Sunday 31 October 2010

CBR2 Book 100: "Victoria" by Knut Hamsun

Publisher: Den Norske Bokklubben
Page count: 140 pages
Rating: 1 star
Date begun: October 16th, 2010
Date finished: October 31st, 2010

Johannes is the miller's son, pining for Victoria, daughter of the local estate owner. The book starts when he is 14 and she is 10. A lonely child, Johannes wants to play with the rich children, but is normally only called upon to wait on them and row them around when they have guests from the city visiting. He spends most of his time alone, using his fertile imagination to invent solitary games and adventures.

When he is 18, and returns home from school in the city, he hopes he has finally been noticed by Victoria after he rescues a young girl from drowning, in front of Victoria and her rich friends. But she still seems more taken with Otto, a young soldier and friend of the family, and once again his hopes are dashed.

Johannes goes to university, and becomes a poet and a writer. After publishing several poems, he moves on to novels, all the while dreaming of Victoria. He is aware that they are from different social classes, but pines for her nonetheless. As his literary fame grows, he is accepted into higher layers of society, among them the home of the girl he rescued from drowning. He also sees Victoria again, but she appears to be engaged. Still, one evening, when he walks her home, she professes his love for him.

Knowing that her family would never accept his suit, Johannes writes several angsty romantic novels and moves abroad. When he finally returns, years later, he arrives back in time for Victoria's engagement party to Otto. Victoria's family are in great need of money, Otto's family have lots. Camilla, the girl he rescued is also there, and nearly 18, she is very infatuated with him. The romance between Johannes and Victoria seems more impossible than ever.

Victoria was written by Hamsun in 1898, and is apparently considered not only one of his most popular books, but one of the most beautiful and well known love stories in Norwegian literature. If so, the state of romantic literature in Norway before 1898 and since, is deplorable. While I understand what Hamsun was trying to do with his tragic romance, it is just not very effective. Mainly because Johannes is a total weenie and Victoria is given as much personality as a wet rag.

Why should Hamsun bother infusing the object of Johannes' affection and love with any sort of personality or character? The more important thing is the development of the young man and HIS feelings. Also, the lyrical descriptions of the Norwegian country side, those are important. This is period literature, and as a former lit student, I know I shouldn't be upset that writers who lived a 150 years are misogynistic or write only from the POV of the gender they know.

It's not like Jane Austen writes anything but the female point of view in Pride and Prejudice. But at least there is some substance in her books. In Victoria, the whole romance seems based on the characters interacting a few times when they were kids, then pining a whole lot for each other and constructing elaborate fantasies about the other party, a few short meeting as adults, where they have no chance to get to know each other more closely, a lot of angst from Johannes' side, then the book ends.

I read this mainly because we (the Norwegian teachers at the school where I work) are forcing the 10th graders to read the book so they have a literary classic to analyze for their final exam in the spring. I suspect that most of them are going to find the book both boring and deeply uninteresting, and I can't say that I blame them. This is the second Hamsun novel I have read now, and while his descriptions of the Norwegian nature are stunning, his plotting and so called romances leave a lot to be desired, and I don't know if I will read any more of his books unless forced.


  1. Jeg har en teori om at "Victoria" faktisk kan appelere til romantisk anlagte fjortiser -uforklarlig "kjærlighet ved første blikk", lengsel og motsetninger og tragisk slutt slår gjerne an hos en del i den alderen, og de er ofte ikke så opptatt av detaljer som personlighet og sånt... Jeg leste den i fjor og syntes den var nokså kjedelig og at Johannes var mer nevrotisk og besatt enn en romantisk førsteelsker.

    Hamsun blir nok aldri en favoritt hos meg...

  2. Ja, flere av våre elever (hvor det store flertallet faktisk er idrettselever, og dermed ikke akkurat de som er mest romantiske av seg) ser ut til å like boka, i hvert fall nå når vi begynner å komme litt lengre ut i handlingen, og vi har fått banket det inn i hodene deres at NEI, den er IKKE på nynorsk!

    Men jeg er ikke begeistret.