Hamsun, Knut

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Hamsun, Knut

Knut Hamsun (kənōōt´ häm´sŏŏn), 1859–1952, Norwegian author, a pioneer in the development of the modern novel. Virtually without formal education, in his youth he led a wandering life, and on his second visit to the United States (1886–88) worked as a streetcar conductor, lecturer, peddler, clerk, and harvest hand. His first book, From the Cultural Life of Modern America (1889) was published on his return to Norway. The theme of the wanderer is prominent in many of his novels, including the naturalistic Hunger (1890, tr. 1899), which aroused a furor of criticism and gained him a large audience. Among his many other novels are the highly regarded Mysteries (1892, tr. 1927), the lyrically beautiful Pan (1894), the class-conscious romance Victoria (1898, tr. 1923), and Growth of the Soil (1917, tr. 1921), his most successful 20th-century novel, which sets simple agrarian values against those of the new industrial society. His last novel was published in 1936. Hamsun also wrote numerous short stories, six plays, and two volumes of poetry. He was awarded the 1920 Nobel Prize in Literature. His largely autobiographical work reflects an intense love of nature and an interest in the unconscious, and he often evinces concern for the material condition of the individual and its effect on his spirit. During World War II Hamsun supported the Nazi invasion of Norway. In 1946 he was declared by psychiatrists to be permanently mentally disabled; he was fined $87,000 for economic collaboration with the enemy.

See his memoir, On Overgrown Paths (1949, tr. 1967); H. Naess and J. McFarlane, ed., Knut Hamsen: Selected Letters 1879–1898 (2 vol., 1990); biography by R. Ferguson (1987); studies by H. Naess (1984), M. Humpal (1998), and S. Lyngstad (2005).

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