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A complex legacy

The Humsun Fest Finale pushes Norwegian culture to the forefront.

Published: November 6, 2009 (Issue # 1524)



  • Controversial Norwegian author Knut Hamsun, who went from being an admired Nobel laureate to despised Nazi traitor, is in the limelight this month.
    Photo: for spt

  • The Hamsun Center, which was opened earlier this year, is seen from across the river in Hamaroy, Norway.
    Photo: for spt

The Days of Knut Hamsun in St. Petersburg are set to enable city residents to get acquainted with the legacy of one of the most controversial writers in the history of Norway.

In 2009, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Knut Hamsun, Norway launched a year-long international program commemorating its best known writer. The Hamsun Fest Finale that takes place in St. Petersburg this month is part of this program.

The Days of Knut Hamsun is a series of unique theatrical and musical performances, exhibitions and literatary events that aim to highlight the controversial writers work and promote the cultural heritage of Norway. The festival has been organized by the Nordland County Council in Norway, with the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Consulate General of Norway in St. Petersburg.

There will be a wide-ranging and exciting cultural program during the Days of Hamsun in St. Petersburg, said Fredrik Langeland, adviser at the Nordland County Council. There will be an opening reception and concert at the Sheremetyev Palace. We also want to draw particular attention to theater performances, lectures and film screenings at the Dostoevsky museum, a book exhibition at the National Library, a unique film program at Dom Kino cinema with showings of Hamsun films with Russian subtitles for the first time, and the play On Overgrown Paths at the Lensoviet Theater.

Hamsun gained popularity with his epic Growth of the Soil, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. Hamsuns works were determined by the idea of connection between characters and their natural environment. The author had a significant influence on European and American literature, with Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Maxim Gorky, Stefan Zweig and Henry Miller all admitting that they tried to write like Hamsun. Ernest Hemingway said, Hamsun taught me to write.

Albert Einstein regarded Hamsun as an eminent man, while Thomas Mann compared the writer to Homer and Dostoevsky. Biographer Robert Ferguson (1988) wrote that Hamsun was one of the most influential and innovative literary stylists during the last hundred years, and that there was hardly a writer living in Europe or in America who was not consciously or unconsciously indebted to him.

Hamsun was highly popular in Russia when Scandinavian literature gained popularity in Russia in the 1890s and early 1900s, said Langeland. His plays were performed on Russian stages even more than in Norway, his books were soon translated and quickly sold in large quantities. The first biography of Hamsun in Russia came out as early as 1910, when Maria Blagoveshchenskaya stated that Hamsun was really similar to the Russian nature, he added.

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