The critic of civilization

From the moment Hamsun first appears on the literary scene around 1890 it is the complex and sensitive inner life of modern people that preoccupies him. The tempo of modern times has an alienating and discordant effect on people. But the young Hamsun wants neither to reform society nor preach truths: his aim is to describe the whisper of the blood, the prayer in the marrow of the bone, the whole unconscious life of the mind.

2017-04-2010:54 Marianne Gjelseth

After 1912 Hamsun’s writing takes on a more social orientation, with a large cast of characters and clearer, epic narrative lines. The themes of modernity are still his preoccupation: restlessness, progress, the new spirit of the age. Traditional ways of life and values are in decline. People sever their roots, flock to the towns and fill their lives with useless learning and tinned food.

Existential and social problems are brought together in Hamsun’s critique of civilisation. Behind the glamorous façade of modern life he searches for a way of life that is both truer and more authentic. But his critique of modern society is ambivalent. Like Hamsun himself, the characters in his novels are also fascinated by the dynamism of modern life.