There’s nothing (ig)noble in being superior to your fellow men (or women)

You may have noticed that Doris Lessing won the £765,000 Nobel Prize for Literature a couple of weeks ago. According to the exchange rate this morning, the prize is worth $A1.76m. That’s phenomenal; Australian writers think they’ve hit the jackpot if they win the $42,000 Miles Franklin. However, it is worth noting that the Nobel Prize is a lifetime achievement award, unlike the £50,000 ($A115.432) Man Booker, which hinges on the success of a single publication.

I’ve never read a Doris Lessing work, but I admire her for being the oldest person ever to win the Prize (she’s 88) and only the eleventh woman to win in its 106-year history. She’s also won 16 other major international awards for works on topics as broad as communism, psychology, science fiction and Sufism (mystical Islam). I also admire her for her remarkable acceptance speech. Unlike Gwyneth Paltrow’s tearful Oscar script, or Günter Grass’s ‘Writers have always spat in the soup of the high and mighty’, this is what Doris Lessing said to reporters:

‘I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with surprise. I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off … I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I’m delighted to win them all. It’s a royal flush.’ (here and here)

I think she’s a bit of fun. She even has a MySpace profile.

In other prize news, Walt Crawford’s Cites and insights (PDF) drew my attention to an Australian librarian who has won the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize for Literature. The Ig Nobel Prize rewards (or shames) research that ‘first make[s] people laugh, and then make[s] them think’ (here). Glenda Browne was recognised for her article in ‘The definite article: acknowledging ‘The’ in index entries’, which appeared in The Indexer. Crawford notes that her work addresses a ‘legitimate’ concern, particularly in the case of online collections using sorting algorithms, but I can see that it might have limited appeal. For those who are interested, you can find the article here (PDF). For those who prefer a rollicking good read, I recommend the Thursday Next chronicles.

Further information
Past Nobel Prize acceptance speeches
Glenda Browne’s acceptance speech
A definite article on the definite article, The Guardian, 01 August 2006.


2 Responses to There’s nothing (ig)noble in being superior to your fellow men (or women)

  1. Sara Jervis says:


    I adore Doris Lessing. I first read her work when I was home as a housewife. “Martha Quest”, the first volume of D L ‘s Children of Violence” series was about a young woman first entering the world. Martha/ Maddie – became a talisman for me and I named my beloved border collie after her – Maddie. The next book in the series “A proper marriage” cemented my admiration and love of Doris L. “The Golden Notebook ” made me a fan for life.
    In the last few years I read “The Good Terrorist” and learnt so much about life and not jumping to judgement . May be I read differently now I am older and w…r. I used to devour books: now I read and listen and think as I follow the story or narrative, fiction or non fiction, opinion piece or short news item. Of course I am very selective.
    A lot of my friends cannot read Doris Lessing as they think she is too ascerbic and dangerous. Have you seen Doris Lessing’s comments about 9/11 and Bush?She was a communist in her early days and only renounced Stalin after many years in the party. This conversion and renouncement she talks about in her two volumes of autobiography that were eagerly awaited by her fans.

    While I have tut tutted about some of her choices, I lavish praise on her work.

  2. Roz Naughton says:

    25th Oct. 9:30am
    I think Doris Lessing deserves her award after all these years. She is 88 and has
    been a very prolific writer. I have always enjoyed reading her books , although I
    have not read all of them. I read “The Golden Notebook ” and enjoyed that and
    a few of her other books. She has a very good writing style and is very readable.

    some of her books and always enjoyed them.

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