1954 Nobel Prize in Literature

Ernest Hemingway was born on this day, 115 years ago. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. However, following two plane crashes in Africa, his injuries prevented him from traveling to Stockholm. John C. Cabot, United States Ambassador to Sweden delivered his address. And here is what Hemingway wrote:

“Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.”

Prior to Ambassador Cabot’s reading, H.S. Nyberg, Member of the Swedish Academy, made the following comment:

“Another deep regret is that the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, Mr. Ernest Hemingway, on account of ill health has to be absent from our celebration.

We wish to express our admiration for the eagle eye with which he has observed, and for the accuracy with which he has interpreted the human existence of our turbulent times; also for the admirable restraint with which he has described their naked struggle.

The human problems which he has treated are relevant to all of us, living as we do in the confused conditions of modern life; and few authors have exercised such a wide influence on contemporary literature in all countries. It is our sincere hope that he will soon recover health and strength in pursuit of his life-work.”


cath said...

'For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment.' having read A Farewell to Arms a couple of years ago and The Old Man and the Sea last month
I think he did really well.

Richard Katzev said...

I agree, Catherine. I also believe it is important to appreciate his fiction independently of his personal life, a life that no one ever knows and what is said to be known is likely full of falsehoods, distortions, etc. A writer's work stands alone, his life is an entirely different matter.

Stefanie said...

Just like the man to write a speech that is as to the point and unadorned as his novels. Thanks for sharing it!

Richard Katzev said...

Thank you, Stefanie. He was the first novelist I ever read and as the years went by, I read each one, as well as his short stories. Hemingway introduced me to literature and, as you point you, to writing simply, clearly, yet always leaving much unsaid.

Linda said...

This post prompted me to pull down my copy of "Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961" edited by Carlos Baker. I've spent the last hour and half or so browsing through the 921 pages, marveling again at the larger than life personality on every page I read.

Baker says in his introduction "It is probable that his shortcomings, which were real, undeniable, and in fact not denied even by himself, were balanced by qualities that more than tipped the scale in his favor. Among his virtues must be named his lifelong perseverance and determination in the use and development of his gifts, his integrity as an artist, his unremitting reverence for the craft he practiced, and his persistent love of excellence, whether in his own work or that of others. His literary relationships with Anderson, Pound, Stein, Ford, Fitzgerald, Wilson, MacLeish,and Faulkner are of compelling interest in showing his competitive spirit, his hatred of cant, his disgust with sloppy workmanship, his proud avoidance of imitation, and the high value he set upon industry, independence, and incorruptibility."

His letters are a wicked delight to read.

Richard Katzev said...

Thank you Linda. I know not everyone agrees with Baker, and while I do, as I expressed in an earlier comment, I try to ignore his "shortcoming," referring to his personal life and concentrate instead on his writing. I've never read his letters, although I have read Baker's biography, along with several other commentaries by his friends. Hemingway still seems so very much alive today.