Hamsun, Knut


Hamsun, Knut
(1859-1952)
   A Norwegian novelist, short story writer, poet, and playwright, Hamsun was born Knut Pedersen on a small farm in Norway's central valley, Gudbrandsdalen, but is one of the few Norwegian writers who belong to world literature. When he was a young boy his family moved to Hamarøy in northern Norway, where they lived on a farm called Hamsund that was owned by his maternal uncle. Knut had to work for this man, who mistreated him. After his confirmation he spent the next five years in a variety of jobs, among them that of an itinerant peddler. Among other goods, Knut sold cheaply made books, and at the age of 18 he made his first contribution to literature, a novella entitled Den gaadefulde (1877; An Enigmatic Man).
   Den gaadefulde is not only a testament to Knut's literary ambitions but also points to many of the themes of his more mature works. A young man named Knud Sonnenfield suddenly appears in a rural community. Supposedly the son of a cotter, he falls in love with the daughter of the richest farmer around. According to the norms of the time, their relationship is a mismatch, but everything ends well because it turns out that Sonnenfield is not a cotter's son after all, but rather the son of a city merchant. The motif of the outsider who suddenly shows up and tries to win the most desirable local woman recurs in several of Hamsun's novels from the 1890s.
   During the 1880s Hamsun, who got the name by which he is known from the farm where he had lived, minus its final "d" when it was accidentally dropped by a printer, struggled very hard to become a writer. These years included two stays in America, where he had hoped to become recognized as a man of letters. When he returned from his second stay in 1888, he published, in the Danish periodical Ny Jord (New Ground), a chapter of what was to become his breakthrough novel, a first-person and partly autobiographical narrative entitled Sult (1890; tr. Hunger, 1899). Set in Christiania, it tells about its narrator's mental self-experiments; he periodically starves himself so as to observe the effects of starvation on his mind. An aspiring writer, the narrator eventually gives up the experiment and goes to sea.
   As an example of a truly psychological literature, Sult was hailed as a completely new kind of novel. Emboldened by his success, Hamsun next published Mysterier (1892; tr. Mysteries,1927), in which the motif of the outsider who pursues a desirable local woman figures prominently. The protagonist of Mvsterier,Johan Nilsen Nagel, is traveling aimlessly along the coast of southern Norway when he happens on a small town that he likes and decides to stay there for a while. His eccentric dress and behavior attract the attention of the townspeople, but he fails to successfully woo the daughter of the local minister, Dagny Kielland, and commits suicide in the end.
   After two relatively unimportant books, Redaktør Lynge (1893; Editor Lynge) and Ny jord (1893; tr. Shallow Soil, 1914), Hamsun published one of his finest works, the novel Pan (1894; tr. 1920). Set in northern Norway, it is a lyrical tale about the power of love, but also about relationships of power. In 1855 Lieutenant Thomas Glahn has taken leave from his commission and has come to a place named Sirilund to commune with nature, and very possibly to try to become a writer. While at Sirilund he is sexually involved with two of the local women and has a more conventional, or chaste, love relationship with Edvarda Mack, the daughter ofthe local storekeeper. When Edvarda discovers that Glahn has become the lover of her father's mistress, her attaction to him is replaced by jealousy and hatred, and she and Glahn torment each other until Glahn finally leaves. An epilogue to the novel reveals that Glahn is unable to forget Edvarda and that he later goads a hunting companion into killing him in order to escape his memories.
   Victoria (1898; tr. 1923) is Hamsun's final novel from the 1890s, and the last one that is specifically a love story. At this time he also published several unsuccessful dramas, two collections of short stories, a travelogue, and an unremarkable collection of poetry. After the turn of the century he wrote a short novel entitled Sværmere (1904; tr. Dreamers, 1921), which is entertaining but of limited literary value. In 1908 he published two novels set in the same locale and with overlapping characters, Benoni (tr. 1925) and Rosa (tr. 1926), which tell about a man of limited means who works his way up the social ladder and ends up with the woman he desires; Rosa is even a minister's daughter.
   Hamsun also wrote a trilogy in which the protagonist is a writer named Knut Pedersen, who, like Glahn in Pan, has escaped from the city in order to find inspiration. Under høststjærnen (1906; Under the Autumn Star) and En vandrer spiller med sordin (1909; A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings) have been published together in English as Wanderers (1922); the third volume is Den siste glæde (1912; tr. Look Back on Happiness, 1940). These novels are notable for the portrait they offer of an artist who is getting a bit on in years.
   Around the time of World War I, Hamsun turned increasingly toward depicting what he considered the problems ofmodern society. Børn av tiden (1913; tr. Children of the Age, 1924) and Segelfoss by (1915; tr. Segelfoss Town, 1925) are set in a fictional town in northern Norway (perhaps modeled on Selfors near Mo i Rana) and portray the evils of industrialization and the deterioration of the old mercantile aristocracy. Markens grøde (1917; tr. Growth ofthe Soil, 1920) tells about a homesteader in the far north of the country. Isak Sellanra carves a prosperous farm out of raw nature, but the ways of the city, together with a copper mine located on his property, threaten to undermine his work. The romantic portrait of hard physical labor given in this book may seem attractive to some readers, especially to those who do not know such labor by their own experience. Hamsun received the Nobel Prize for this novel in 1920.
   Hamsun's critique of civilization was continued in Konerne ved vandposten (1920; tr. The Women at the Pump), in which he offers a portrait of small-town life at its worst. Hamsun also takes on the culture of the English, modern education, and labor organizing. His next novel, Siste kapitel (1923; tr. Chapter the Last, 1929), is very pessimistic; it takes place at a mountain sanatorium and has death as its main theme.
   Feeling that his creativity had gone stale, Hamsun turned to pychoanalysis, and the result was one of his very finest novels. Landstrykere (1927; tr. Vagabonds, 1930) tells about Edevart Andersen and his friend August, a man of many ideas and projects. August's restlessness causes numerous problems for the two friends, but it also makes for an entertaining narrative that, while critical of modern society, is not nearly as pessimistic and bitingly satirical as Hamsun's previous books. The lyrical story of the love between Edevart and the beautiful Lovise Magrete Doppen is reminiscent of Hamsun's love stories from the 1890s. Landstrykere is the first volume of a trilogy and takes place partly in the fictitious community Polden, where the next volume, August (1930; tr. 1931), is also set and continues the story of August's many undertakings. In volume three, Men livet lever (1933; tr. The Road Leads On, 1934), however, the action moves to Segelfoss, the setting of Børn av tiden and Segelfoss by, and Hamsun brings back the central characters of those two novels in addition to continuing the story about August, who dies at the end of the book. Men livet lever can thus be regarded as a common concluding volume in two different trilogies.
   Hamsun wrote only one more novel before the onset ofWorld War II. Ringen sluttet (1936; tr. The Ring Is Closed, 1937), although unfinished, recapitulates many of his major themes and is thus a fitting summary to his work as a writer. But Hamsun lived on to make the biggest mistake of his life, as he supported the German occupants during the war, although he also used his influence to secure the release of some Norwegians who had been arrested by the Nazis. After the war the collaboration of the country's foremost living writer was a great embarrassment to the Norwegian authorities, and the question of how to deal with him was a matter of some delicacy. Hamsun was examined by two psychiatrists who declared that he suffered from permanently impared mental faculties, and this diagnosis was used as a pretext to exempt him from criminal prosecution. Instead he was given a fine equal to 85 percent of his net worth, but the fine was later reduced. The author's own account of this difficult episode is found in Paa gjengrodde stier (1949; tr. On Overgrown Paths, 1967), the artistic qualities of which show that the aged Hamsun was anything but mentally impaired.
   See also Hansen, Thorkild.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Hamsun, Knut — orig. Knut Pedersen born Aug. 4, 1859, Lom, Nor. died Feb. 19, 1952, near Grimstad Norwegian novelist, dramatist, and poet. Of peasant origin, he had almost no formal education. His semiautobiographical first novel, Hunger (1890), about a… …   Universalium

  • Hamsun, Knut — orig. Knut Pedersen (4 ago. 1859, Lom, Noruega–19 feb. 1952, cerca de Grimstad). Novelista, dramaturgo y poeta noruego. De origen campesino, Hamsun casi no tuvo educación formal. Su primera novela semi autobiográfica, Hambre (1890), acerca de un… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Hamsun,Knut — Ham·sun (hämʹsən, so͝on ), Knut. Pen name of Knut Pedersen. 1859 1952. Norwegian writer whose novels include Hunger (1890) and The Growth of the Soil (1917). He won the 1920 Nobel Prize for literature. * * * …   Universalium

  • Hamsun, Knut — pseud. di Pedersen, Knut …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • Hamsun, Knut Pedersen — ► (1859 1952) Poeta y novelista noruego. Fue premio Nobel de Literatura en 1920. Su obra propugna los valores primitivos e individuales. Obras: Misterios (1892), Pan (1894) y Los frutos de la tierra (1917), entre otras …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Knut Hamsun — à 31 ans Nom de naissance Knud Pedersen Activités Écrivain Naissance le 4  …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Knut Hamsun — Knut Hamsun …   Wikipedia Español

  • Knut Pedersen Hamsun — Knut Hamsun Knut Hamsun Knut Hamsun à 31 ans Activité(s) Écrivain Naissance le 4 août 1859, Vågå …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Hamsun — ist der Name eines norwegischen Schriftstellers und Literaturnobelpreisträgers (1859 1952), siehe Knut Hamsun ein auf dessen Leben basierender Film von Jan Troell aus dem Jahr 1996, siehe Hamsun (Film) der Name der norwegischen Schauspielerin und …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Knut (Name) — Knut ist ein männlicher Vorname. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Varianten 2 Herkunft und Bedeutung 3 Namenstag 4 Bekannte Namensträger 4.1 Herrscher mit dem Namen Knut …   Deutsch Wikipedia


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