Why, for example, were two of the greatest writers of the 20th century, the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges and Britain’s Graham Greene consistently overlooked by the academy?
Borges, whose work explores the nature of time, space and the infinite, in 1970 won more votes in a worldwide poll, undertaken by the Italian daily Corriere della Serra as to who should win the Nobel Literature prize, than Alexander Solzhenitsyn – who went on to win it that year.
Then when another Latin American author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was awarded the prize in 1982 he said, “I still don’t understand why they haven’t given it to him.” Borges died in June 1986.
Graham Greene, whose novels range over political and religious themes in settings as disparate as Haiti (“The Comedians”), West Africa (“The Heart of the Matter” and “A Burnt-Out Case”), Vietnam (“The Quiet American”) and wartime London (“The End of the Affair” and “The Ministry of Fear”) was frequently short-listed but never chosen.
Greene’s contemporary, Evelyn Waugh, was considered too much of a comic writer, while another British author, Anthony Powell, whose 12-volume “A Dance to the Music of Time” which has been called by some the finest English novel of the 20th century, was also snubbed by the Academy.
Perhaps it was because his work was influenced by French author Marcel Proust – who was also never awarded the Nobel literature prize.
Others looked over by the Swedish Academy include Indian author R.K. Narayan, Canada’s Robertson Davies, Italy’s Giorgio Bassani, Austria’s Robert Musil, French feminist author Simone de Beauvoir and Ireland’s James Joyce.
Everyone has their own favourite who never made it onto the laureate’s list but the view persists that sometimes seems as though sheer popularity bars a writer from the prize.