Victoria by Knut Hamsun (1898)

This is a very slim novel, and it tells a story that had been told a great many times over the years – the story of young lovers from different classes, pulled together by love but pulled in different directions by life – but it is so well told and so distinctive that I found it irresistible.

Vitoria and Johannes had always known each other. She was daughter of a wealthy landowner, he was the son of a miller, and their paths crossed whenever Victoria’s family visited their country estate. Johannes would always be called to row the children of the family to the island where they could run, explore, do whatever they wanted.

Johannes wanted to join in their adventures. There were so many things that he could show them in the country side that he loved and knew so well. But they didn’t want him; he was only there to row and to mind the boat. He tried, but every time he tried the boys knocked him back, and so he began to write stories in his head; stories where he was the hero, he saved them from disaster, he won the heart of Victoria.

VictoriaHe knew that Victoria wanted him to be part of the group but that she had to give way to the boys. She didn’t say anything, of course she couldn’t say anything, but he could see it in her eyes and in her demeanour.

Johannes was sent to school in the city and then he only saw Victoria when he came home in the summer, but his love for her never faded.

He loved her, but he could never be sure that she loved him. He continued to write to express his feelings, and in time he would become a very successful author.

Johannes and Victoria met again, and when they spoke they learned that they loved each other.

But their situation was complicated. Victoria’s family’s fortune had faded, and her parent’s future depended on her making an advantageous match.

Would there be a happy ending.

Sometimes I thought yes, and sometimes I thought no.

The love story is beautifully wrought; it rises and it falls and it catches every emotion of these star-crossed lovers quite beautifully. There were times when it felt a little like a fairy story but there were times when it felt wonderfully and painfully real. I saw the influence of older stories in some lovely touches, and there were also touches that made me think of much more modern stories.

The stories that Johannes wrote caught his emotions, and there were times when I wondered which was the story and which – if any – was the reality.

In the end there could be no doubt. For a moment the story faltered, but the ending found the magic that had illuminated this little book again.

I don’t know about the author to put this book into context. I can just say that it is a very readable book, that what is distilled into this novel many authors would have made into a much bigger book, and that I liked it very much.

9 thoughts on “Victoria by Knut Hamsun (1898)

    1. I picked this one up by chance in a charity shop, recognising the author’s name but knowing little edge. When I looked up his other books they didn’t appeal greatly, but now that I’ve read this one and seen a little of what he can do I’m much more interested.

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  1. The only Hamsun I’ve read is “Hunger” which I think is the book he’s probably most remembered for nowadays. But I have this and a couple of others on my shelf so I think I might like to rediscover him soon!

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  2. I mean to read this one as well as The Wanderer. This book sounds similar to the stories I’ve been reading lately by Theodor Storm.

    The Growth of the Soil is a phenomenal novel and one I wish to re-read soon.

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  3. Another new-to-me author! This does sound like a lovely story, and I’m resisting the temptation to rush off and order a copy, especially with such a nice Penguin edition.

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  4. This sounds like a Hamsun novel I would like to read. It sounds wonderful! I’ve shied away from Hamsun in the past, but this little novel seems quite accessible. Thanks for the review, Jane.

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  5. Really? The more I hear about “Victoria” the better it sounds. Like you, I’ve also only read “Hunger” (twice) and I’m strongly drawn to Hamsun, in my opinion he’s a very exceptional writer. I’m basing this view only on one book of his that I’ve read which is a shame, but most of his novels are out of print and second hand copies (I find) are pretty hard to locate up here in Edinburgh. My Norwegian best friend says that “Growth of the Soil” is very good too. Thank you for your review, I feel inspired! Also, just to say that I’ve been reading your blog for a while now (and the one you closed too) and I love it! Hugs 🙂

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    1. It was pure luck that this little book caught my eye in a charity shop, but I’d happily pick up his other work on the strength of it. I’ve yet to spot copies though, new or used. Thank you for your kind words.

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