Knut Hamsun: The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance

Bernard Porter writes:

If Knut Hamsun is remembered at all in Britain – he never really caught on here – it is as the Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian writer who became a Nazi, and a betrayer of his country during the Second World War. For the majority of his compatriots, suffering under the German occupation and yet still, many of them, courageously resisting it, this fall from national hero to traitor was hard to fathom, and even harder to stomach. Ways were found around it. It was attributed to senility: Hamsun was 80 in 1939. Isolated during the war years, and profoundly deaf, he simply didn’t realise what Nazism was like. Some blamed his second wife, Marie, who was certainly more active in Nasjonal Samling (i.e. Nazi) circles than he was. Or maybe it was in part a pretence; a guise he assumed to enable him to use his influence to save at least some resisters from execution.

(LRB 27 May 2010)