before Annie Ernaux, fifteen French winners… including one refusal

Annie Ernaux won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday October 6. She becomes the first French recipient of the prestigious award. However, before her, fifteen authors from France were granted the same honor. One of them, Jean-Paul Sartre, however, refused it. A track record that makes France the only country to overtake the United States in a Nobel Prize category.

The first Frenchman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was Sully Prudhomme, in 1901. Frédéric Mistral and Romain Rolland followed in 1904 and 1915, before Anatole France in turn won the most prestigious literary prize in 1921. Considered the ideal writer of the Third Republic, he was first a librarian in the Senate before gaining notoriety with The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnardpublished in 1881.

literature and philosophy

He subsequently became increasingly involved in the political problems of his time, signing alongside his friend Émile Zola a petition in favor of Alfred Dreyfus. Anatole France also participated in the founding of the League of Human Rights. His work is crossed by a fascination for the Revolution, however mitigated by his hatred of the Terror.

Follows Henri Bergson, Nobel Prize in 1927. Above all a philosopher, his first noticed work, matter and memory, deals with the relationship between body and mind based on contemporary medical research. His creative evolution, interested in Darwinism, makes it known to the general public.

André Gide, against totalitarianism and colonization

Once awarded the Nobel Prize, he wrote The Two Sources of Morality and religion, which reflects in particular on ways of avoiding war. Made Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1930, he renounced his titles and honor during the Second World War in reaction to the anti-Semitic policies of Vichy.

The awards then follow one another every ten years: Roger Martin du Gard in 1937, then André Gide in 1947. A friend of Oscar Wilde, the latter founded The New French Review. Author of The Pastoral Symphony (1919) and Counterfeiters (1925), he established himself as a leading modern writer.

At the end of the 1920s, he got involved and denounced one after the other colonial practices and the racism of Europeans in Travel to the Congo (1927) then the totalitarian turn of Leninist communism in Return from the USSR He received the Nobel Prize four years before his death in 1951.

Albert Camus, a protean work

François Mauriac was rewarded in 1952, Albert Camus in 1957, ten years after Gide. Engaged in the Resistance during the war, he produced a protean body of work including theatre, novels, short stories, films and poems.

He is notably the author of The Stranger (1942), Plague (1947) and The fall (1956). Albert Camus was heavily criticized for not having taken a clear position in favor of the independence of Algeria, his birthplace. His denunciation of Soviet totalitarianism will earn him, like André Gide, the anger of the French Communists, and in particular that of the man who was for a long time his friend, Jean-Paul Sartre.

Jean-Paul Sartre, the committed intellectual

After Saint-John Perse in 1960, it was Jean-Paul Sartre who received the Nobel Prize in 1964. Unlike his best enemy Albert Camus, he refused it, believing that“no man deserves to be consecrated during his lifetime”.

In accordance with this self-imposed rule, he refuses the Legion of Honor and a chair at the College de France, believing that these honors take away writers’ freedom by transforming them into an institution.

Annie Ernaux, an autobiographical work

Jean-Paul Sartre contributes to the development of existentialist philosophy alongside Simone de Beauvoir, with whom he shares his life. Compared to Voltaire by Charles de Gaulle, his reputation as a committed intellectual, anti-capitalist and anti-colonial, is tarnished by his lack of commitment within the Resistance.

Next comes Claude Simon (1985), assimilated to the New Roman movement and rewarded for having combined “the creativity of the poet and the painter with a deep awareness of time in the representation of the human condition”, writes the Nobel Foundation.

Gao Xingjian, winner in 2000, two years after his French naturalization, grew up in China before being sent to re-education camps for six years during the Cultural Revolution. When Mao died, he left the country and went to France. In opposition to the dogmas of the Communist Party, his work includes in particular the novel Soul Mountain.

This was followed by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (2008), influenced by Native American cultures and author of Ritual of Hunger, and Patrick Modiano (2014), whose work focuses on the Paris of the Occupation. Finally, Annie Ernaux becomes the first French woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2022, for her mainly autobiographical work.

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