Knut Hamsun: Biography and Important Works

Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) was a Norwegian novelist, poet, and dramatist. He was born as Knut Petersen in central Norway. Of peasant origin, Hamsun spent most of his childhood in remote Hamarøy, Nordland county, and had almost no formal education. He started to write at age 19, when he was a shoemaker’s apprentice in Bodø, in northern Norway. During the next 10 years, he worked as a casual laborer. Twice he visited the United States, where he held a variety of mostly menial jobs in Chicago, North Dakota, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

He is best known for his novel Hunger (1890), set in Christiania (now Oslo), in which his narrator suffers the state of semi starvation which Hamsun himself had endured during ten years of hardship and work as a laborer in Norway and the USA; its nervous, hallucinatory quality and abrupt, vivid prose made a considerable impact.

Hamsun followed the success of his novel Hunger (1890)  success with many other works of fiction, including Mysteries (1892), Pan (1894). Victoria (1898), Under the Autumn Star (1906), Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings (1909), Growth of the Soil (1917), and Wayfarer (1929).

He pioneered psychological literature with techniques of stream of consciousness and interior monologue and influenced authors such as Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Maxim Gorki, Stefan Zweig, Henry Miller, John Fante, and Ernest Hemingway.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920 and continued to write almost to the end of his life, although he alienated many of his followers by his support of Hitler during the Second World War.

The influence of his early work was, however, great; Isaac Singer has stated that ‘the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun’ (Knut Hamsun, Artist of Skepticism’, preface to the translation by Robert Bly, 1967). Singer called Hamsun “the father of the modern school of literature in his every aspect—his subjectiveness, his fragmentariness, his use of flashbacks, his lyricism

Hunger was originally translated by George Egerton (1899).