Knut Hamsun


Knut Hamsun
(1859 - 1952)



Norwegian novelist, dramatist, poet, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. A leader of the Neo-Romantic revolt at the turn of the century, he rescued the novel from a tendency toward excessive naturalism.
Of peasant origin, Hamsun spent most of his childhood in the remote Lofoten Islands and had almost no formal education. He started to write at the age of 19, when he was a shoemaker's apprentice in Bodo, in northern Norway. During the next 10 years, he worked as a casual labourer. Twice he visited the United States, where he worked as a streetcar conductor in Chicago and a farmhand in North Dakota.

His first publication was the novel Sult (1890; Hunger, 1899), the story of a starving young writer in Norway. Sult marked a clear departure from the social realism of the typical Norwegian novel of the period. Its refreshing viewpoint and impulsive, lyrical style had an electrifying effect on European writers. Hamsun followed his first success with a series of lectures attacking such idols as Ibsen and Tolstoy, and he produced a flow of works that continued until his death.

Like the asocial heroes of his early works--e.g., Mysterier (1892; Mysteries, 1927), Pan (1894), and Victoria (1898)--Hamsun either was indifferent to or took an irreverent view of progress. In a work of his mature style, Markens grode (1917; Growth of the Soil, 1920), he expresses a back-to-nature philosophy. But his message of fierce individualism, influenced by Nietzsche and Strindberg, remains constant. Consistent to the end in his antipathy to modern Western culture, Hamsun supported the Germans during their occupation of Norway in World War II. After the war he was imprisoned as a traitor, but charges against him were dropped in view of his age.

Hamsun's collaboration with the Nazis seriously damaged his reputation, but after his death critical interest in his works was renewed and new translations made them again accessible to an international readership. His deliberate irrationalism and his wayward, spontaneous, impressionistic style had wide influence throughout Europe, and such writers as Maksim Gorky, Thomas Mann, and Isaac Bashevis Singer acknowledged him as a master.


BIBLIOGRAPHY.
Hamsun's life and works are discussed in Harald N?ss, Knut Hamsun (1984); and Robert Ferguson, Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun (1987).


 


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