Knut Hamsun was a supporter of Norway's fascist Nasjonal Samling party and an admirer of Nazism; he gave his Nobel Prize for Literature to Joseph Goebbels; he hailed Hitler as "a warrior for mankind, and a prophet of the gospel of... [more]
Knut Hamsun was a supporter of Norway's fascist Nasjonal Samling party and an admirer of Nazism; he gave his Nobel Prize for Literature to Joseph Goebbels; he hailed Hitler as "a warrior for mankind, and a prophet of the gospel of justice for all nations" in an obituary for the Nazi leader; he criticized his wife's children's books and sent his children away to boarding school so as to focus better on his writing.
It is no wonder that sympathy for the writer has waned over the years.
But this does not mean the dissolution of interest in his compositions is equally merited. Hamsun composed works of startling vibrancy and vitality; an evocative and unique prose style – the term Hamsunian would no doubt be invoked with far greater frequency had he earned and maintained greater interest – supports the uncommonly humane vision depicted by his novels. His many acolytes have composed copious, if often dubious, defenses and explications of the writer's wartime sympathies, even summarizing the whole thing as merely an ill-timed expression of his otherwise harmless Germanophilia.
It is unfortunate that his works now bear the brunt of their author's political leanings; they are among the greatest prose outputs of the modern era, and Hamsun is one of the most profound of modern writers. His novels do not deserve the punishment that Hamsun received; they are artistically progressive and empathetically attuned to human nature and the quotidian and existential trials of the individual. The flâneur is a reoccurring figure in his novels, although the term had yet to be invented. His preoccupation with the natural world may bear hints of "blood and soil" Nazism, but this would be a crass reduction; they are among the loveliest passages of his oeuvre, and do not exert the propagandistic simplicity of the chauvinistic Nazi embrace of nature. One may find within Kafka's treatment of the individual and the modernization of society the seeds planted in Hamsun's considerations thereof, and Beckett's humane explorations of the ontology of the human affliction bear tremendous echoes of Hamsun's earlier work. His use of the inner monologue – first utilized in "Hunger," his first notable novel – has influenced generations of writers. Indeed, Isaac Bashevis Singer once remarked that "the whole school of fiction in the 20th century stems from Hamsun."
There has been a sustained resurgence of interest in Hamsun's work; Sverre Lyngstad's recent English translations of the author's most famous novels – of "Hunger" and "Mysteries" in 2001, "Pan" in 1998," and "The Growth of the Soil" in 2007 – has created a swell of interest in the English-speaking world, and in 2009 a yearlong celebration of the author's work was initiated – not without great controversy – in Norway. It seems quite likely that Hamsun's oeuvre may earn its rightful place, foremost among the modernist literary canon. [show less]