Sartre's 'Non to Nobel prize came too late'
A letter sent by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1964 declining the Nobel Prize for Literature came too late to avert one of the biggest debacles in its history, Swedish media reported yesterday.
Sartre's letter arrived nearly a month after he had been picked as the top choice by the Nobel Committee, the daily Svenska Dagbladet reported, based on archival material made available at the end of a customary 50-year period of secrecy.
The report throws light on the sequence of events leading to Sartre's decision to become the only person to willingly turn down the world's most prestigious literary prize.
Sartre later explained that he had "always declined official honours", including the French Legion of Honour in 1945, as it would limit his independence and institutionalise him.
It had been widely speculated that Sartre's letter asking not to be considered for the award had been too late, but only now is this backed up with actual historical evidence.
Sartre sent his letter to the Nobel Foundation on October 14, 1964. However, the Nobel Committee for Literature had agreed on Sartre as the top candidate on September 17, the paper said.
There is only one known case of a Nobel being refused in advance: Swedish poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt succeeded in persuading the members of the jury not to award it to him in 1919, but he had the unfair advantage of being a member of the jury himself.He later won the prize posthumously in 1931 at a time when death was not a barrier to becoming a laureate.