Nobel Prize in Literature | 1902
René François Armand Prudhomme
(March 16, 1839
-September 6, 1907
), French poet and essayist
winner, Nobel Prize in Literature
Sully Prudhomme was once an important figure in French
literature and hailed as the successor of Victor Hugo
, but he is largely ignored and little read or written about today, in English
or in French. He has utterly vanished from the canon
, to the point where I can’t find a single poem of his in any of the dozens of anthologies I own (not even in The Penguin Book of French Poetry 1820-1950
). Even at the turn of the century, the choice of Sully Prudhomme for the Nobel caused some debate, as he hadn’t published much poetry after 1888
Sully Prudhomme was born to a middle class Paris
ian family. His father, a shopkeeper, died when he was two, and he would later append his father’s name “Sully” to his surname “Prudhomme”. He grew up with his mother in the household of his uncle and he graduated from the Lycée Bonaparte
. A serious eye problem prevented him from studying the sciences, so he took a job as a clerk at the Schneider-Creuzot foundry
and later studied law and worked in the office of a notary
Inspired by a love affair gone poorly, he began to write poetry, which was well recieved by his literary circle of friends in the Conference La Bruyère, an important studeant society. He began to be published in journals, such as the influential Le parnasse contemporain
and was encouraged by the elder poet Leconte de Lisle
. His first book of poetry, Stances et poémes
, was published in 1865
and very well recieved, especially “La vase brisé" (“The Broken Vase”, where the vase was a symbol of a broken relationship), which would become his best known poem.
From the beginning, Sully Prudhomme was identified with a group of poets called the Parnassians
, named after Mount Parnassus
, home of the Muses
in Greek mythology
. The Parnassians were reacting against the excesses of Romanticism
and sought to restore classical
values like elegance, balance, objectivity, precision, and harmony to poetry. Sully Prudhomme’s was noted for these qualities as well, though he did not rigidly adhere to them, as much of his early work deals with personal feelings in an emotional tone that has been influenced by Romanticism.
was not a good year for Sully Prudhomme, and it cause a profound change in his work. His mother, aunt, and uncle all died and he had a stroke
which would cause him problems with paralysis
the rest of his life. He served in the Garde Mobile
during the Franco-Prussian War
, which was the basis for his collection Impressions de Guerre
of the same year.
All these traumas caused him to become more and more reclusive as time went on. His work moved away from the personal towards wrestling with philosophical and metaphysical
themes, at times decending into the didactic
. Important works include:
“Les destins” (1872
), where a fire in a Spanish
church is the centerpiece of an examination of the stuggle between good and evil
“Le zénith” (1876
), an elegy
for three balloonist
s killed in an ascent which examines mankind’s quest for truth
), a series of dialogues about the nature of justice
), a 4000 line “scientific-philosophic poem” about a Faust
ian journey through the afterlife in search of knowledge and love.
After 1888, he devoted himself to prose
in the areas of literature
. He became even more of a recluse as his paralysis worsened, which did not prevent his reptuation as a writer from increasing. He was elected to the French Academy
and won the first Nobel Prize in literature in 1901
. He donated the prize money to a French writer’s association in order to help budding poets publish their first volumes. He died a lifelong bachelor
in his villa in Châtenay-Malabry
, near Paris.
Stances et poemes, 1865.
Les epreuves, 1866.
Les solitudes: poesies, A. Lemerre (Paris), 1869.
Les destins, 1872.
La France, 1874.
Les vaines tendresses, 1875.
Le zenith (poem), published in journal Revue des deux mondes, 1876.
La justice (poem), 1878.
Poesie, 1865-88, A. Lemerre, 1883-88.
Le prisme, poesies diverses, A. Lemerre (Paris), 1886.
Le bonheur (poem), 1888.
Epaves, A. Lemerre, 1908.
Oeuvres de Sully Prudhomme (poetry and prose), 8 volumes, A. Lemerre, 1883-1908.
Que sais-je? (philosophy), 1896.
Testament poetique (essays), 1901.
La vraie religion selon Pascal (essays), 1905.
Journal intime: lettres-pensee (diary), A. Lemerre, 1922.
Gale Contemporary Authors Online, from the Gale Biography Resource Center database