How to win literary prizes

In 1941, Hella Wuolijoki, an Estonian-born Finnish writer and friend of Brecht’s, submitted a play to a literary competition in Finland. She didn’t win the prize. Brecht’s explanation? “she didn’t lobby. as if it weren’t the best things that most need publicity, intrigue and manipulation…”

Update (7:30 pm)

As someone pointed out in the comments thread, the play Wuloijoki submitted may actually have been a play Brecht wrote or wrote in collaboration with her. A little confusing from the journal entry itself.


  1. s.wallerstein August 6, 2017 at 4:24 pm | #

    I don’t know if the best things most need publicity, intrigue and manipulation (Bach does ok on his own), but it helps…..

    • uh...clem August 6, 2017 at 8:01 pm | #

      IIRC wasn’t J.S. Bach totally forgotten for plus-or-minus150 years before his work gained the “need[ed] publicity”?

      • yastreblyansky August 6, 2017 at 8:23 pm | #

        Largely. Mozart and Beethoven studied and learned from Bach’s works in the Vienna library of Gotfried van Swieten but would never have thought of performing them in public. It was 17-year-old Felix Mendelssohn, wealthy and with lots of great musician friends, who worked for two years from 1827 to 1829 to put on a desperately cut version of the St. Matthew Passion, 87 years since the last time it had been performed, and started the Bach revival. Publicity certainly played a huge role.

        • s.wallerstein August 6, 2017 at 8:30 pm | #

          As far as I know, as Yastreblyansky points out, Bach’s work was not forgotten, but he was not a superstar until Mendelssohn started to promote his work.

          However, my original point is that artistic and intellectual quality, sooner or late, makes its presence felt. Shakespeare may have not been the literary superstar during his life that he now is, but he was considered an important dramatist during his life-time and has been well regarded ever since. Even a philosopher like Spinoza, very isolated during his lifetime, had a circle of fans and students, and was read by other philosophers, even those very unlike him such as Leibnitz.

  2. uh...clem August 6, 2017 at 7:14 pm | #

    I looked at the Brecht quote and it’s not clear (to me, at least) whether the play submitted for the competition (Puntila?) was written by Brecht or Wuolijoki. I’m pretty sure Puntila was written by Brecht. Am I missing something?

    • Corey Robin August 6, 2017 at 7:35 pm | #

      It was unclear to me, too. The play began as something Wuolijoki did, but they did then collaborate on one, which led to the final version Brecht did. I had thought it was the first version, but now in reading up on it, I think you may be right.

    • yastreblyansky August 6, 2017 at 8:34 pm | #

      Wikipedia knows everything. Wuolijoki wrote a play “The Sawdust Princess” and showed it to Brecht when he was in exile in Finland. He objected to its “well-made” conventionally dramatic character and wanted to rewrite it as epic theater, which he did. She translated this revision of her play into Finnish for the competition. Then after it didn’t win he appropriated it in Brechtian fashion for his own use and staged it as “Mr. Puntila” on his return to the German-speaking world after he war.

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