The greatest authorial voice Northern Norway has ever fostered was a literary genius, but also politically repugnant. A visit to the Hamsun Centre on Hamarøy is an encounter with Knut Hamsun and every aspect of his life and work in a new and innovative form.

Norway’s greatest novelist

No Norwegian novelist has ever scaled the literary heights like Knut Hamsun.no Norwegian author has been translated into as many languages, and none has ever exercised such an influence on world literature as he did. Ernest Hemingway said: “Knut Hamsun taught me how to write”; and Hamsun was also Hermann Hesse’s favourite author. Hamsun’s breakthrough novel, “Hunger”, from 1890 presages the art of modern fiction in the 20th century like no other novel. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920.

A writer from Northern Norway

Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) grew up on the peninsula of Hamarøy in Nordland, and Northern Norway forms the backdrop for most of his novels. In them we meet the rich, powerful merchants like petty kings reigning over a single headland ‒ the ambitious young men in a part of the country developing with enormous rapidity ‒ as well as depictions of class difference and the life of the ordinary man, often with a climax occurring in one of the white summer nights of the far north. Hamsun even let the official national language, the Riksmål that he wrote, overflow with the linguistic riches of Northern Norway, especially in the dialogue. Nevertheless, the conflicts, themes and characters in his fiction are universal and understood all over the world.

Difficult to like?

During the inter-war period, after Knut Hamsun had become a famous author, he shocked the Norwegian and international public alike by supporting the Fascist movements in Europe. In 1935 he opposed the Nobel Peace Prize going to the German pacifist Carl von Ossietsky. He took the side of the German occupation of Norway in 1940, and in 1945 was put on trial for treason in a civil action. Since then, Norwegians have had an ambivalent relationship to Hamsun, and many have found it difficult to distinguish his works of genius as a writer from his support for an inhuman ideology.

Hamsun Centre

Close to the place where Knut Hamsun grew up, is the Hamsun Centre. Rising tall, dark and angular out of a landscape of mountains, forests, fields and fjords, the building is inspired by Hamsun’s own personality and works. It does not seek to harmonise with its surroundings – on the contrary, it is in stark contrast with them. The building’s architect, Steven Holl, who sought inspiration particularly in Hamsun’s novels “Hunger” and “Mysteries”, calls it ”a battlefield for invisible forces”.

Get to know Hamsun

Inside the Hamsun Centre you are drawn into Hamsun’s life and oeuvre through nine themed exhibits that cast light on the writer and his works. There is stuff here for the brain and for the heart, and the exhibits appeal to all the senses. The Hamsun Centre also offers guided tours with literary themes, as well as film shows and lectures. It is situated 15 kilometres from the E6 highway between Fauske/Bodø and Narvik.

www.hamsunsenteret.no is the website of the Hamsun Centre