The Swedish Academy, the 232-year old panel of writers and scholars that has given out the Nobel Prize in literature since 1901, announced that it would postpone the conferring of the award until next year when it will confer two.
This is something that has not been done since the academy postponed the award in 1949 and gave two in 1950. This announcement comes in the midst of allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault of a prominent figure tied to the institution: Jean-Claude Arnault.
The New York Times reports that Arnault is a 71-year-old photographer with connections to the academy over the past three decades. He is married to the poet Katarina Frostenson, a member of the academy, and is friends with a number of other members of the academy.
Arnault and his wife also own the Stockholm Forum, a well-known cultural center that was funded by the academy.
The allegations came to light in a newspaper article by Dagens Nyheter — the largest-selling Swedish daily newspaper — published in November 2017 that pointed to a series of 18 accusations of sexual assault and harassment.
The article claimed that Arnault had used his privileged position within the community surrounding the academy to pressure young women into sex. Some of his alleged offenses were even said to have taken place within academy-owned walls.
According to The New York Times, the first complaint against Arnault for such behavior was filed in 1996 by artist Anna-Karin Bylund, though the accusations were never acted upon by administration from the academy. The novelist Gabriella Håkansson also faced a similar response to her accusation in 2007.
Recently, even more news came to light in accusations reported by Swedish magazine Svenska Dagbladet, claiming that Arnault groped Crown Princess Victoria, heir to the throne of Sweden. Though the police have opened an investigation into the matter, Arnault and his lawyer deny the accusations.
In addition to the accusations of sexual misconduct, The Guardian reported that Arnault also faces charges of leaking information regarding prize-winners that was meant to be for academy members’ eyes only.
Sara Danius, who was the academy’s permanent secretary — essentially the head of the institution — was the whistleblower whose actions led to the severing of ties between the academy and Arnault, as well as with the Forum.
However, Danius’ act of calling Arnault out on his alleged misdemeanors was not met with applause. Rather, the then-secretary was ousted from her position by the other members of the academy, though she remains a member.
On the same day, Frostenson also resigned. This leaves the academy with only 10 of what was once referred to as “the 18 best and brightest” of Sweden according to The Guardian.
The academy’s postponement of the Nobel Prize in literature is due to concerns over a tarnished reputation.
In an article on its official website, the academy stated that it decided to change its operative practices in order to regain the public’s confidence.
The article states, “One of the purposes [of the change] is to modernise 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. Further, internal work arrangements and external communication will be refreshed.” No explicit mention was made of Arnault’s name or the allegations leveled against him.
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