Since the death of Ibsen and Strindberg, Hamsun is undoubtedly the
foremost creative writer of the Scandinavian countries. Those
approaching most nearly to his position are probably Selma Lagerlöf in
Sweden and Henrik Pontoppidan in Denmark. Both these, however, seem to
have less than he of that width of outlook, validity of interpretation
and authority of tone that made the greater masters what they were.
His reputation is not confined to his own country or the two
Scandinavian sister nations. It spread long ago over the rest of Europe,
taking deepest roots in Russia, where several editions of his collected
works have already appeared, and where he is spoken of as the equal of
Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. The enthusiasm of this approval is a
characteristic symptom that throws interesting light on Russia as well
as on Hamsun.
Hearing of it, one might expect him to prove a man of the masses, full
of keen social consciousness. Instead, he must be classed as an
individualistic romanticist and a highly subjective aristocrat, whose
foremost passion in life is violent, defiant deviation from everything
average and ordinary. He fears and flouts the dominance of the many, and
his heroes, who are nothing but slightly varied images of himself, are
invariably marked by an originality of speech and action that brings
them close to, if not across, the borderline of the eccentric.
In all the literature known to me, there is no writer who appears more
ruthlessly and fearlessly himself, and the self thus presented to us is
as paradoxical and rebellious as it is poetic and picturesque.