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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Theodor Mommsen

When the Swedish Academy met in 1902 to decide who was to take the second Nobel Prize in Literature, there were, basically, two names on the short-list. Some members, of course, were keen to award the prize to Leo Tolstoy, but a majority in the Academy could not bring themselves to accept the Russian’s radical views. One of the Nobel judges criticized his “narrow-minded hostility to all forms of civilization.” Tolstoy died in 1910 without ever being recognised as a Nobel Laureate. In not receiving that accolade, Tolstoy remains in the distinguished company of many other writers who have been passed over – Graham Greene, Ibsen, Proust, Joyce, Strindberg, Conrad, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, Henry James, Zola, Hardy, Colette, Valery, Malraux, Nabokov and Rilke – to name but a few.

Instead the prize went to a German historian, Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903), best known for Römische Geschichte (A History of Rome).

Mommsen had published a volume of poems during his youth, but his main interest was in Roman law. During the revolution of 1848 he edited a liberal newspaper in Schleswig-Holstein. In 1854 he married Marie Reimer, the daughter of a bookseller, with whom he sired sixteen children.

In 1882 he was tried and acquitted on a charge of slandering chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He also attacked the anti-Semitism that he found among many of his colleagues.

3 Responses to “Theodor Mommsen”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    And let’s face it, it’s only due to relatively recent improvements in health care that Pinter and Lessing survived to get theirs. That being the case, the first comic book writer to get the prize will probably be circa 2045, if Neil Gaiman survives that long.

    jb says: Interesting take, Jim. No smoking or drinking for Nobel hopefuls.

  2. Ah, but they might be blogging.

  3. Ashleigh Mommsen says:

    Okay, wow I knew that my great grand father was a highly intelligent man, but to this extent… never.

    Well enjoy the fact that our family resides in South Africa.