Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Reorienting Hamsun: Or Why Glahn Left Norway for India

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Reorienting Hamsun: Or Why Glahn Left Norway for India

Article excerpt

IN THE STUDY of the relationship between orientalism, imperialism, and modern literary culture, Scandinavia, let alone Norway, is not usually the first place that comes to mind. Certainly one could assemble a number of seemingly random references to imperial or "exotic" moments that appear in Scandinavian history and literature. In the second volume of Sigrid Undset's epic trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter entitled Husfrue [The Wife], for instance, Undset depicts the medieval Norwegian frontier as a place inhabited by "Finnefolket og de andre halvville folkene" (378) [Finns and the other half-wild peoples] for whom "det gjaldt at ... skjonte vi var herrer" (407) [it was important to understand ... that the Norwegians were the masters]. Similarly, moments of "discovering" exotic peoples and marvelous new landscapes can be found in sources ranging from the writings of Scandinavian missionaries abroad to the settlers of New Sweden, Sweden's short-lived colonial enterprise in early America (see Schlyter; Hale; Birkeli; Johnston; Aberg; Hoffecker). One could even generalize this to the entire Scandinavian settler experience in America, an experience that would include everything from the Norwegian diaspora into the mid-western prairies to the "quaint," pseudo-traditional Danish town of Solvang in southern California (see Linde-Laursen).

But what might at first appear to be random or minor references in Scandinavian literature to orientalist themes or colonial venues may in fact not be so random or so minor after all. A closer look at one particular work and its author--Knut Hamsun and the modernist novel Pan--will reveal that orientalist visions and fantasies, replete with subtle metaphors of imperialist power and the exotic sexualities of colonized landscapes, and may in fact play an intentional and important role in the modern literature of Norway and also of other Scandinavian countries. Specifically, a key element in the plot of Hamsun's novel involves a relocation of the action to India; this shift in venue, I argue, is not merely a convenient or random change of scenery, but rather an intentional and significant element in the complex construction of the novel. The relocation to India highlights Hamsun's "orientalization" of the Norwegian Nordland. In the second part of this paper, I argue that the orientalist and colonialist elements of Pan also add another layer of understanding in the complex evolution of Hamsun's controversial political views.

THOMAS GLAHN'S PASSAGE TO INDIA

Knut Hamsun's novel Pan: Av loitnant Thomas Glahns papirer [Pan: From the Papers of Lieutenant Thomas Glahn] is composed of two parts. (1) The first part, which makes up the main narrative portion of the text, details the strange and complex events of Thomas Glahn's stay in the magical landscape of northern Norway (the Nordland). The narrative is written in first person by Glahn himself and is written as a recollection two years after his long summer in the Nordland. Though Glahn is a classic example of the unreliable narrator, we can at least surmise the basic outlines of the story. Glahn lives alone in a hut in the forest wilderness, yet near to the local fishing community of Sirilund. There he falls in love with Edvarda, the daughter of Mack, a powerful tradesman in Sirilund and yet finds himself quickly drawn into a complicated series of adventures and conflicts that ends with his losing Edvarda to a rival suitor (a baron from Finland) and his inadvertent complicity in the killing of Eva, a woman who is Mack's mistress but whom Glahn has pursued to be a mistress of his own. With the loss of Edvarda and the loss of Eva, who is killed in an accident caused jointly by the actions of Mack and Glahn at the departure of the Finnish baron, Glahn decides to leave Nordland.

The second part of the novel, entitled "Glahns dod: Et Papir fra 1861" [Glahn's death: A Paper from 1861], takes place two years later, when we find Glahn living in India with a fellow hunter. …

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