Prix Goncourt  

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The Prix Goncourt is the most prestigious prize in French literature, given to the author of "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year".

Edmond de Goncourt, a successful author, critic, and publisher, bequeathed his entire estate for the foundation and maintenance of the Académie Goncourt. In honour of his brother and collaborator, Jules Alfred Huot de Goncourt, (1830-1870), the Académie has awarded the Prix Goncourt every December since 1903. The jury that determines the winner meets at the Drouant restaurant to make its decision. The award, though nominal, ensures the winner celebrity status and a boost in sales.

The award may only be given to an author once, and has never been given to an author twice except in one case. Romain Gary won it in 1956 for Les racines du ciel, and then won it again under the pseudonym Emile Ajar in 1975 for La vie devant soi.

A few of the authors who have won the prize are: Marcel Proust, Jean Fayard, Simone de Beauvoir, Georges Duhamel, Alphonse de Châteaubriant, Antonine Maillet.

Some decisions for awarding the prize were controversial, the most famous case being the decision to award the prize 1919 to Marcel Proust; this was met with indignation, since many in the public felt that the prize should have gone to Roland Dorgelès for Les Croix de bois, a novel about the First World War, for the following reasons:

  • the prize was supposed to be awarded to promising young authors, whereas Proust was 48 (Proust was a beginning author, though, which is the only eligibility requirement for the prize, age being unimportant);
  • this was immediately after the end of the war, where Dorgelès had fought, whereas Proust had been deemed unfit for service for medical reasons (he had asthma);
  • Dorgelès's novel was a jingoistic pamphlet exalting the military prowess of the French soldiers who fought the war, and had been acclaimed by critics and politicians as a model of literary patriotism, whereas Proust's was an apolitical work of social and psychological contemplation.

Of course, none of these arguments is considered to have any merit by today's literary critics.

The 1932 prize was also controversial for passing up Céline, and the voting process became the basis of the 1992 book Goncourt 32 by Eugène Saccomano.

In 1987, the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens was established, as a collaboration between the Académie Goncourt, the French Ministry of Education, and FNAC, a book, music, and movie retailer.

Prize winners

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