On May 4, the Nobel Academy announced that the recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature would be announced in the following year alongside the next year’s recipient. This announcement comes amid a scandal featuring French-Swedish photographer and husband of a former Nobel Academy member, Jean-Claude Arnault, who was accused of sexual assault by 18 women. The scandal has caused many to lose faith in the integrity of the Swedish Academy, while others had their suspicions of the patriarchal committee confirmed.
“To be honest, I am not really surprised by the sexual assault scandal,” said Minyoung Huh (10), Gender Sexuality Awareness club executive. “I knew this stuff happened. Most women know this stuff happens all the time in workplaces and society in general. We are often the victims of it, or at least know, personally, women who have been harassed. Simply put, I have not lost faith in the Nobel Academy because you cannot lose trust in something you never had trust in to begin with.”
The scandal began in November 2017 when an article published by Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter revealed allegations of sexual assault against a man simply referred to as having close connections with the Academy. The Academy quickly hired a law firm to investigate these claims and discover the accused culprit, vowing to exclude the man from the upcoming Nobel Prize banquet. Soon thereafter, rumors began to spread that the offender was Jean-Claude Arnault, who at the time, was a prominent Swedish cultural figure. The following April, the aforementioned law firm confirmed these testimonies, finding Arnault guilty of sexual harassment, tax evasion, and prematurely leaking the results to seven different Nobel Literature Prizes. In response to the scandal, Katriana Frostenson, Arnault’s wife, was forced to resign from her position in the Nobel Academy, drawing further outcry from many.
“Seeing as though she was forced to step down from her position, just because of the actions of her husband, in some ways, she is a victim too,” said Jonathan Ames, Model United Nations adviser and high school social studies teacher. “Why should she have to step down from her role as one of the 18 members of the literature committee, something that she is passionate about and potentially been effective at doing?”
With the integrity of the prize at stake and public disapproval of the Academy high, some doubt that holding off the award for only a year will be enough. In addition, the resignation of several members has made it impossible for the currently reduced council to choose new representatives for the committee. Fortunately, the nominal patron of the Academy, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf, has offered to step in and help create a process to allow for the election of new members. However, the intervention of a supposed ceremonial figure highlights the fragility of the award’s future, to the dismay of literati around the world. As criticism towards the Academy continues, all eyes are on the Nobel Academy and how it will recover.
“This scandal has emphasized that sexual assault happens in every facet of our world and community, it is not just in the United States either,” said Leslie Gregori, English and communications teacher. “It is in every country, it is everywhere, even in a large, prominent, and prestigious organization that is all about awarding people, their prowess, skills, and what they have done well to promote good things in the world. The Academy needs to make sure that they bring to the surface the internal issues that are happening and that they do not hide anything, that they are fully honest, transparent, and make amends that way. There is not much else they can do.”