At the age of 39, in 1898, Hamsun married Bergljot Goepfert. The couple divorced in 1906 because of Hamsun’s bizarre perspective on life. Bergljot found him difficult to be around, depressed much of the time, moody and demanding.
Three years later, Hamsun married a very pretty, very sexy actress neamed Marie Andersen. Planning on becoming farmers, thus realizing Hamsun’s dream of returning to the soil and a natural way of life, they bought a farm. The reality of nature and farming quickly proved unpalatable to Hamsun. The pure life was not nearly as much fun, nor as spiritually stimulating as he imagined.
They sold the farm.
Then they moved south, to Larvik, and shortly thereafter bought the manor house near Grimstad.
Hamsun’s ultra-conservative political outlook, along with his personal history of growing up poor and hungry, led him to champion Hitler’s National Socialist movement in Germany. He met personally with Hitler and with Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels so impressed him, that Hamsun sent his Nobel Prize medal to Goebbels as a gift.
Hamsun, in his zeal, made the mistake of writing and publishing Hitler’s obituary. Published in the Aftenposten, Norway’s leading newspaper, he praised Hitler as a “warrior for mankind.” Disgusted with such drivel, his irate countrymen burned Hamsun’s books or sent them back to him through the mail.
In the aftermath of the war, Hamsun was charged with collaboration and treason. Supposedly, Hamsun was a member of Vidkun Quisling’s Nasjonal Samling. Quisling, of course, was the Norwegian politician who betrayed his country to the Nazis. As a reward, the Nazis made Quisling their puppet ruler in Norway. On his part, Hamsun denied ever belonging to any political party in his memoir.
Norwegian authorities arrested Hamsun and placed him in an asylum. This was done for reasons of political expediency. Hamsun’s international stature and fame worried the authorities. If they threw him in prison, they feared the international community might accuse them of witch hunting. Hamsun’s wife and children were imprisoned. While in the asylum, a psychiatrist determined Hamsun to be suffering “permanently impaired mental abilities.” In effect, he was insane. Because of this mitigating factor, with a sigh of relief, the authorities dropped the charge of treason.
At his trial, Hamsun was found guilty of collaborating with the enemy. A monetary fine was imposed. Because of his advanced age, and his fame as an international author, he escaped imprisonment.
Disgraced and humiliated, Hamsun retired to his manor house. There he began work on his memoir On Overgrown Paths. The literary merit of this book proves that he was not mentally impaired, although by any reasonable standards he may have been bizarre and eccentric. He was not, however, insane by any definition of the word.
Thirty years later, the Danish writer Thorkild Hansen investigated the 1948 trial of Knut Hamsun. Hansen published the results of his inquiry in his book The Hamsun Trial. He concluded that the trial was a farce, and did nothing except provide Norway’s political charlatans with a stage upon which to showboat. Hamsun was persecuted because of jealousy, and because he was unafraid to speak his mind.
In his book, Hansen states, “If you want to meet idiots, go to Norway.” Needless to say, like poking a stick in a wasp’s nest, the book sparked debate and controversy in Norway.
I don’t know whether Hamsun was an Aryan supremacist, or just a gullible Nazi sympathizer. The latter, I suspect. I do know this: he was a talented writer, and like many artists he did not have a subtle temperament. Plus, he had some weird ideas, which just proves his imagination was not fettered by social or cultural mores. Moreover, he reeked of moral courage, because he said what he meant and meant what he said, and he thought for himself – right or wrong, weird or normal.
For some reason, ultra-conservatives are attracted to mystical pantheism, where divine energy or personality flows in and through all things. And the way to liberate this inner deity is to get back to nature, commune with the earth, become one with everything. It always seems to descend into occult nonsense, like magic, or searching for the Ark of the Covenant, or rubbing runes together – really weird stuff.
Hamsun, as far as I know, didn’t travel that route. But he was impressed with the Hitler-Goebbels gang, who were deep into the occult, and who wanted to cleanse the world, making it one, with them in charge, of course.
I suspect Hamsun wanted to return to nature and tradition because of his childhood, in which he suffered severe poverty and starvation. He viewed such suffering as the result of a modern, civilized society, which cared little for individuals, but worshipped progress. Hamsun saw no future in progress, only more starvation and poverty. So his reaction was to go in the opposite direction – back to nature and pantheism. Enforce rigid rules, restore balance and order in the world; to do that, an aggressive leadership was required. Only an austere system could rid the world of oppression.
Unfortunately, he was wrong. Knut didn’t see that what he was proposing and supporting was systematic oppression, which, supposedly, was necessary to rid the world of oppression. The cure was the disease wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with a fancy red bow.
Wrong, too, was the manner in which the system he despised hounded and persecuted him. They committed him to a mental institution and imprisoned his wife and boys. The post-war government of Norway was just as mean and sick as that of the Nazis.
Knut Hamsun was like the seven dwarves in Snow White. The dwarves trooped off to work every morning, where, digging in their mine, they unearthed treasure. Hamusn did likewise, only he dug in the mine of words, unearthing sentences which became books.
The dwarves were peculiarly naïve. After the evil Queen’s first attempt to rid herself of Snow White, they continued their daily routine as if nothing had changed. Why didn’t they take Snow White with them? Or take turns remaining at the cottage to protect her? They convinced themselves there was no further threat, no danger. They refused to face the facts.
Hamsun was naïve, too. His observations of Hitler and Nazism left him excited and expectant: here was the answer to mankind’s problems. Poverty, unemployment, health care, war and pestilence would all be swept aside as if they never existed – if fascism ruled the world. He, too, refused to face the facts.
For their carelessness, the seven dwarves paid a heavy price. They watched Snow White slumber in her glass coffin, carrying it with them wherever they went. Hamsun, too, paid a price. The government of Norway committed him to the asylum, a facsimile glass coffin he carried with him the rest of his life, trying to prove he was not mentally deranged. To this end, he wrote his memoir. But the damage was already done. There would be no prince, and no revenge of the magic shoes.
In the story of Snow White, at the end, the seven dwarves simply fade away. After watching the evil Queen jig herself to death, they are never mentioned again. The same sort of thing happened to Knut Hamus. Only in his case, he watched himself fade away. He died disgraced, and publicly shamed. His international literary reputation quickly melted away. He is forgotten, his books sit unread, his ideas are considered unimportant.