Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Star-crossed lovers


There are some books that have a lasting impact on one’s life, books that leave an indelible mark on one’s deepest emotions. For me there are a number, but Victoria by Knut Hamsun occupies a special place as the most captivating and heart-breaking love story ever written. I read it in my mid-teens, in the full flood of my most romantic period.

It’s a short novel; I finished it in less than two hours in a single sitting, overwhelmed by the poetic intensity of the prose, overwhelmed by the story of Victoria and Johannes, two people put on earth to love one another. They do, but there is no happy ending; events, social class, expectations, a sense of duty and circumstances all get in the way. It’s a story of love only fully declared in death, only fully revealed in an ending that absolutely numbed me, reduced me to uncontrollable tears.

I’ve now read it again, though I never thought I would; the first time was painful enough. But it came up in a discussion recently, so I decided to take the risk, if risk is the right word, with the aim of refreshing my memory and adding this appreciation.

I did not recapture the same raw emotions, knowing what was to happen, knowing the course plotted by fate and the writer. Besides, I’m older, a little more controlled, not quite so ready to give over to same teenage passions. Well…that’s not entirely true. There may not have been the same quantity of tears, but there were tears, terrible sadness over beautiful and frustrated love.

If you know Hamsun’s work you will know just how wonderfully he writes, how lyrical and poetic his prose. There are some passages that just leap out, memorable and brief. Here are a few of my favourites;

The days came and went: mild, lovely days filled with the bliss of solitude and with sweet memories of childhood – a renewed call to the earth and the sky, the air and the hills.

If she only knew that all his poems had been written to her and no one else, every single one, even the one to Night, even the one to the Spirit of the Swamp. But that was something she would never know.

What, then, is love? A wind whispering among the roses – no, a yellow phosphorescence in the blood. A danse macabre in which even the oldest and frailest hearts are obliged to join. It is like the marguerite which opens wide as night draws on, and like the anemone which closes at a breath and dies at a touch. Such is love.

…it is strange to think that all I’ve ever managed to do was to come in to the world and love you and now say goodbye to life.


Their days came and went; they came close, but they never managed to meld; there is too much misunderstanding, too many things left unsaid. So, yes, you’ve probably been here before, you will know the mood – it’s a story of unrequited love, Norwegian echoes of Romeo and Juliet, of Heathcliff and Cathy. In its directness and simplicity Victoria is a peerless story of an imperfectly perfect love, one that will remain with me forever.

28 comments:

  1. I recommended Victoria to my wife. I doubt she'd like Hamsun's other novels, but from your description I think she would this one. He's a very powerful writer with a great poetic style.

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  2. NP, I read it as part of a sequence, beginning with Mysteries. I loved all of his early work, but as I say Victoria has a special place.

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  3. Those Norwegians sure know how to show a girl a good time!

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  4. It's the irony of how much emotional satisfaction can be had from reading of others' misery.

    Here's something to distract: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/books/21margin.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=homepage

    And something to give pause:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704409004576146321725889448.html

    And with that, goodnight!

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  5. And to you, sweet prince. My flights of lovers speed thee to thy dreams. :-)

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  6. Ana, very nice book review.....as you mentioned there is nothing better than reading a superbly well-written literary piece, even when the love story has a sad ending....its esp fascinating when a book's appeal only intensifies over the years....unrequited love makes great romantic literature....some of my fav examples are found in David Copperfield, Gone with the wind.....will have to add this one soon : )

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  7. SB, thanks for your comment; even more thanks for allowing me the opportunity to revisit this book. :-)

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  8. Hi Ana,
    A wonderful book review, I have never read the book, reminds me of "Romeo & Julie" book and movie that I read and watch so many years ago.

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  9. What books have had an impact on my life? You have got me thinking Ana. Perhaps the first was 'A Clockwork Orange' by Anthony Burgess.' Then, a few years later but many decades ago, 'Down & Out in Paris and London' by George Orwell.

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  10. I like Nobel Prizes of literature, recently my country won the prize of 2010 with Mario Vargas Llosa, I have almost all authors of the Nobel, I missing some famous poets and three writers of prose, I have 4 books of Knut Hamsun , I will be in a date with him for sure in the future, but right now for second time I am with the very big story of "War and peace" by teh master Leo Tolstoy and Bram Stoker "Dracula" between others books, I like Stoker from the short story "The burial of the rats" for me a master piece. If you did not read it, I give you in your language: http://www.litgothic.com/Texts/stoker_burial_of_the_rats.pdf
    Greetings and happiness! Mario.

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  11. Nobby, if you go to my archive for December 8 2009 you will find two posts, Ana's Favourite Fictions and Ana's Favourite Non-Fictions. Alternatively go to my Clio the Muse user page on Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Clio_the_Muse

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  12. Mario, which of Hamsun's novels do you have? I read War and Peace a couple of years ago. I now have several collections of short stories by Tolstoy which I hope to begin as soon as I am able - I have so many reading commitments! As for Stoker I've read Dracula and a couple of short stories. I shall have a look at your link and let you know my thoughts in due course. Love, Ana. :-)

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  13. I have Pan, Victoria, Hunger and The Growth of the Soil. Mario.

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  14. Thanks, Mario. I've read Pan and Hunger as well, both excellent. The latter has slight touches of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

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  15. I read "Crime and Punishment" and I like it too much, i think it is a wonderful book, "Hunger" must be great if have some similarity, I think it was the master piece of Hamsun. A hug. Mario.

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  16. Only inasmuch as it deals with a character, like Raskolnikov, living on the margins of existence. There is no central crime, and no Napoleonic complex.

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  17. Hamsun sounds good, i will read him soon if i can because "war and peace" is very long story and I am starting (i am reading more books too), I am reading it slow, it is my second time and I want grab all his magic. Hugs. Mario.

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  18. I'm so confused as to whether or not I should read this book! Based on what you've about it written, I know I will be reduced to ugly uncontrollable sobbing...but it sounds too beautiful to miss out on...what to do, what to do?

    Thanks for the recommendation!

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  19. Mario, you would be amazed by the number of books I have on the go at any one time! I'm a fast reader and I like to slip from subject to subject, from fiction to non-fiction.

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  20. Lauren, if you do please let me know and we can have a mutual sobbing session. :-)

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  21. This sounds beautiful and on the strength of your review I've ordered a copy.

    Thanks!

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  22. Sandie, I do so hope you enjoy it. You must let me know what you think.

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  23. Just stumbled onto your blog from other spheres and thought I'd add a comment: You must like Bronte's Wuthering Heights. In some (many) ways Sergeant Howie and WIllow are star-crossed in WIcker Man even though its just in his eyes and through walls :) Fate always, timing is everything.

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  24. AoF, how wonderfully prescient of you: I think Wuthering Heights a novel of unsurpassed genius, the greatest work of nineteenth century English literature, a point I once made in a debate on Wikipedia. I may say something more about it soon here.

    That's an interesting observation about Willow and Howie, though I see it in a slightly different light, she as the temptress invoking his suppressed sexual lusts. That scene, fascinating as it is, is the one obvious weak spot in the plot of the Wicker Man. What would have happened, I have to ask, to the grand plan if Howie had accepted Willow's invitation?

    Oh, welcome to my blog. :-)

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