Recently released documents of the Swedish Academy show the English author was close to receiving the coveted prize.
Graham Greene – close to a Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1961 was awarded Yugoslavian author Ivo Andric (1892-1975). But now that the Svenska Akademiens (the Swedish Academy) 50-year old official secrets act has expired, it shows English author Graham Greene was close to receiving it that year. Greene (1904-1991) had been discussed as a potential candidate by the Academy since the late 1940’s and by 1961 he had written some of his most famous books: “Brighton Rock”, “The Quiet American” and “Our Man in Havana”. In 1960, his book “A Burnt-Out Case” was published and that particular book (about a leper colony in Congo) wasn’t to the Academy’s taste.
Anders Österling (Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy from 1941-1964), wrote in the protocol that “Greene is a fully worthy candidate but not because of his latest work, but rather in regards to his powerful achievement as a whole”. Fully worthy, but overlooked. Again in 1974, Greene is on the verge – or so it seems – of becoming the Nobel Prize recipient, but that year the prize instead went to Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, and it has been speculated that Artur Lundkvist (1906-1991, Swedish author and member of the academy) was the obstacle then. Lundkvist later explained in a 1980 interview that Greene’s “meaningful production lay too far back in time”. Third on the Academy’s list in the year 1961 was Danish author Karen Blixen, also a candidate for many years without ever being awarded the prize. Even English author and poet J. R. R. Tolkien was on the list, but his trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” was deemed (again by Österling) as not quite the right material: “the result has not become poetry of the highest class”.