Knut Hamsun (August 4, 1859 – February 19, 1952) was a leading Norwegian author and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1920.
Knut Hamsun was born as Knud Pedersen in Lom, Gudbrandsdal, Norway. He was the fourth son of Peder Pedersen and Tora Olsdatter (Garmostrædet). He grew up in poverty in Hamarøy in Nordland. At 17, he became an apprentice to a ropemaker, and at about the same time he started to write. He spent several years in America, travelling and working at various jobs, and published his impressions under the title Fra det moderne Amerikas Aandsliv (1889).
In 1898, Hamsun married Bergljot Goepfert (née Bech), but the marriage ended in 1906. Hamsun then married Marie Andersen (b. 1881) in 1909 and she would be his companion until the end of his life. She wrote about their life together in her two memoirs. Marie was a young and promising actress when she met Hamsun, but she ended her career and travelled with him to Hamarøy. They bought a farm, the idea being "to earn their living as farmers, with his writing providing some additional income".
However, after a few years, they decided to move south, to Larvik. In 1918, the couple bought Nørholm, an old and somewhat dilapidated manor house between Lillesand and Grimstad. The main residence was restored and redecorated. Here Hamsun could occupy himself writing undisturbed, although he often travelled to write in other cities and places (preferably in spartan housing).
Knut Hamsun died in his home at Nørholm, aged 92 in 1952.
Hamsun first received wide acclaim with his 1890 novel Hunger (Sult). The semi-autobiographical work described a young and egocentric writer's descent into near madness as a result of hunger and poverty in the Norwegian capital of Kristiania.
To many, the novel presaged the writings of Franz Kafka and other twentieth-century novelists with its internal monologue and bizarre logic. Other important works by Hamsun include Pan, Mysteries, and The Growth of the Soil. Hamsun received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920. A fifteen-volume edition of his complete works was published in 1954.
Hamsun was a prominent advocate of Germany and German culture, as well as a rhetorical opponent of British imperialism and the Soviet Union, and he supported Germany both during First and the Second World War. Despite his immense popularity in Norway and around the world, Hamsun's reputation for a time waned considerably because of his support of Vidkun Quisling's National Socialist government. Following a meeting with Joseph Goebbels in 1943, he sent Goebbels his Nobel Prize medal as a gift. Hamsun also met with Adolf Hitler and tried to have him remove Josef Terboven from the position of Reichskommissar of Norway.
After Hitler's death, Hamsun wrote an obituary in the leading Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, describing him as a "warrior for mankind". It has been argued that his "sympathies" were those of a country that had been occupied. He sometimes used his status as a man of fame to improve the conditions of his area during the occupation and criticized the number of executions. Still, following the end of the war, angry crowds burned his books in public in major Norwegian cities. After the war Hamsun was confined for several months in a psychiatric hospital. A psychiatrist concluded he had "permanently impaired mental abilities", and on that basis the charges of treason were dropped. Instead, a civil liability case was raised against him and in 1948 he was fined 325,000 kroner for his alleged membership in Nasjonal Samling, but cleared of any direct Nazi-affiliation. Whether he was a member of Nasjonal Samling or not and whether his mental abilities were impaired is a much debated issue even today. Hamsun stated he was never a member of any political party. Hamsun himself wrote about this experience in the 1949 book, On Overgrown Paths, a book many take as evidence of his functioning mental capabilities.
The Danish author Thorkild Hansen investigated the trial and wrote the book The Hamsun Trial (1978), which created a storm in Norway. Among other things Hansen stated: "If you want to meet idiots, go to Norway", since he felt that treating an old man like that was outrageous.
In 1996 the Swedish director Jan Troell based the movie Hamsun on Hansen's book. In Hamsun, the Swedish actor Max von Sydow plays Knut Hamsun, while his wife Marie is played by the Danish actress Ghita Nørby.
Year Title Translated title ISBN 1877 Den Gaadefulde. En kjærlighedshistorie fra Nordland (Published under Knud Pedersen) 1878 Et Gjensyn (Published under Knud Pedersen Hamsund) 1878 Bjørger (Published under Knud Pedersen Hamsund) 1889 Lars Oftedal. Udkast (11 articles, previously printed in Dagbladet) 1889 Fra det moderne Amerikas Aandsliv The Spiritual Life of Modern America 1890 Sult Hunger ISBN 0-374-52528-5 1892 Mysterier Mysteries ISBN 0-14-118618-6 1893 Redaktør Lynge 1893 Ny Jord Shallow Soil ISBN 1-4191-4690-4 1894 Pan Pan ISBN 0-14-118067-6 1895 Ved Rigets Port At the Gate of the Kingdom 1896 Livets Spil The Game of Life 1897 Siesta 1898 Aftenrøde. Slutningspil 1898 Victoria. En kjærlighedshistorie Victoria ISBN 1-55713-177-5 1902 Munken Vendt. Brigantines saga I 1903 I Æventyrland. Oplevet og drømt i Kaukasien In Wonderland ISBN 0-9703125-5-5 1903 Dronning Tamara (Play in three acts) 1903 Kratskog 1904 Det vilde Kor (Poems) 1904 Sværmere Dreamers ISBN 0-8112-1321-8 1905 Stridende Liv. Skildringer fra Vesten og Østen 1906 Under Høststjærnen. En Vandrers Fortælling Under the Autumn Star ISBN 1-55713-343-3 1908 Benoni 1908 Rosa. Af student Pærelius' Papirer Rosa ISBN 1-55713-359-X 1909 En Vandrer spiller med Sordin A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings ISBN 1-892295-73-3 1909 En Vandrer spiller med Sordin Also translated combined with Under Høststjærnen as Wanderers ISBN 1-4191-9307-4 1910 Livet i Vold (Play in four acts) In the Grip of Life 1912 Den sidste Glæde The Last Joy ISBN 1-931243-19-0 1913 Børn av Tiden Children of the Age 1915 Segelfoss By 1 Segelfoss Town (Volume 1) 1915 Segelfoss By 2 Segelfoss Town (Volume 2) 1917 Markens Grøde 1 Growth of the Soil ISBN 0-394-71781-3 1917 Markens Grøde 2 1918 Sproget i Fare 1920 Konerne ved Vandposten I The Women at the Pump ISBN 1-55713-244-5 1920 Konerne ved Vandposten II 1923 Siste Kapitel I The Last Chapter (Volume 1) 1923 Siste Kapitel II The Last Chapter (Volume 2) 1927 Landstrykere I Wayfarers ISBN 1-55713-211-9 1927 Landstrykere II 1930 August I August (Volume 1) 1930 August II August (Volume 2) 1933 Men Livet lever I The Road Leads On (Volume 1) ISBN 1-4191-8075-4 1933 Men Livet lever II The Road Leads On (Volume 2) 1936 Ringen sluttet The Ring is Closed 1949 Paa gjengrodde Stier On Overgrown Paths ISBN 1-892295-10-5
Books about Hamsun
- Ferguson, Robert. Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 1987. ISBN 0-374-52093-3
- Humpal, Martin. The Roots of Modernist Narrative: Knut Hamsun's Novels Hunger, Mysteries and Pan International Specialized Book Services. 1999 ISBN 82-560-1178-5
- Kolloen, Ingar Sletten. Svermeren 2003 Biography
- Kolloen, Ingar Sletten. Erobreren 2004 Biography
The December 5, 2005–January 2, 2006 issue of The New Yorker has a major article by Jeffrey Frank (link here). It seems to rely on the Ingar Kolloen biography (two volumes, reportedly aggregating about 1000 pages). In English, Hamsun was never popular and remains largely unknown. His infamous audience with Adolf Hitler is recorded to have been mostly him complaining about the Nazi depredations against Norwegians. At this time he was a largely-deaf old man in his 80s. The 21st century consensus puts him in the forefront of modernists, in the William Faulkner and Franz Kafka mode. Ernest Hemingway once said  "Hamsun taught me how to write". Nobel Prize-winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer was also greatly influenced by Hamsun and translated some of his works.
References and further reading
- Knut Hamsun Online
- Biography from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Knut Hamsun as nobel prize laureate
- Biography and bibliography
- Works by Knut Hamsun at Project Gutenberg
- Wood, James, Addicted to Unpredictability, an essay. Retrieved 8 October 2006.
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