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.