Knut Hamsun Remembers America: Essays and Stories, 1885-1949

Knut Hamsun Remembers America: Essays and Stories, 1885-1949

Knut Hamsun Remembers America: Essays and Stories, 1885-1949

Knut Hamsun Remembers America: Essays and Stories, 1885-1949

Synopsis

When Americans remember him at all, they no doubt think of Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) as the author of Hunger or as the Norwegian who, along with Vidkun Quisling, betrayed his country by supporting the Nazis during World War II. Yet Hamsun, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1920 for his novel The Growth of the Soil, was and remains one of the most important and influential novelists of his time. Knut Hamsun Remembers America is a collection of thirteen essays and stories based largely on Hamsun's experiences during the four years he spent in the United States when he was a young man. Most of these pieces have never been published before in an English translation, and none are readily available. Hamsun's feelings about America and American ways were complex. For the most part, they were more negative than positive, and they found expression in many of his writings--directly in his reminiscences and indirectly in his fiction. In On the Cultural Life of Modern America, his first major book, he portrayed theUnited States as a land of gross and greedy materialism, populated by illiterates who were utterly lacking in artistic originality or refinement. Although the pieces in this collection are not all anti-American, most of them emphasize the strangeness and unpleasantness, as the author saw it, of life in what he called Yankeeland. Arranged chronologically, the pieces fall into three categories: Critical Reporting, Memory and Fantasy, and Mellow Reminiscence. The Critical Reporting section includes articles that appeared in Norwegian or Danish newspapers soon after each of Hamsun's two visits to America and that give his views on a variety of American subjects, and includes an essay devoted toMark Twain. Memory and Fantasy comprises narratives of life in America, most of which are presented as personal experiences but which actually are blends of fact and fiction. Mellow Reminiscence includes later and fonder recolle

Excerpt

When Americans remember him at all, they no doubt think of Knut Hamsun (1859—1952) as the author of Hunger or as the Norwegian who, along with Vidkun Quisling, betrayed his country by supporting the Nazis during World War II. Yet Hamsun, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1920 for his novel Growth of the Soil, was and remains one of the most important and influential novelists of his time, one who served as a model for many younger contemporaries, among them Ernest Hemingway. The young Hamsun in turn had looked to MarkTwain as a model. On the whole, however, he accumulated more negative than positive feelings for Americans and for American ways, while never losing the marks left by the early years he spent in the United States.

The First Visit, 1882—1884

Like others among the 29,000 Norwegians who migrated to America in 1882, the twenty-three-year-old Hamsun went with high hopes, which in his case were soon to turn into bitter disappointment.

Brought up in the arctic north of Norway, the son of an impecunious farmer and tailor, he had experienced a great deal of hard work but very little schooling. Still, he aspired with single-minded determination to become a writer, and he prepared for such a career by reading widely and by teaching himself proper Dano-Norwegian (essentially Danish), the literary language of the time and place. To further his studies, he received a gift . . .

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