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Knut Hamsun (August 4, 1859 – February 19, 1952) was a Norwegian author. He was praised by King Haakon VII of Norway as Norway's soul. In 1920, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for the epic, Growth of the Soil. He insisted that the main object of modern literature ought to be the intricacies of the human mind, that writers should describe the "whisper of blood, and the pleading of bone marrow". Hamsun's literary debut was the 1890 psychological novel, Hunger, which some critics consider to have been an inspiration for Franz Kafka's classic short story, A Hunger Artist. Since 1945, Hamsun's international fame has derived almost entirely from his vehement advocacy of Nazi Germany both before World War II and after Germany occupied Norway in April, 1940. He lionized leading Nazis. In 1943, in the middle of the war, he mailed his Nobel medal to Joseph Goebbels and later visited Hitler. In a eulogy for the newly dead Hitler published May 7, 1945, — one day before surrender of the German occupation forces in Norway — Hamsun proclaimed, “He was a warrior, a warrior for mankind, and a prophet of the gospel of justice for all nations.” After the war, due to a finding that Hamsun was in mental decline, efforts to prosecute him for treason were dropped.

Nearly 60 years after his death, a recent biographer told a reporter, “We can’t help loving him, though we have hated him all these years. That’s our Hamsun trauma. He’s a ghost that won’t stay in the grave.” In 2009, the queen of Norway presided over the gala launching of a yearlong program of commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the author's birth. The government is constructing a Hamsun museum.

Biography

Fourteen-year-old Hamsun in Tranøy.
Knut Hamsun was born as Knud Pedersen in Lommarker, Gudbrandsdal, Norwaymarker. He was the fourth son of Peder Pedersen and Tora Olsdatter (Garmostrædet). He grew up in poverty in Hamarøymarker in Nordlandmarker. 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, traveling 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 traveled 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 Larvikmarker. In 1918, the couple bought Nørholm, an old and somewhat dilapidated manor house between Lillesandmarker and Grimstadmarker. 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.

Work

Hamsun first received wide acclaim with his 1890 novel Hunger . The semiautobiographical work described a young writer's descent into near madness as a result of hunger and poverty in the Norwegian capital of Kristianiamarker (modern name Oslomarker). To many, the novel presages the writings of Franz Kafka and other twentieth-century novelists with its internal monologue and bizarre logic.

A theme to which Hamsun often returned is that of the perpetual wanderer, an itinerant stranger (often the narrator) who shows up and insinuates himself into the life of small rural communities. This wanderer theme is central to the novels Mysteries, Pan, Under the Autumn Star, The Last Joy, Vagabonds, and others.

Hamsun’s prose often contains rapturous depictions of the natural world, with intimate reflections on the Norwegian woodlands and coastline. For this reason, he has been linked with the spiritual movement known as pantheism. Hamsun saw mankind and nature united in a strong, sometimes mystical bond. This connection between the characters and their natural environment is exemplified in the novels Pan, A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings, and the epic Growth of the Soil, the novel which is credited with securing him the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920 for Hamsun.

A fifteen-volume edition of his complete works was published in 1954. In 2009, to mark the 150-year anniversary of his birth, a new 27-volume edition of his complete works was published, including short stories, poetry, plays and articles not included in the 1954 edition. For this new edition, all of Hamsun's works underwent slight linguistic modifications in order to make them more accessible to modern-day readers.

Fresh English translations of two of his major works, Growth of the Soil and Pan, were published in 1998.

Political sympathies

Hamsun was a prominent advocate of Germanymarker and German culture, as well as a rhetorical opponent of Britishmarker imperialism and the Soviet Unionmarker, and he supported Germany during both the First and the Second World War. His sympathies were heavily influenced by the impact of the Boer War, seen by Hamsun as British oppression of a small people, as well as by his dislike of the English and distaste for the USAmarker. His international popularity waned because of his support of Vidkun Quisling's National Socialist government. His image as a supporter of both Norwegian and German Nazi ideology was further confirmed when following a 1943 meeting with Germany’s minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels, he sent Goebbels his Nobel Prize medal as a gift and token of his admiration.

While in his 80s, and largely deaf, Hamsun met with Adolf Hitler. His audience with him is recorded to have been mostly him complaining about the Nazi depredations against Norwegians. Hamsun tried to have him remove Josef Terboven from the position of Reichskommissar of Norway.

A week after Hitler's death, Hamsun wrote a eulogy for Hitler, saying “He was a warrior, a warrior for mankind, and a prophet of the gospel of justice for all nations.”. 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 was 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", as he felt that such treatment of an old man 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; his wife, Marie, is played by the Danish actress Ghita Nørby.

Bibliography

Hamsun bibliography 1879–2009 : literature on Knut Hamsun. This bibliography database is made by the National Library of Norwaymarker and the University library of Tromsømarker. The National Library maintains and updates it, and currently it includes about 10 000 articles, books and references.
Year Title Translated title ISBN
1877 Den Gaadefulde. En kjærlighedshistorie fra Nordland (Published as Knud Pedersen)
1878 Et Gjensyn (Published as Knud Pedersen Hamsund)
1878 Bjørger (Published as 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) The Wild Choir
1904 Sværmere Mothwise (1921), 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 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
Nobel Prize-winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer was also greatly influenced by Hamsun and translated some of his works.

Author Henry Miller discusses a letter received from Knut Hamsun in Sexus (The Rosy Crucifixion)

Films

Hamsun's works have been the basis of 25 films and TV mini-series adaptations, starting in 1916.

The book Mysteries was the basis of a 1978 film of the same name (by the Dutch film company Sigma Pictures), directed by Paul de Lussanet, starring Sylvia Kristel, Rutger Hauer, Andrea Ferreol and Rita Tushingham.

The Telegraphist is a Norwegian movie from 1993 directed by Erik Gustavson. It is based on the novel "The Dreamers".

Pan was the basis for a 1995 Danish film of the same name, directed by Henning Carlsen, who also directed the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish coproduction of the 1966 film Sult from Hamsun's novel of the same name.

A biopic entitled Hamsun was released in 1996, directed by Jan Troell, starring Max von Sydow as Hamsun.

References

  1. NYT, 27 Feb. 2009
  2. Norways population and housing censuses from 1875
  3. Gyldendal: Samlede verker 1–27
  4. Žagar
  5. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0359105/


Bibliography



Further reading

  • Ferguson, Robert. 1987. Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Frank, Jeffrey. 2005. In from the cold; the return of Knut Hamsun. The New Yorker, 5 December 2005—2 January 2006.
  • Haugan, Jørgen. 2004. The Fall of the Sun God. Knut Hamsun - a Literary Biography Oslo: Aschehoug.
  • Humpal, Martin. 1999. The Roots of Modernist Narrative: Knut Hamsun's Novels Hunger, Mysteries and Pan. International Specialized Book Services.
  • Kolloen, Ingar Sletten. 2009. Knut Hamsun: Dreamer and Dissident . Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300123562
  • Larsen, Hanna Astrup. 1922. Knut Hamsun Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Shaer, Matthew. 2009. Tackling Knut Hamsun. Review of Sletten, Dreamer and dissenter and Žagar, The dark side of literary brilliance. In Los Angeles Times, 25 October 2009.


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