Knut Pedersen Hamsun
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1920
Born: 4 August 1859, Lom, Norway
Died: 19 February 1952, Grimstad, Norway
Residence at the time of the award: Norway
Prize motivation: “for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil”
Prize share: 1/1
Hamsun grew up in poverty in Gudbrandsdalen in Norway. His breakthrough as a writer came with the novel Sult (1890) (Hunger), considered the first modern novel in Norwegian literature. In his writing he displays an aversion to civilization and a celebration of the simple life attuned to nature. Hamsun’s admiration for Germany led him to sympathize with the Nazi invasion of Norway in 1940. After World War II he was sentenced to loss of his property and put under psychiatric observation for a period.
Usually the Nobel Prize in Literature is attributed to an author’s writings as a whole, not a particular literary work, but in a few cases a specific work is mentioned in the prize motivation. Hamsun was awarded the Nobel Prize for his book Markens Grøde (Growth of the Soil), considered an epic paean to work and the relationship between humanity and nature. While the story’s characters are depicted as living people, Hamsun endows the settlers’ efforts to cultivate the wilderness with heroic qualities in the spirit of the ancient poet Hesiod.