. The country’s head of state, King Carl XVI Gustaf, said Friday that the cancellation would allow the academy to “focus on restoring its reputation.” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, a Social Democrat, voiced similar hopes, but also urged the academy to now work “tirelessly” to regain lost public trust.
In a damning statement last week following an investigation, the secretive institution itself acknowledged that it was “in a state of crisis following a period of strong disagreement between members over important issues.” The statement was a surprisingly frank assessment of the organization’s failings in regard to sexual harassment allegations and upholding secrecy arrangements ahead of the winner’s announcement, which is made in early October.
But last Saturday, the academy’s woes worsened further as details emerged about an alleged sexual harassment scandal. Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet quoted three people describing the 2006 incident in which Arnault allegedly groped the heir to the Swedish throne, Victoria.
In response to the revelations, the Swedish royal family expressed its support of the #MeToo movement but did not comment on the specific 2006 incident.
Committee members are part of the 18-person body for life, which is why their de-facto resignations have thrown the academy into deep trouble.
An overhaul of the organization is expected to allow members to leave voluntarily, so that they can be replaced by successors. In its statement Friday, the academy indicated changes to “modernize the interpretation of the Academy’s statutes, principally the question of resignation of membership.”
“In addition, routines will be tightened regarding conflict-of-interest issues and the management of information classified as secret,” the academy announced.
In a prior statement last week, the Nobel Prize-awarding institution confirmed that it had obtained a legal firm to investigate to what extent senior members were aware of the sexual harassment and assault allegations before the public protest.
“The investigation revealed that unacceptable behavior in the form of unwanted intimacy had indeed taken place, but the knowledge was not widely spread in the Academy. Neither was the Academy aware of anything that might be described as criminal sexual assault,” the Swedish Academy defended itself last Tuesday, even though it acknowledged that a letter containing detailed allegations about incidents at an associated organization in 1996 “was shelved and no measures taken to investigate the charges.”
“The reputation of the Nobel Prize in literature has suffered greatly from the publicity surrounding the Academy’s crisis,” the academy wrote.
Nobel literature prizes usually boost sales of the winners’ work, and some retailers fear that they will suffer under the delayed announcement of the 2018 winner. But close observers of the Swedish Academy’s handling of the scandal said that the committee essentially had no other choice than to postpone this year’s prize.
“It would have been an insult to anyone who received it,” Bjorn Wiman, a Swedish journalist, told the country’s public radio.
More on WorldViews: