Knut Hamsun

Knut Hamsun

Infobox Writer
name = Knut Hamsun
awards = awd|Nobel Prize in Literature|1920

imagesize = 175px
caption = Knut Hamsun in 1890, 31 yrs
pseudonym =
'Knut Hamsun'
Knut Hamsund
Don Quixote
Knut Hamsunn
Knut Pederson
Knut Pedersen Hamsund
Knud Thode
birthname = Knud Pedersen
birthdate = birth date|1859|8|4|mf=y
birthplace = Vågå, GudbrandsdalNorway
deathdate = death date and age|1952|2|19|1859|8|46|mf=y
deathplace = Grimstad, Nørholm, Norway
occupation = Author, poet, dramatist, social critic
nationality = Norwegian
period = 1877-1949
movement = Neo-romanticism Neo-Realism
influences = Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Schopenhauer, Magdalena Thoresen, Georg Brandes, Henrik Wergeland, Lord Byron
influenced = Ernest Hemingway, Isaac Singer, Thomas Mann, Maxim Gorky, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Tomm Kristensen, Gabriel Scott

website =

Knut Hamsun, born Knud Pedersen (August 4, 1859 - February 19, 1952) 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".

Hamsun was a prominent advocate of Germany and German culture, and an opponent of British Imperialism as well as the Soviet Union. During World War II, Hamsun supported Vidkun Quisling and his party Nasjonal Samling, and was later charged for treason. However, the charges were dropped, but a civil liability case was raised against him, and in 1948, he was fined 325.000 kroner for his alleged Nasjonal Samling membership, a membership which is disputed.

In the years after the war, he was examined by the psychologist Gabriel Langfeldt, who concluded with the diagnosis "permanently impaired mental abilities", although the validity of this diagnosis has been debated. Hamsun’s last novel "On Overgrown Paths"—which was part memoir, part self-defense—was published in 1949.


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 (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 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.

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", for which Hamsun received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920.

A fifteen-volume edition of his complete works was published in 1954.

Political sympathies

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 during both the 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.

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.

According to Bennett Cerf's book "Try and Stop Me," after Hamsun's alliance with the Quislingites became widely known, angry Norwegians sent copies of his books back to his hometown in such numbers that the small post office in the town had to hire temporary workers to assist in handling the volumes of books arriving.

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.

Postwar Trial for Treason

Hamsun's wartime pronouncements in support of the German occupation regime could easily have been punishable under existing Norwegian treason laws and wartime ordinances passed in relation to treasonous acts.Anine Kierulf and Cato Schiøtz Høyesterett og Knut Hamsun [Knut Hamsun and the Supreme Court] (Gyldendals, 2004), 18] After the conclusion of World War II in May, 1945, Hamsun was initially held under house arrest. Police constable Finn Christensen took a statement from Hamsun on June 20, 1945. In the statement Hamsun denied being politically active or being a member of the fascist Nasjonal Samling (N.S.) party led by Vidkun Quisling but was open about his connections with both the party and with the German occupation regime. Hamsun denied in his statement that he was trying cover up his involvement, indicating that he wished he could have "gone further," to help them, because he believed it had been, "in Norway's best interests" at the time. [ibid., 37]

Hamsun was then confined for several months in a psychiatric hospital. Following a long period of psychological investigation that tormented the author and weakened him considerably, on February 5, 1946 psychiatrist Gabriel Langfeldt and head doctor Ørnulv Ødegård concluded that Hamsun had "lasting weakened mental capacities." [ibid., 40-41. See also Gabriel Langfeldt and Ørnulv Ødegård "Den rettspsykiatriske erklæring om Knut Hamsun".] On the basis of this judgement the criminal treason case against Hamsun was dropped.

Civil Liability Trial

Instead of a criminal treason trial, a civil liability case was raised against the author. Hamsun was called to summons May 16, 1946 in response to the accusation that he was a member of Nasjonal Samling. In contrast to an earlier claim in legal documents that Hamsun, "consented to" membership in the party, the civil liability charge rested on the accusation of the more basic objective question of actual membership in the party. [ibid., 49]

The main hearing of Hamsun's case took place December 16, 1947 and lasted only one day. The judgement in the case was delivered December 19, 1947. In a vote of two to one, he was sentenced to pay civil compensation charges of 425,000 kroner and court costs of 250 kroner. The judges in support of the ruling placed emphasis on the fact that Hamsun was listed in the N.S. party's membership card index and the fact that in a questionnaire sent out by the NS political press office, Hamsun described himself as "Quisling's man." [ibid,. 51-2]

upreme Court Appeal

The case was appealed to the Norwegian supreme court on the December 29 and the case was heard by the court from the June 18-19, 1948, with a judgement handed down on the June 23. The supreme court judgement unanimously affirmed the validity of the previous ruling regarding Hamsun's membership but the compensation demanded was reduced to 325,000 kroner and 500 kroner in court costs in light of the reduced financial circumstances of the accused. In its judgement, the court again emphasized that Hamsun was in the party membership index, had a member number, had worn an N.S. symbol on his clothing during the occupation, that he filled out, signed, and returned a questionnaire for a party organization which was based on the assumption of membership, that he had stated he was "Quisling's man" and that in his preliminary hearing on the June 23, 1945 had stated he had "slid into the [N. S.] organization." [ibid., 53-6]

Criticism of the Court Rulings Against Hamsun

The fact that no criminal treason trial was held and Hamsun did not serve a punitive sentence in prison for his wartime actions has not reduced the controversy surrounding the treason proceedings against Norway's most famous 20th century author in the postwar period. Because the civil trial hinged upon the question of membership in the N.S. party, rather than upon Hamsun's support for the German war effort, or praise of Quisling and fascist political ideals, much discussion about the legal aspects of Hamsun's postwar trial has focused on two issues: the validity of the initial judgement of Hamsun's weakened mental faculties, and Hamsun's formal relationship with the wartime fascist N.S. party that led to the court ruling against him.

Hamsun's Allegedly Weakened Mental Capacities

Critics of the handling of the psychological evaluation of Hamsun in the aftermath of World War II emphasize both the inhumane treatment of the author as well as the final evaluation itself. With respect to the latter, it has been pointed out that some who met Hamsun during this period, including Christian Gierløffs who visited the author at Landvik home for the elderly in the fall of 1945, found Hamsun to be in full command of his mental faculties. It has also been argued that his final 1949 novel "On Overgrown Paths" does not reveal any weakening of Hamsun's mental capacities. Already by June 1946 there were some 47 pages of the original manuscript completed from this work [ibid., 46] .

Membership in N.S.

On the question of Hamsun's membership in N.S. party, critics of the judgement have pointed out that there has never been found any application for party membership submitted by Hamsun to the party, any evidence of Hamsun having paid, as required by the party for continued membership, any of the 2 kroner annual dues to the party, nor has there been found the photograph required for submission to the party membership book. [ibid., 60-65] Despite the huge potential propaganda value of having Norway's most famous writer as a registered party member, N.S. at no point claimed or advertised the supposed membership in their own recruiting efforts in wartime, despite the fact that Hamsun had on occasion written for, or been quoted extensively in party publications. [ibid., 87]

The only time Hamsun made any clear statement regarding membership in N.S. prior to the conclusion of the war was allegedly in December, 1941 in conversation with an N.S. party member when, in response to the suggestion that Hamsun ought to join the party, the author is said to have responded, "No, I don't want to, why would I do that?" [ibid., 68]

The Norwegian national archives do have copies of two original N.S. party member cards for Hamsun, with his membership dated from December 22, 1940 and his membership number listed as 26,000. However, based on internal evidence provided by the cards themselves, they were most likely created sometime in 1942. [ibid., 82]

Hamsun claimed to have been "Quisling's man" as early as the general election in 1936. Hamsun declared, "I have been watching Quisling since his days in Russia. He has personally interested me just as his politics interest me now...If I had ten votes he would get them. His firm character and unbending will are good for us to have in these times." However, there is no evidence that he was a member of N.S. then or even voted in the election of 1936. Hamsun stated to the police in his statement of June 20, 1945 that, "As far I can remember, I have never voted in any election." [ibid., 67]

The author and his postwar ordeal are treated sympathetically in the 1996 film by the Swedish director Jan Troell who based the movie "Hamsun" on the controversial 1978 work "The Hamsun Trial" by Danish author Thorkild Hansen. In "Hamsun", the Swedish actor Max von Sydow plays Knut Hamsun; his wife, Marie Hamsun, is played by the Danish actress Ghita Nørby.


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

* Kierulf, Anine and Schiøtz "Høyesterett og Knut Hamsun" Gyldendal 2004. A Summary and analysis of the postwar legal proceedings against Hamsun. Argues ultimately that Knut Hamsun was guilty of treason that could have been tried in criminal court but the civil trial was legally without merit.
* Kolloen, Ingar Sletten. "Svermeren" 2003 Biography
* Kolloen, Ingar Sletten. "Erobreren" 2004 Biography
* Larsen, Hanna Astrup. "Knut Hamsun" Alfred A. Knopf. 1922 A contemporary biographical treatment culminating in Hamsun's receipt of the Nobel Prize

English reviews

The December 5, 2005January 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).

Nobel Prize-winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer was also greatly influenced by Hamsun and translated some of his works.


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

Further reading

* [ Knut Hamsun Online]
* [ Biography from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs]
* [ Knut Hamsun as nobel prize laureate]
* [ Biography and bibliography]
* [ Wood, James, "Addicted to Unpredictability", an essay.] Retrieved 8 October 2006.
* "," Davi Napoleon. Includes discussion of "Ice Age", a controversial production in which Hamson is the protagnist. Iowa State University Press. ISBN-0-8138-1713-7, 1991.

* [ Knut Hamsun and the Cause of Europe: Article by Mark Deavin, Ph.D.] Article on Hamsun hosted by White supremacist organization, the National Vanguard.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Knut Hamsun — Knut Hamsun, 1890 Knut Hamsun (gebürtig Knud Pedersen, * 4. August 1859 in Vågå[1], Fylke Oppland, Norwegen; † 19. Februar 1952 in Nørholm bei Grimstad) war einer der bedeutendsten norwegischen Schrift …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Knut Hamsun — à 31 ans Nom de naissance Knud Pedersen Activités Écrivain Naissance le 4  …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Knut Hamsun — (n. Knut Pedersen, Lom, Noruega, 4 de agosto de 1859 † Grimstad, 19 de febrero de 1952) es uno de los escritores noruegos más afamados. Su obra, que le valió el premio Nobel de Literatura en 1920, es considerada una de las más influyentes en la… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Knut Hamsun — Knut Pedersen …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Knut Hamsun — noun Norwegian writer of novels (1859 1952) • Syn: ↑Hamsun, ↑Knut Pedersen • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author …   Useful english dictionary

  • Knut Hamsun — Amor El amor es la primera palabra de Dios. Es el primer pensamiento que cruzó por su mente. El amor es una música cálida, diabólica, que hace latir hasta los corazones de los más ancianos. Edad ¿Que los años pasan muy rápidamente? Sí, para el… …   Diccionario de citas

  • Literaturnobelpreis 1920: Knut Hamsun —   Der Norweger erhielt den Nobelpreis für sein monumentales Werk »Segen der Erde«.    Biografie   Knut Hamsun (eigentlich Knut Pedersen), * Lom (Gudbrandstal) 4. 8. 1859, ✝ Grimstad (Aust Agder) 19. 2. 1952; 1883 85 Wanderleben in Norwegen, 1886… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Faim (Knut Hamsun) — La Faim (roman) Pour les articles homonymes, voir La Faim. La Faim Auteur Knut Hamsun Genre Roman Version originale …   Wikipédia en Français

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