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Thread: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

  1. #1
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    Default Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    So, I was willing to read more works by nobel winners, maybe even at least one work by each winner, but looking at the list of authors who got the prize the conclusion is that at least for s long time such an endeavor will be quite impossible, for many of these writers have their works out of print (if they have ever been translated - and I don't know much about the current state of some writers' works in English for I don't live in an English speaking country, so for instance, there are only a handful, maybe less than that, of books by Agnon available in Brazil, and then there's no Nelly Sachs - that I know of). And if this is more understandable for older winners, who maybe have not aged well, I'm not sure what could be said for some relatively more recent winners, like the swedish winners of 1974 Johnson and Martinson. And maybe others that while not put of print people just don't read them anymore.

    I'm not so sure what I want to make of this thread, I hope you can help improve the discussion. I guess my will was to get from you which authors you think were rightfully forgotten (if you have read them and found their work to not be worth it) and which ones you think should be more read. And to ask in general why do you think some writers were forgotten.

    I'm looking forward to hearing from you
    Last edited by Bartleby; 26-Oct-2017 at 01:13.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Quote Originally Posted by Bartleby View Post
    the swedish winners of 1974 Johnson and Martinson
    https://www.wook.pt/livro/o-tempo-de...hnson/16613816

    Em "Português europeu".

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Wow, that's great! thank you!! I'll have to import it but hope it is worth it

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    As far as the English language goes as a general guideline for anyone trying to read every winner or a specific obscure one:

    Every author at some point had a thing least one book or collection translated into a English except Sully Prudhomme and Carl Spitteler. Your best bet for them is the volumes they're included in from the 1970s Nobel Literature collection the Academy published. That has the most of their stuff that's been translated into English aside from a few short poems you can find online.

    For every winner besides those two I've been able to obtain e-book files or PDFs of at least one book from their oeuvre.

    Every single winner's work (excluding the two I mentioned) is available online if you know where and how to search. For many of the older winners this means scans of decades old books from university libraries.

    At some point once I've gotten through all the books I physically own (a daunting task itself since I can't stop purchasing) I plan on reading through some of the older winners.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    You can certainly try to read the work of all Nobel laureates. However, you will end up spending your time with a lot of rubbish, and you will miss the chance to read much of the greatest literature of the last 100 years. Just saying.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    In Latin America I think we forgot about Gabriela Mistral. I mean, in schools they teach you about the Latin American Nobels and while everyone still reads the poems of Neruda and the novels of García Márquez, Vargas Llosa and even Asturias, there's not much appreciation for Mistral's poems. I haven't read them, to be honest.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Quote Originally Posted by Ladril View Post
    You can certainly try to read the work of all Nobel laureates. However, you will end up spending your time with a lot of rubbish, and you will miss the chance to read much of the greatest literature of the last 100 years. Just saying.
    Yeah, maybe not all of them, but at least the ones I find enough good things recommending them... Like, I'm not sure if I'll read the second winner, that historian. I'm not all that into history, so... (but maybe there's someone out there to convince me that he actually writes well, or as though he was writing a historic novel or something...).

    Do you happen to have read, or even heard about, some nobel winning authors that you think I should skip?

    And maybe some more obscure names that I should definitely check out?

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Here’re some names that seem obscure to me, at least in America. It’s difficult to really quantify “obscurity.” I guarantee almost no one in the US knows who Bjornstjerne Bjornson is, but I’m sure he’s not completely forgotten in Norway. (Haven’t read him, though, so I can’t say if he’s actually worth checking out.)

    Here are some of the more forgotten ones I’ve read:

    Paul von Heyse: One of the members in the Swedish Academy said something to the effect that he was the best writer Germany had seen since Goethe. After a few novellas and short stories (he also wrote some novels, but he was most famous for his shorter works), the comparison seems…awful. He’s not a bad writer, but he’s also not a genius. A bunch of his works are available for free on Project Gutenberg or on Amazon if you have a Kindle, and I’d say they’re worth reading, but he’s a mediocre winner.

    Sinclair Lewis: Not completely forgotten here in the US, but I think part of that is that at one point he was so big you couldn’t get away from his influence; even Ray Bradbury mentions him at times. Another generation and I think he’ll be more or less forgotten. Fitzgerald has almost completely taken over the niche in which I could see Lewis studied in at school. I’ve only read Main Street by him, and it was painful. Really had to force myself to finish. But he was incredibly acclaimed back in the day, so maybe you’d enjoy him.

    Patrick White: I know several posters on here still love White’s work (myself included), but he’s not at all well-known anymore. His work is, well, work: long and dense and little plot. I’m having trouble finding it now, but a few years ago there was a whole website dedicated to explaining why you should still read Patrick White. And why should you? Because he’s one of the greatest English language writers of the 20th century. Voss is a masterpiece. I wouldn’t be surprised if while you’re checking out forgotten Nobel laureates he’s the best one you come upon.

    Harry Martinson: Okay, I’ve only read a few of his poems (he’s hard to find now in English), but they were great, and I believe a few others on here have also read his other collections and come to similar conclusions. Shame the scandal of his win overshadows his work nowadays.

    Par Lagerkvist: Barabas was just okay for me, but I loved The Dwarf. Not worth breaking your wallet over, but if you can easily find some of his novels, definitely snag them.

    Frans Eemil Sillanpaa: I’ve only read one book by him: Meek Heritage. It was awful. Like, not awful by Nobel standards, just awful. I’m willing to concede it could’ve been the translation or I didn’t know enough background knowledge coming into it to truly appreciate it, but even with all that, I don’t see how it could be anything more than a mediocre book.

    Claude Simon: Like Patrick White, I’ve seen a number of posters on forums praise his work, but in English at least he’s out of print. Imagine the time jumps from the Benji section in The Sound and the Fury combined with the long, snaking, stream-of-conscious sentences of the Quentin part and you’ll have an idea of what he’s like. The Flanders Road was a maddening read, but also incredibly worth it.

    Hopefully that gives you some names to check out or avoid. Like Ladril said, you might find yourself wading through a lot of crap, but a fair amount of forgotten winners were well-known, at least in their home countries, at the time of the award, and I find it interesting to check out older notable writers who have since been (mostly) forgotten.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Hey, thanks a bunch !
    I'll check those ones you recommended. I'm definitely intrigued by Sinclair Lewis' work...

    White's sounds engrossing, will be reading it next year for sure.

    same for Simon, it seems to be exactly the kind of thing I love reading...


    i bought recently some three books by three older authors, I didn't know they had been published here recently... they were the first book in Henryk Sienkiewicz's trilogy; Romain Rolland's Jean-Christophe; and Roger Martin du Gard's The Thibault. (Actually these last two were translated on the middle of the last century, and republished in the beginning of the 2000's). I hope they provide for some good reads...

    ah: I found a pdf of Martinson's Aniara. It picked my interest, a sci-fi poem, I'm in

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    Finland Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Quote Originally Posted by redheadshadz View Post
    Meek Heritage... was awful. I don't see how it could be anything more than a mediocre book.
    I must be the only one who appreciates that particular book's simplicity, then,

    Sillanpaa's only shortcoming is that he was born (or rather, became a writer) in the wrong century. He wrote these traditional, simple narratives in the vein of Thomas Hardy in the midst of wild experimentation by his European contemporaries. The root of this seeming simplicity is his reliance on folklore motifs--there isn't much folklore in his work, what I mean to say is that he adopts the same simple, unadorned voice of a pure folkloric narrative. Aleksis Kivi did something similar in Seven Brothers (1870), and it is easy to see the influence of that particular book (widely considered a Finnish classic) on Sillanpaa's authorial voice.

    Of the three novels I've read by him, The Maid Silja is probably my favorite, though (be warned!) it is long and (at first glance) boring beyond belief. Literally nothing happens, a consumptive young woman grows up to see her father's wealth squandered, has to go into service, almost ends up falling in love and marrying, and finally, dies of consumption at a very young age (can't remember exactly, but I think she was in her late 20s). Everything is described in excruciatingly minute detail; you end up thinking, What's the point?

    One thing to remember whilst reading that particular novel is its subtle political angle. Silja is in many ways identified by Sillanpaa with Finland itself, then still a young country still reeling from independence; his prognosis of its future was not positive, as he saw Fascist and Communist factions both at home and abroad fight among themselves and innocent people getting caught in the crosshairs. I could also see the (possible?) influence of Hardy's Tess on the book's overall structure.

    A later work, People in the Summer Night (1934), introduces a little experimentation into Sillanpaa's otherwise "traditional" storytelling: it is more of a prose poem than a novel, with all these voices and counter-voices intertwining, as the story unfolds over the course of a long summer's afternoon and evening. The author himself called this work "an epic suite," comparing it to a musical composition, rather than a straightforward novel. I read it in Alan Blair's translation, and thought it captured the poetry of the original (not that I can profess to be proficient in Finnish or anything!).

    What I have personally discovered with my (albeit very limited) exposure to Sillanpaa's work is that, if you're patient, it grows on you. There is a strange simplicity, and a certain purity, to his way of telling his stories; reading Silja is in some ways comparable to watching Bergman's complete 5-hour version of Fanny & Alexander: you get these minute, detailed descriptions of nature, and childhood, and family life, and first love, and farming, and falling in love, etc. It can be exasperating, to be sure, but if you're patient, it will definitely grow on you and perhaps even reward you with its pure, unadulterated simplicity.

    If you're looking for something short and a tad experimental, seek out People in the Summer Night if you can (it's been out of print for ages). It's only about 130-pp. long, and like I said, is definitely not as straightforward as Sillanpaa's other, longer works.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Quote Originally Posted by redheadshadz View Post
    Sinclair Lewis: Not completely forgotten here in the US, but I think part of that is that at one point he was so big you couldn’t get away from his influence; even Ray Bradbury mentions him at times. Another generation and I think he’ll be more or less forgotten. Fitzgerald has almost completely taken over the niche in which I could see Lewis studied in at school. I’ve only read Main Street by him, and it was painful. Really had to force myself to finish. But he was incredibly acclaimed back in the day, so maybe you’d enjoy him.
    I wouldn't really say this about his reputation. He's not as popular was some of the more recent winners but he's certainly held up better than Pearl S Buck. Babbitt is still widely read in high schools. The issue with Lewis his that for the most part his works are satires and with the way English programs are currently set up, satire isn't widely taught. Instead, in America at least, most "English" classes have taken on a role that serves less as a grounds for developing English language/literature skills than one that's essentially a replacement for what used to be ethics and basic civics classes. Its why books with easily identifiable moral and racial lessons like To Kill a Mockingbird are still taught. It's also why lots of other works by authors who really had no major impact on literature (one hit wonder types) are still taught (A Separate Piece, The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, etc). If English classes in high schools were actually focused on teaching English literature and the important figures of American literature I think he'd be more widely known.

    Lewis is also going through a bit of a revival now though. Since the 2016 election It Can't Happen Here has been widely reprinted and at most bookstores I've been to there's big piles of it near the front of the store.

    Main Street isn't among his better works. It was a solid 3/5 to me but I found it tedious and monotonous. It was his first "real" novel after a series of works before it that sold poor and are essentially forgotten to history (with Free Air, a work that portrays loosely the independent/flapper lifestyle and one that many women found holding feminist views) occasionally referenced or shown in period pieces. After Main Street, Lewis pretty much had a winning streak of novels that solidified his reputation enough to win him the Nobel.

    At the time of winning he was also huge in Western Europe. A New York Times article from 1930 when he won talks about how much the Germans love him and how they even had a nickname for him there (it was something like Big Red).

    His popularity isn't what it used to be, but there are loads of winners I'd say are more "forgotten," even in their home countries.
    Last edited by Isahoinp; 11-Nov-2017 at 21:51.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Re: Liam, yeah I️ knew I️ was missing a lot when I️ read Silanpaa, but I️ just don’t think he’s for me. Your explanation convinced there is something award worthy in his work, but not that I’d enjoy I️t.

    Re: Isa, that’s funny because I’ve had the opposite experience. Had never heard of Lewis before I️ started looking into nobel winners, whereas I’ve found a number of people have read Buck. I️ wouldn’t quit say he’s undergoing a reappraisal, more like I️t can’t happen here is. And I️ suspect once the political situation in the US changes I️t will fade back into obscurity. Anyway, I️ included him because for a lot of other winners I’m not quite sure how “obscure” they are in their home countries.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Here in Brazil, Lewis is often part of the cheap classic editions (with Babbitt), albeit nobody talks about him. But Buck is barelly published. I cannot even remember last time I saw even a cheap edition of her works coming out, basically, I see her short stories in some anthologies, that is all.

    Reggarding Mistral, she obviously pay the price to be a pre-Borges/Neruda latin american author. I have read some of her poems, but not even the fact she is a women seems to interest the small publishing house that go for poetry around here.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    What do they make of Asturias in Latin America?

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Buck is probably more famous because she was on Oprah's best books or book club or something. I don't think Lewis was included.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Quote Originally Posted by redheadshadz View Post
    What do they make of Asturias in Latin America?
    Don't waste your time. Unbelievably mediocre writer.

    And for prospective writers of du Gard's Les Thibault, beware. Les Thibault is the book I've hated reading the most in my whole life (and I've read a book by Rush Limbaugh...).
    To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations, such is a pleasure beyond compare.
    Yoshida Kenko

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Quote Originally Posted by redheadshadz View Post
    What do they make of Asturias in Latin America?
    He's not so well read or translated in Brazil. There's one book of his currently published (El senor presidente), and a couple of others now long out of print, but easy to find in second hand book shops...

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Quote Originally Posted by Cleanthess View Post
    Don't waste your time. Unbelievably mediocre writer.

    And for prospective writers of du Gard's Les Thibault, beware. Les Thibault is the book I've hated reading the most in my whole life (and I've read a book by Rush Limbaugh...).
    I had El Señor Presidente sitting in my shelf for a long time. Should I even bother reading it? All I read is that it's a poor imitation of Valle-Inclán's Tirano Banderas. I enjoy the sub-genre of dictatorship novels, that's why I have the former.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    Yeah, Asturias seems to face a similar fate as Mistral, just a little bit more popular because he is more recent. He is so out of the Borges/Neruda and Boom generations that he does not atract readers at all, so very little of his work is translated again.

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    Default Re: Forgotten Nobel Laureates

    I haven't read anything by Asturias yet, but the impression I've gotten is that he's more well known for his later works, which are based around indigenous cultures and influences. He was part of a group of latino authors pioneering works regarding indigenous American cultures in this period. El Señor Presidente is one of his earlier works and falls outside of that category. Even looking at this book though, isn't this just an earlier predecessor to the the flood of Latin Boom works about dictators and politicians that would follow? In this sense, perhaps he was an influence on these later writers.

    As far as the US authors go: Buck's reputation as a whole fairs far worse than Lewis's does. Many of the books they cite as "classics" that will last in the Nobel award speech for her aren't even in print (in her home country no less) and have been completely forgotten. Lewis actually did something with literature whereas Buck's reputation essentially boils down to "white woman writes about poor Chinese people."

    Buck's citation notes that she won in part for her "biographical masterpieces".

    When discussing the biographies she wrote about her parents the Academy states "These should be called classics in the fullest sense of the word; they will endure, for they are full of life."

    They clearly did not endure and they haven't been in print in decades. The Academy has admitted that she was a mistake though. It's explained on their site as one of the reasons they now don't consider first time nominees.

    Without Oprah's book club selecting The Good Earth as a selection she likely wouldn't even be in print at all. It's somewhat telling that the Library of America series doesn't publish any of her works.

    None of this means she was a bad writer, just that her works clearly didn't endure and in retrospect 80 years later the choice seems undeserved and silly.

    Lewis at the very least, is still taught in some high schools, is still in print, and his legacy as a whole remains. Every work the Academy specifically mentions is still in print.

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