Six Scandinavian Novelists: Lie, Jacobsen, Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlof, Hamsun, Sigrid Undset

By Alrik Gustafson | Go to book overview
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MAN AND THE SOIL KNUT HAMSUN

IN the early autumn of the year 1888 a young, quite unknown, Norwegian author, just returned to the Scandinavian countries from a stay of two years in the United States, entered the Copenhagen editorial offices of Edvard Brandes, journalist, critic, and brother of the famous Georg Brandes. The young Norwegian was slovenly in dress, his clothes tattered and dirty, and his face, though strong and aristocratic in its outline, was almost grotesquely emaciated, intensely drawn by the severe, nervous lines of hunger. He had brought with him the inevitable bundle of manuscript, and all but begged Brandes to look it over and express a judgment. Brandes, curiously affected by the strange blending of pathos and nobility in the young man's face, hesitatingly agreed to glance over the manuscript as soon as possible, asking for the young man's name and address. The young man was Knut Hamsun; the manuscript was a fragment of his first important novel, Hunger.

Axel Lundegård, a contemporaneous Swedish author closely identified with Danish literary circles of the day gives in some reminiscences entitled Sett och Känt ("Seen and Felt," 1925) a vivid account, as related to him by Brandes, of this meeting between the Danish editor and Hamsun -- together with a note on its immediate consequences.

"Can you imagine," he began -- "as I sat in my editorial offices today, a young Norwegian stepped in and wished to talk with me. And quite naturally he had a manuscript in his pocket! But this interested me from the outset less than the man himself. I have seldom seen a man more derelict in appearance. Not only that his clothes were ragged. But that face! I am not sentimental, as you know. But that man's face gripped me.

"I took his bundle of papers. It was a story. Entirely too long for a number of Politiken -- this I saw immediately -- it would have filled half of the paper. And for a serial it was too short. This I said to the author, and wished to return the manuscript. But at

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