Sara Danius said she had lost the confidence of the Swedish Academy. Photograph: Jonas Ekstromer/EPA
The body that awards the Nobel literature prize is in crisis following a string of resignations over a growing scandal of alleged sexual abuse and other misconduct involving the husband of one of its members.
Amid mounting public anger and division, the normally discreet Swedish Academy appointed a new head on Friday after Sara Danius, the first woman to hold the post since its foundation in 1786, stepped aside following an emergency three-hour meeting in Stockholm on Thursday night.
Anders Olsson, a writer and professor of literature, was appointed temporarily after both the king of Sweden and the Nobel Foundation, which funds the world’s best-known literary award, said the months-long scandal risked severely damaging the reputation of the academy and the prize.
Technically, the academy’s 18 members are appointed for life and are not permitted to resign. Danius, a literary historian, said she would have preferred to stay but had clearly lost the confidence of the academy.
“All traditions are not worth preserving,” she said in a statement on Friday, calling on the academy to make ethics a priority, report allegations of misconduct and fight the male abuse of power and the degradation of women. “Caring for a legacy must not mean an arrogance and distance to society at large,” she said.
The poet Katarina Frostenson, whose husband, Jean-Claude Arnault, was accused of harassment and physical abuse by 18 women in statements published last November by the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, also stepped aside on Thursday.
The couple – leading lights of Sweden’s cultural scene – ran Forum, a private cultural club in Stockholm that received financial backing from the academy until it closed last year after the allegations emerged. Arnault is also reported by Swedish media to have leaked the names of seven Nobel winners in advance, including Bob Dylan in 2016 and Harold Pinter in 2005.
Dagens Nyheter has reported that the French-Swedish photographer allegedly harassed and abused women over a period of more than 20 years, both at Forum and in properties owned by the academy in Paris and Sweden. Arnault denies all claims of criminal activity and other allegations against him.
New claims surfaced this week that his behaviour was first reported to the academy as early as 1996. State prosecutors had opened a preliminary investigation into the incidents but said in March that some elements of the inquiry had been dropped for lack of conclusive evidence or because the statute of limitations had passed.
The academy has cut all ties and subsidies to Forum and is conducting an internal investigation, but so far has not followed legal advice to file a formal report to the police.
Swedish women, including the culture minister, Alice Bah Kuhnke, posted images of themselves on social media on Friday wearing high-necked blouses with bows similar to those favoured by Danius.
They said they were angry that the ousted permanent secretary – who worked to modernise what many regarded as an antiquated, hidebound and deeply patriarchal institution, but whose leadership style was not universally appreciated – was carrying the can for alleged male misbehaviour.
Commentators said the global image of the academy had been seriously tarnished. “This is devastating for the reputation of the Nobel prize,” said Mattias Berg of state radio SR. “It seems the Nobel prize for literature, the most important prize for literature in the world, is awarded by an academy which shows nothing but a lack of judgment and integrity.”
Three male academics said last week they would no longer work with the academy after it renewed its support for Frostenson. One, Peter Englund, said the case had split the institution and that criticism of Danius was unwarranted.
But another member, Horace Engdahl, said there was a problem of leadership.
The Nobel Foundation’s board said a statement earlier this week that confidence in the academy had been seriously damaged and it was “not possible to say how this will damage the Nobel prize … It takes a long time to restore damaged confidence.”
The board said the academy must ensure its future deliberations were kept confidential and that the process for this year’s award was “carried out in a trustworthy fashion”. Suspected crimes must be reported to and handled by the Swedish justice system, it said.
King Carl XVI Gustav, the academy’s patron, said he might have to use his royal prerogative to change the academy’s rules. He described the scandal and subsequent in-fighting as “deeply unfortunate”.
Source: The Guardian