Nobel Prize for Literature Recipient. Rene Sully Prudhomme received much notoriety as a French poet, receiving the first Nobel Prize for Literature in 1901. The Swedish Academy stated at his Nobel Prize presentation, "Sully Prudhomme's work reveals an inquiring and observing mind which finds no rest in what passes and which, as it seems impossible to him to know more, finds evidence of man's supernatural destiny in the moral realm, in the voice of conscience, and in the lofty and undeniable prescriptions of duty." Born with the birth name of Rene Francois Armand Prudhomme, he was a shopkeeper's son, who was called “Sully.” After he was an adult, “Sully” was added to his surname to honor his father, who had died many years before. He planned to become an engineer but an eye disease kept him from being able to study at the Polytechnic Institute, thus being dismissed. Following this, he studied literature, considered the priesthood, attempted to work in industry as a clerk, and tried to study law without any real success. While studying literature, a student group encouraged him to try writing poetry. In 1865 after receiving an inheritance, he published his first volume of 34 poems, “Stances and Poems,” which was very well received by the public. In 1878 he published a book, “The Nature of Things,” which was written in verse. His other books include "Solitudes" in 1869, "Destinies" and "Revolt of the Flowers" in 1872, and "Vain Endearments" in 1875. In 1870 at the started of the Franco-Prussian War, he joined the militia and in response to his country's crisis, he wrote “Impressions of the War.” A leader of the Parisian School of French Poetry, his work combined formal elegance with philosophic and scientific interests. Sully Prudhomme was a member of the French Academy until his death, serving as the Academy's president in 1881. In 1888 his mother and the uncle, who raised him, died, leaving him alone as he never married. He wrote little after a paralyzing stroke in 1888, hence his last recognized writings were at least twelve years before the Nobel Prize nomination. With a long list of worthy nominations for the first Nobel Prize in Literature, a debate among many critics and authors about him receiving the coveted international award occurred then and continues into the 21st century. He donated the monetary part of the Nobel Prize to the French Writers' Association to help aspiring poets with the publication of their first book. At this point, he published essays on politics, the metaphysical, and religion, which proved he had a good grasp of Darwinism. He died at his villa in Châtenay-Malabry, near Paris. At the turn of the century, some of his poems were translated to English. His 1906 piece “Psychology of Free Will” was published posthumously in the “Journal Intime” in 1922. With 21st century critics not ranking him high on the list of noted poets, his works have been almost forgotten.
Bio by: Linda Davis