Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brilliant Mind, Troubled Soul: Remembering Nobel-prize winning Writer, Knut Hamsun

Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian writer, Knut Hamsun, died 62 years ago today on February 19, 1952.

From Nobel Prize website:
Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) was born in Gudbrandsdalen, Norway, and grew up in poverty in Hamarøy in Nordland. From early childhood he was a shoemaker's apprentice, but was also a road worker, stonemason, junior-level teacher. He spent some years in America, traveling and working as a tram driver, and published his impressions, chiefly satirical, under the title Fra det moderne Amerikas Aandsliv (1889) [The Intellectual Life of Modern America]. The novel Sult (1890) [Hunger] and even more so Pan (1894) led to Hamsun's literary breakthrough and Sult is regarded as the first genuinely modern novel in Norwegian literature."

Hamsun's work reflected his the belief that humanity's only true fulfillment lies with the soil, finding its expression in his epic Growth of the Soil (Markens Grøde) (1917), the seminal work that positioned him to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920.

Of the homestead the protagonist built in the far north out of the Norwegian forest, called Sellanra, Hamsun writes:

"Let's take you people at Sellanra: you look every day at the blue mountains, they're not invented things, they're old mountains, rooted deep in the past; but they are your companions. There you are, living together with heaven and earth, at one with them, at one with the wide horizon and the rootedness. You have no need of a sword in your hand, you walk through life barehanded and bareheaded in the midst of a great kindliness. Look, there is nature, it belongs to you and yours! Man and nature do not bombard each other, they are agreed; they do not compete or run a race for something, they go together. 
You Sellanra folks live and have your being in the midst of all this. The mountains, the forest, the moors, the meadows, the sky and the stars--there is nothing paltry or apportioned about all this, it is without measure. Listen to me Sivert: Be contented! You have everything to live on, everything to live for, everything to believe in; you're born and you bring forth, you are vital to the earth. You sustain life. You go on from generation to generation, fulfilling yourselves through sheer breeding; when you die, the new brood takes over. What do you get in return? An existence that's just and strong, an existence based on a true and trusting relationship to everything. What do you get in return? You Sellanra folks can't be pushed around or bullied, you enjoy calm of mind and authority, and this great kindliness all around."
Buy Growth of the Soil.

His mental faculties deteriorated with age. His widely publicized admiration for the German culture and the Nazi movement left him after the war impoverished and temporarily under psychiatric observation.

With the passage time, his native and beloved Norway, forgave him this betrayal -- at least some did. Because his sensibilities never came across in any of his literary works his publisher celebrated his literary legacy with a 27-volume of "Collected Works."

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