Hamsun love letters up for sale

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More than 100 letters written by and between the late Norwegian author Knut Hamsun and the woman who became his wife are set to be auctioned off to the highest bidder this fall. Hamsun scholars fear they’ll disappear again, and want a law to at least secure copies for research purposes.

Knut Hamsun was one of Norway's most important but most controversial authors. PHOTO: Norsk Folkemuseum

The collection includes 110 letters, telegrams and postcards written in the spring, summer and autumn of 1908, shortly after the already famous Knut Hamsun met the actress Marie Andersen. She was 22 years younger than he was, and one of the letters was written to her father, revealing Hamsun’s intentions.

The letters are full of romance and passion but also show clear signs of Hamsun’s mood swings and jealousy. Experts call them revealing and illuminating.

“This is very interesting material and an important discovery,” Sigbjørn Grindheim of the national library in Norway (Nasjonalbiblioteket) told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “We recognize from before the thematic exchanges between his enormous love and his strong criticism, but not to this magnitude.”

DN reported this week that the entire collection had been stored away in a bank safety deposit box but is now set to be sold at auction by some of Hamsun’s grandchildren. The sale will be handled by Blomqvist Kunsthandel in Oslo, with the collection valued at NOK 3 million (about USD 550,000), since one single letter by Hamsun was sold at auction earlier this year for nearly NOK 40,000.

Blomqvist expects bidders to be museums, libraries and private collectors and Norwegian biographers hope Norway’s own national library will be among the bidders, to preserve the letters as a national treasure and keep them available for research. A spokesperson for the Hamsun Center that opened two years ago on Hamarøy, where Hamsun grew up, told DN that they had no budget for such a purchase.

“This amounts to more than 100 letters that without a doubt are part of the national heritage,” Ingar Sletten Kolloen, who has written two Hamsun biographies, told DN. “They are important for researchers today and in the future.”

The letters, one of them 50 pages long, highlight the intense love affair between Hamsun and Andersen but also some revealing comments about Hamsun’s politics. Hamsun became a controversial figure in Norway because of his German sympathies during World War II, but in one letter he describes a visit to Norway by the British fleet, which he described in positive terms.

The passionate aspects of the letters, though, seem to dominate the collection. “We haven’t earlier known how intense, deep and despairing the romance was between these two,” Kamilla Aslaksen of the Blomqvist auction house told DN. “That’s one of many things this collection reveals.”

On one of the letters, Hamsun signs off as “Farewell for now. Love me, I am yours, I’m kneeling. Yours, always yours, Knut.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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