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Wanderers   By: (1859-1952)

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Translated from the Norwegian of

Knut Hamsun

by W. W. Worster

With an Introduction

by W. W. Worster


Under the Autumn Star

A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings


An autobiographical element is evident in practically everything that Hamsun has written. But it is particularly marked in the two volumes now published under the common title of "Wanderers," as well as in the sequel named "The Last Joy." These three works must be considered together. They have more in common than the central figure of "Knut Pedersen from the Northlands" through whose vision the fates of Captain Falkenberg and his wife are gradually unfolded to us. Not only do they refer undisguisedly to events known to be taken out of Hamsun's own life, but they mirror his moods and thoughts and feelings during a certain period so closely that they may well be regarded as diaries of an unusually intimate character. It is as psychological documents of the utmost importance to the understanding of Hamsun himself that they have their chief significance. As a by product, one might almost say, the reader gets the art which reveals the story of the Falkenbergs by a process of indirect approach equalled in its ingenuity and verisimilitude only by Conrad's best efforts.

The line of Hamsun's artistic evolution is easily traceable through certain stages which, however, are not separated by sharp breaks. It is impossible to say that one stage ended and the next one began in a certain year. Instead they overlap like tiles on a roof. Their respective characters are strikingly symbolized by the titles of the dramatic trilogy which Hamsun produced between 1895 and 1898 "At the Gate of the Kingdom," "The Game of Life," and "Sunset Glow."

"Hunger" opened the first period and "Pan" marked its climax, but it came to an end only with the eight act drama of "Vendt the Monk" in 1902, and traces of it are to be found in everything that Hamsun ever wrote. Lieutenant Glahn might survive the passions and defiances of his youth and lapse into the more or less wistful resignation of Knut Pedersen from the Northlands, but the cautious, puzzled Knut has moments when he shows not only the Glahn limp but the Glahn fire.

Just when the second stage found clear expression is a little hard to tell, but its most characteristic products are undoubtedly the two volumes now offered to the American public, and it persists more or less until 1912, when "The Last Joy" appeared, although the first signs of Hamsun's final and greatest development showed themselves as early as 1904, when "Dreamers" was published. The difference between the second and the third stages lies chiefly in a maturity and tolerance of vision that restores the narrator's sense of humour and eliminates his own personality from the story he has to tell.

Hamsun was twenty nine when he finished "Hunger," and that was the age given to one after another of his central figures. Glahn is twenty nine, of course, and so is the Monk Vendt. With Hamsun that age seemed to stand principally for the high water mark of passion. Because of the fire burning within themselves, his heroes had the supreme courage of being themselves in utter defiance of codes and customs. Because of that fire they were capable of rising above everything that life might bring above everything but the passing of the life giving passion itself. A Glahn dies, but does not grow old.

Life insists on its due course, however, and in reality passion may sink into neurasthenia without producing suicides. Ivar Kareno discovers it in "Sunset Glow," when, at the age of fifty, he turns renegade in more senses than one. But even then his realization could not be fully accepted by the author himself, still only thirty eight, and so Kareno steps down into the respectable and honoured sloth of age only to be succeeded, by another hero who has not yet passed the climacteric twenty ninth year... Continue reading book >>

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