1901 Nobel Prize in Literature
Sully Prudhomme
"in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect."
  • 10 October 1901 (announcement)
  • 10 December 1901
LocationStockholm, Sweden
Presented bySwedish Academy
First awarded1901
WebsiteOfficial website
Nobel Prize in Literature · 1902 →

The 1901 Nobel Prize in Literature was the first awarded Nobel Prize in Literature. It was awarded to the French poet Sully Prudhomme (1839–1907) "in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect."[1]


Main article: Sully Prudhomme

Sully Prudhomme belonged to a school of poets that wanted to write in a classic and formally elegant style. His poetry combined formal perfection with an interest in science and philosophy. According to the Swedish Academy, his elevated poetry fit in Alfred Nobel's formulation about works "in an ideal direction".[2]

Malwida von Meysenbug was the first woman ever nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was nominated by French historian Gabriel Monod for her magnum opus Memoirs of an Idealist



Sully Prudhomme was nominated for the prize by 17 members of the Académie Française, of which Sully Prudhomme himself was a member. In total the Nobel committee received 37 nominations for 26 writers including Frédéric Mistral (five nominations) and Henryk Sienkiewicz (three nominations) who were subsequently both awarded the prize, and the only woman nominated, Malwida von Meysenburg.[3] The first name on their list of candidates was Émile Zola, but the campaign from the Académie Française proved to be successful and the Swedish Academy chose to award Sully Prudhomme.[4]

The notable authors R. D. Blackmore, Anne Beale, Victoire Léodile Béra, Stephen Crane, Ernest Dowson, José Maria de Eça de Queiroz, Carit Etlar, Naim Frashëri, Mary Kingsley, Max Müller, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigbjørn Obstfelder, Pyotr Lavrov, John Ruskin, Henry Sidgwick, Charles Dudley Warner, Oscar Wilde, Vladimir Solovyov and Gheorghe Dem Teodorescu all died in 1900, making them ineligible for the 1901 nominations. The nominated French theologian Louis Sabatier died months before the announcement, and authors Leopoldo Alas, Víctor Balaguer i Cirera, Walter Besant, Ada Christen, Ramón de Campoamor, Luis Mariano de Larra, Kate Greenaway, Julien Leclercq, William Cosmo Monkhouse, Frederic W. H. Myers, Johanna Spyri, Grigore Sturdza, Maurice Thompson, Vasile Alexandrescu Urechia, Brooke Foss Westcott and Charlotte Mary Yonge died in 1901 without having been nominated for the prize.

Official list of nominees and their nominators for the prize
No. Nominee Country Genre(s) Nominator(s)
1 Alexander Baumgartner, S.J.[a] (1841–1910)   Switzerland poetry, history Knud Karl Krogh-Tonning (1842–1911)
2 Charles Borgeaud[b] (1861–1940)   Switzerland history, law
  • Wilhelm Oechsli (1851–1919)
  • Antoine Guilland (1861–1931)
  • Paul Seippel (1858–1926)
3 João da Câmara[c] (1852–1908)  Portugal drama, essays Joaquim José Coelho de Carvalho (1855–1934)
4 Louis Ducros[d] (1846–1927)  France literary criticism, history Michel Clerc (1857–1931)
5 Paul Duproix[e] (1851–1912)  France pedagogy Émile Redard (1848–1913)
6 Carl Gustaf Estlander[f] (1834–1910)  Russia
history, essay Johan Gustaf Frosterus (1826–1901)
7 Antonio Fogazzaro[g] (1842–1911)  Italy novel, poetry, short story Hans Forssell (1843–1901)
8 Julius Gersdorff[h] (1849–1907)  Germany poetry, songwriting Carl Heinrich Döring (1834–1916)
9 Oscar le Pin[i] (?)   Switzerland drama P. L. Bonnaviat (?)
10 Ossip Lourié[j] (1868–1955)  France history, philosophy, essays Kristian Birch-Reichenwald Aars (1868–1917)
11 Ferenc Kemény[k] (1860–1944)  Austria–Hungary
( Hungary)
essays Imre Rudolf Pauer (1845–1930)
12 Frédéric Mistral[l] (1830–1914)  France poetry, philology
13 Gaspar Núñez de Arce[m] (1832–1903)  Spain poetry, drama, law Mariano Catalina Cobo (1842–1913)
14 Gaston Paris[n] (1839–1903)  France history, poetry, essays Fredrik Wulff (1845–1930)
15 Sully Prudhomme[o] (1839–1907)  France poetry, essay
16 Charles Renouvier[p] (1815–1903)  France philosophy Antoine Benoist (1846–1922)
17 Edmond Rostand[q] (1868–1918)  France poetry, drama
18 Auguste Sabatier[r] (1839–1901)  France history, essays, theology Gabriel Monod (1844–1912)
19 Paul Sabatier[s] (1858–1928)  France history, theology, biography Carl Bildt (1850–1931)
20 Henryk Sienkiewicz[t] (1846–1916)  Russia
( Poland)
21 Giacomo Stampa[u] (?)  Italy essays Ármin Vámbéry (1832–1913)
22 René Vallery-Radot[v] (1853–1933)  France essays, biography
23 Malwida von Meysenbug[w] (1816–1903)  Germany memoirs Gabriel Monod (1844–1912)[x]
24 Alexandru Dimitrie Xenopol[y] (1847–1920)  Romania history, philosophy, essays Ion Găvănescu (1859–1949)
25 Émile Zola[z] (1839–1907)  France novel, drama, short story Marcellin Berthelot (1827–1907)

Prize decision

For the year 1901, the main candidates for the prize were the French writers Frédéric Mistral (subsequently awarded in 1904) and Sully Prudhomme. Carl David af Wirsén of the Nobel committee argued that the two poets were equally prominent, but that the French Academy's recommendation of Sully Prudhomme should be decisive in awarding him the prize.[6] Emile Zola's candidacy was dismissed by Wirsén due to his distaste for naturalist writers.[7]


The Swedish Academy's decision to award Sully Prudhomme the first Nobel Prize in Literature was heavily criticised at the time and remains one of the most criticised prize decisions in the history of the Nobel Prize in literature. The choice of Sully Prudhomme was interpreted as a politeness towards the Académie Française, model to the Swedish Academy. Many believed that Lev Tolstoy should have been awarded the first Nobel Prize in literature. The Swedish author August Strindberg angrily reacted saying that Prudhomme is "hardly a poet although he writes in verse", and that it was scandalous that he was awarded the prize just because he was a member of an Academy that the Swedish Academy wanted to impress. The leading representatives of the contemporary Swedish cultural elite including August Strindberg, Selma Lagerlöf, Verner von Heidenstam, Oscar Levertin, Bruno Liljefors, Anders Zorn and Albert Engström protested against the Academy and sent a letter to Tolstoy saying he was the most worthy recipient of the prize and that the Swedish Academy did not represent the majority of Swedish cultural persons. The German newspaper Berliner Zeitung described Prudhomme as a poet who was respected but not read. An English newspaper said that Sully Prudhomme was a second rate poet who had not achieved anything in many years. Also from France and Germany came critical reactions with opinions that Tolstoy was the superior candidate for the prize. The Swedish Academy defended themselves from the criticism by saying that Tolstoy had not been nominated for the prize, and could thus not be awarded.[7][8]


  1. ^ Baumgartner: Geschichte der Weltliteratur ("The History of World Literature", 1897—1901)[5]
  2. ^ Borgeaud: Histoire de l'Université de Genève. L'académie de Calvin. 1559—1798 ("The History of the Geneva University: Calvin's Academy", 1900)[5]
  3. ^ Câmara: Meia-Noite ("The Midnight", 1900)[5]
  4. ^ Ducros: Les Encyclopédistes (Encyclopedists, 1900)[5]
  5. ^ Duproix: Kant et Fichte et le problème de l´éducation ("Kant, Fichte, and the Problem of Education", 1895)[5]
  6. ^ Estlander: Vitterhetens utveckling hos de nyare folken i medeltiden: förra perioden (Witnesses of the Newer People's Development in the Middle Ages: The Last Period", 1900)[5]
  7. ^ Fogazzaro: Malombra: romanzo ("Malombra: A Novel", 1881), Daniele Cortis (1885), Il mistero del poeta ("The Mystery of the Poet", 1888), and Ascensioni umane ("Human Ascensions", 1899)[5]
  8. ^ Gersdorff: 600 bis 700 Lieder ("Songs 600-700")[5]
  9. ^ Le Pin: La recherche de l'idéal ("Searching of the Ideal", 1900)[5]
  10. ^ Lourié: La philosophie de Tolstoï ("The Philosophy of Tolstoy", 1899) and La philosophie sociale dans le théâtre d'Ibsen ("The Social Philosophy of Ibsen's Theatre", 1900)[5]
  11. ^ Kemény: Entwurf einer internationalen Gesammt-Academie: Weltakademie ("The Draft of an Total International Academy: World Academy", 1901)[5]
  12. ^ Mistral: Mirèio and La Respelido (1900).
  13. ^ Núñez de Arce: Gritos del combate: Poesías ("Cries of Combat: Poems", 1875), Obras dramáticas ("Dramatic Works", 1879), La selva oscura: Poema ("The Dark Forest: Poem", 1879), and Sursum Corda! ("Ascend the Heart!", 1900)[5]
  14. ^ Paris: La poésie du moyen âge ("The Poetry of the Middle Ages", 1885–95) Discours de réception ("Reception Speech", 1897), Penseurs et poètes ("Thinkers and Poets", 1896), Poèmes et légendes du moyen âge ("Poems and Legends of the Middle Ages", 1900), and François Villon (1901)[5]
  15. ^ Prudhomme: Oeuvres ("Works", 1865–1888), Que sais-je? Examen de conscience ("What Do I Know? Examining Our Conscience", 1896), Testament poétique ("Poetic Testament", 1901.)
  16. ^ Renouvier: La nouvelle monadologie ("The New Monadology", 1899)[5]
  17. ^ Rostand: Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) and L'Aiglon ("Eaglet, 1900)[5]
  18. ^ A. Sabatier: Esquisse d'une philosophie de la religion d'après la psychologie et l'histoire ("Outlines of a Philosophy of Religion based on Psychology and History", 1897)[5]
  19. ^ P. Sabatier: Vie de S. François d'Assise ("The Life of St. Francis of Assisi", 1894)[5]
  20. ^ Sienkiewicz: Quo Vadis? (1896) and Ogniem i mieczem ("With Fire and Sword", 1884)
  21. ^ Stampa: Arcanum anima [sic!]. Gedanken eines Menschenfreundes ("Mysterious Soul: Thoughts of a Philanthropist")[5]
  22. ^ R. Valery-Radot: La Vie de Pasteur ("Life of Pasteur", 1900)[5]
  23. ^ Meysenbug: Memoiren einer Idealistin ("Memoirs of an Idealist", 1869–76), Stimmungsbilder ("Shades of Mood", 1879), and Der Lebensabend einer Idealistin: Nachtrag zu den "Memoiren einer Idealistin" ("The Retirement of an Idealist: Addendum to the 'Memoirs of an Idealist'", 1898)[5]
  24. ^ The nomination by Gabriel Monod was made through Björnstjerne Björnson.
  25. ^ Xenopol: Les principes fondamentaux de l'histoire ("The Fundamental Principles of History", 1899)[5]
  26. ^ Zola: "for his works in general."[5]


  1. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1901 nobelprize.org
  2. ^ Sully Prudhomme nobelprize.org
  3. ^ Nomination archive nobelprize.org
  4. ^ Helmer Lång Hundra nobelpris i litteratur 1901-2001 Bokförlag Symposion 2001, p. 24 (in Swedish)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Svensén, Bo. "Nobelpriset i litteratur. Nomineringar och utlåtanden 1901–1950". Swedish Academy. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  6. ^ Gustav Källstrand Andens olympiska spel. Nobelprisets historia Fri Tanke 2021, p. 184
  7. ^ a b Helmer Lång Hundra nobelpris i litteratur 1901-2001 Bokförlag Symposion 2001, p. 23-24 (in Swedish)
  8. ^ Gustav Källstrand Andens olympiska spel. Nobelprisets historia Fri Tanke 2021, p. 185