10 April, 2009
Knut Hamsun, born Knud Pedersen was a Norwegian author. He was considered by Isaac Bashevis Singer to be the "father of modern literature", and by King Haakon to be Norway's soul. In 1920, the Nobel Committee awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil". He insisted that the intricacies of the human mind ought to be the main object of modern literature, to describe the "whisper of the blood, and the pleading of the bone marrow". Hamsun pursued his literary program, debuting in 1890 with the psychological novel Hunger.
Knut Hamsun was born as Knud Pedersen in Vågå, 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, 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, but the marriage ended in 1906. Hamsun then married Marie Andersen 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 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 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.
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 the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920 for Hamsun.
A fifteen-volume edition of his complete works was published in 1954.