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Knut Hamsun

Also known as: Knud Pedersen

Knut Hamsun was a Norwegian writer and playwright, born under the name of Knud Pedersen August 4 1859, dead February 19 1952.

He was born either in Lom or Vågå in the valley of Gudbrandsdalen, but the family moved to the farm Hamsund (with a d) in the municipality of Hamarøy in the county of Nordland when he was three years old. During his childhood he lived with an uncle at times, and he started working when he was in his early teens.

His jobs included keeping shop, working as a stevedore, a shoemaker's trainee and for the police, constructing roads, teaching and driving trams in America before he started writing full-time.


(Objekt ID 4240)
Object type Person
Also known as Knud Pedersen
Born August 4, 1859 (dead February 19, 1952)
Functions Author, Dramatist/Playwright
Nationality Norwegian
Gender Male

The first time Knut Hamsun was published was in 1877, when he under the name of Knud Pedersen had a short story published, The Enigmatic One. Until he debuted as a novelist he wrote a number of lectures, some of which were compiled in the pamphlet The Cultural Life of the Modern America, also translated as The Intellectual Life of Modern America (1889). Hamsun had lived some years in USA before this.

Knut Hamsun's debut novel, Hunger, came in 1890. It was followed by another modernist novel, Mysteries, in 1892. Next he published the novels Editor Lynge and Shallow Soil (Norwegian editions of both in 1893). After this he lived in Paris for a couple of years, writing the Nordland novel Pan (1894) and a trilogy of plays consisting of At The Gate of the Kingdom (1895), The Game of Life (1896) and Sunset Glow (1898). Back in Norway he moved to Kristiansand.

In 1898 the love story Victoria was published, and the same year he married Bergljot Bassøe Goepfert (born Bech), before travelling to Finland, where he spent approximately a year, and a longer journey into Russia, Caucasus and Turkey. He used impressions from this journey in his travelogue In Wonderland (1903) and the play Queen Tamara (also written in 1903, and staged for the first time in 1904, by The National Theatre), plus some shorter prose texts and short stories. He published the collections Siesta (1897), Brushwood (1903) and Strident Life (1905), in English the three are compiled into a one-volume book called Tales of Love and Loss. Around 1900 Hamsun spent a while in Nordland, where he wrote the play Vendt the Monk (1902).

His poetry collection The Wild Choir was published (Norwegian edition) in 1904.

Dreamers, also translated as Mothwise (1904) and the continuing Benoni and Rosa (both 1908; filmed for Norwegian TV in 1976) were his next novels, after which came the books Under The Autumn Star (1906), A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings (1909) and Look Back on Happiness, also translated as The Last Joy (1912). The play In the Grip of Life he published in 1910.

The marriage to Bergljot ended with divorce in 1908, and the next year he married writer and actress Anne Marie Andersen, most often known just as Marie. With Bergljot he fathered his daughter Victoria (born 1902), and with Marie the sons Tore (born 1912) and Arild (born 1914), and the daughters Ellinor (born 1915) and Cecilia (born 1917).

In 1913 he published Children of the Age and in 1915 the sequel Segelfoss Town, in which he protests the industrialised and commercialised zeitgeist. The same spirit was central in Growth of the Soil, published in 1917, and the book for which Hamsun was awarded his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920.

After this he wrote The Women at the Pump (1920), Chapter the Last (1923), the trilogy Wayfarers (1927), August (1930), The Road Leads on (1933) and the book that was to become his last novel, The Ring is Closed (1936).

Knut Hamsun had in a way withdrawn from the industrialised Norway at the time, in a personal as well as literary manner. In 1911 he bought a farm in the municipality of his childhood, Hamarøy, run by his wife Marie for six years, before selling, and in 1918 they established at the farm Nørholm near Grimstad in the south of Norway.

During World War II the whole Hamsun family expressed (orally as well as in writing) support for Hitler, the Norwegian Nazi Party Nasjonal Samling (literally: National Union) and the German occupation of Norway. Knut Hamsun met Hitler, and Marie Hamsun several times went on lecture tours in Germany.
After the war, Hamsun was sentenced for having betrayed his country and he was to pay a fee of 425 000 Norwegian kroner as a punishment. He appealed to the Norwegian Supreme Court, which maintained the sentence, but reduced the sum to 325 000 kroner.

Hamsun found it harder, though, that his mental abilities were diagnosed as "permanently impaired" during the trial. For a time he was a patient at a nursing home (partly as informal punishment, partly because his wife was unable to care for him as she was herself sentenced to three years in prison), but later he was allowed to return to Nørholm. He wrote the memoir On Overgrown Paths (1949), dealing with his nationalist ideology, his role during the war and the psychiatric system diagnosing him.

Knut Hamsun died in his home Nørholm February 19 1952.


Store Norske Leksikon, http://snl.no/Knut_Hamsun

Norsk Biografisk Leksikon, http://snl.no/.nbl_biografi/Knut_Hamsun/utdypning

Ingar Sletten Kolloen's biographies Hamsun: The Dreamer and Hamsun: The Dissenter