Dossier of V.M. Straka

Compiled by J. W. Dominguez


Bouchard Prize

The Bouchard Prize (or Prix Bouchard) was an honor awarded annually from 1909 to 1912 by the Marie-Hélène Bouchard Society for European Literature for the year’s best work of fiction by a European author. Winners received a cash prize of 50,000 French francs and were fêted throughout the following year at private events hosted by influential families throughout Europe. The Bouchard Society was funded by Hermès Bouchard, owner of the armaments manufacturer Compagnie Générale Bouchard.

Hermès Bouchard established the prize at the urging of his wife, Marie-Hélène, a voracious reader and noted book collector and who served as the chair of the judging committee.

Winners of the prize were:
1909: Latimer Tasse (France) for
Il rêve en garance rose
Sigrid Bang (Norway) for Min Kval
1911: Flavio Scagnelli (Italy) for La Mongolfiera d'oro
1912: V. M. Straka (unknown) for Miracle at Braxenholm (declined)

The 1912 award ceremony, held in
Chamonix, was disrupted when a capuchin monkey appeared on the dais with a note pinned to its jacket. The note, written by the absent (and now infamous) Straka, stated that the Bouchard Prize and all other literature prizes were anathema to art, treating writers as if they were “dancing monkeys.” (In Straka’s posthumous 1949 novel, Ship of Theseus, editor and translator F. X. Caldeira disputed this account, asserting that the note gave proof that Hermès Bouchard had orchestrated and covered up a massacre of striking workers in the Calais Riot in February 1912.)


According to accounts of the event, Marie-Hélène retrieved the note from the monkey and collapsed on the dais after reading it. It was reported that she had been weakened by a prolonged illness. It is unknown where the monkey came from, what happened to it afterward, and whether it danced on the stage while Mme. Bouchard was attended to.

Marie-Hélène Bouchard committed suicide in October 1912 by leaping from a rooftop in the 16
th Arrondissement of Paris. Hermès Bouchard was rarely seen in public thereafter, though Compagnie Générale Bouchard continued to thrive, flourishing during World War I by supplying the French and German governments at the same time.

The Society was disbanded, and the prize was discontinued.