In 1917 John Landquist, swedish psychologist und literary scientist, published "Knut Hamsun. En studie över en nordisk romantisk diktare."

But this was not the first biography on Hamsun, if we look to Germany Kurt Rotermund wrote already 1907 a biography on Hamsun, I was unfortunately not yet able to find it, but I have the next from 1910 by Carl Morburger, and since then there is an infinite number of articles and papers on Hamsun, though the number of biographies is still limited. One thing I realized fast was, that it is impossible to put Hamsun in a small box, to ascribe him a certain position or viewpoint, though many still try. There are so many layers in his works and in his life, maybe this is the reason we are so fascinated by him still:

" Hr. John Landquist. Hamarøy 26.02.1917

I thank you for a genuine surprice you have made me. I don't know if you are on my side or against me, it does not matter, but it was a surprice. Literature means little to me now, I have been a farmer for many years, but now I have to give up the farm as I am so neurastenic.
For the time being I am not able to read your book, but I will write you later if you wish, now I am too weak...."

SUMMER-MELBU JULY 2007

There is always something exiting about coming to a new place. One looks around, how does it look like here, the houses the colours, the trees and the mountains they start telling their stories whispering and one starts to listen, to sense the spirit of the place. The mountains rise majestically behind us, reflecting themselves in the sea, where the ferry is being filled with tourists and locals. The clouds sail across the sky, they cannot take a decision whether to disappear again or to sprikle some rain over Summer-Melbu!

With many expectation I had reached "Skagen", well for a Dane it brings up pictures of a town furthest north in Denmark, with pittoresque houses, painters and a church buried under the sand. Here it is the local airport, where I had arrived to participate in the literary seminar during the festival Summer-Melbu with the theme: "To write a life... the biography as a genre".

"Metal rusts and desintegrate, stone crumble to dust, royal gowns are eaten by moths, but after four centuries a printed page is as clean, fresh and readable as when it was new." F.W. MacDonald

Not only the literary seminar but the entire programme looked extremely exiting, a string of pearls of events was offered, something to satisfy every taste and every age: Concerts, exhibitions, kids programmes, fish restaurant with newly landed fish, cafe Ylajali.

Fortunately the threathening rain kept away and let the sun take over the garden party at Melbu mansion. Young and old crowded to enjoy the party with coffee, tea, coke, water ,huge amount of waffles and rømmegrød - a norwegian type of porridge, which I kept a secure distance to.

The Melbu Musical Society played and young guests from Murmansk staged a dance-show for us.

I managed to visit several exhibitions, a couple of concerts at the market, guided tours at Melbu mansion and in the museum, cultural event in the church and not least to enjoy the good feeling when I strolled through the town and chatted with happy and enthusiatic people, especially at the exhibitions, where art makes you talk about what one sees and experiences.

The literary seminar, my main interest, started with a dinner inspired by literature. A better start one could not wish for, being together with old and new literary friends, an evening where good food, discussions and entertainment came together.

It was a great pleasure to see the library in the community centre completely full. A plaque told, that the building was erected solely by voluntary work. Impressed I sat down and prepared for the day's exiting theme:

How do biographies on Knut Hamsun influence the reader's experince of reading Hamsun's books? Do we need the biographies to understand the works better or are they just disburbing information? Is it possible to distinguish between life and works regarding Hamsun?

Two authors of biographies, Ingar Sletten Kolloen and Jørgen Haugan, and Knut Jarl Michelsen, author of a thesis on biographical representations of the young Knut Hamsun, looked on the relation between life and works of Hamsun.

Is the increasing use of auto-biographic episodes by authors of fiction just "narcisistic egomania"? Or could it be that the ambitious epic work would turn out more simple that a so-called personal tale? We are doing a follow-up of the debates from last years extremely self-fixated book publishings. With us are Vigdis Hjort, Ragnar Hovland and Enel Melberg

Professor Arne Melberg, lecturer of literary science at the University of Oslo, looked at the biography as genre.

The two days of literature started beautifully with music to get into the right mood.

Eagerly I seated myself together with other literature enthusiasts, looking forward to be guided into the most different thoughts and considerations around "To write a life".

Professer Arne Melberg from UIO started the seminar with the topic:

"To create one's own life - from autobiography to blogg"

We got an interesting introduction to the history of autobiography, which had it's breakthrough in France with Mogtaigne during the 16. century and up till today. We focussed on different subjects like how to describe oneself in the first place, there is always another truth behind the truth, one will never finish a description of oneself!

Ragnar Hovland, Enel Melberg and Vigdis Hjort:

"The author's use of autobiographical episodes in his books"


It became an exiting morning with episodes of events and experiences that had made the writers become writers. Also experiences in life that had made them include autobiographical moments in their writing. As Vigdis Hjort put it: Many cards are laid on the table, but not all are laid face-up!

The bookbath - norwegian for a literary interview - later at Cafe Ylajali, where Frank A. jensen, also a writer, interviewed the three authors, became a perfect continuation of the exiting theme.

At 9 pm in the bright evening, with a trace of rain in the air, we set out on a bus for the old trade centre of Jennestad, today owned by Kåre Bjørn Kongsnes.

A beautiful restored house filled with art, one of the rooms dedicated to Knut Hamsun, with portraits, drawings, books: an incredible collection. Here I could have spent hours! Kåre Bjørn Kongsnes not only served champagne and many small delicacies, he also gave a talk on "Hamsun in figurative art" and a talented young lady played pieces for flute for us.

And then it was midnight and the sun peeped through the clouds and laid an enchanted light over this beautiful place. Down at the quay the old trade post stood as in Hamsun's days, I thought I heard Pan playing his flute in the garden and sensed the shadow of Knut Hamsun behind the counter, pencil behind one ear!

"The night had started not to fall, the sun barely dipped it's dish into the ocean and emerged again, red, rejuvenated, as though it had been down to drink." (PAN)

The trip back in the bus with the mountains reflecting in the sea was exeptional. The nature here is just so incredibly intense and beautiful.

The seminar continued the day after with focus on Hamsun.

Now the rain had started, the sun just showed itself for a moment to play with our senses and then we met in a warm community around Hamsun's poetry.

"Hamsun - the relation between life and works":

Jørgen Haugan gave us a lecture on his lifelong struggle with Hamsun, and on his difficulties in finalizing his biography.

Jørgen documented by several examples, how exactly the biography offers the best method to approach Hamsun, to understand the relations existing in Hamsun's life and in his writing.

Ingar Sletten Kolloen stressed the point, how difficult it is to describe a person, how important it thereby is to know the complete works and to understand the epoque in which they were written. He also mentioned, that his biography is now translated into 8 languages.

Knut Jarl Michelsen lectured on the numerous myths, that has been born around Hamsun and how former biographers carried them on without any source-analysis.

It was incredibly exiting hours around "Hamsun", many myths were analysed and new facts made me just a little bit wiser on this fascinating and complicated writer.

All the exiting lectures is one thing, but all the discussions in the breaks and afterwards over a splendid dinner are so rewarding and the view from the windows is just breath-taking for a person born in a country where the highest peak is 178 meters. It is just so beautiful up here.

There are innumerable viewpoints on Hamsun. I am sure of one thing: One will never get to know him completely. As I read somewhere: Every time one thinks, that now Hamsun is understood, he has allready walked past you.

To understand Hamsun is like mountaineering, there is always just one more peak to climb.


With time the whispering of the town has become more audible to me, the town has emerged little by little, has become like an old acquintance. Yes, here I would like to return to.

Many, many thanks to the Academy of Nordland in collaboration with the Hamsun-Centre and to all the people that made the trip to Melbu to such a warm experience, I look forward to return.

Kirsten Hedvig Rasmussen

Well, if one is infected by the Hamsun bacillus it is not easy to be cured, but it is allright to be less infected than I.


© Kirsten Hedvig Rasmussen www.hamsun.at