Growth of the Soil

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Growth of the Soil
Growth of the Soil.jpg
Author Knut Hamsun
Original title Markens Grøde
Country Norway
Genre Fiction
Set in Norway
Publication date
1917
Awards Nobel Prize for Literature
ISBN 9780143105107 (multiple exist)
OCLC 1835845
839.8/2/3/6

Growth of the soil (Norwegian Markens Grøde), was a novel by Knut Hamsun which won him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. It follows the story of a man who settles and lives in rural Norway. First published in 1917, it has since been translated from Norwegian into languages such as English. The novel was written in the popular style of Norwegian new realism, a movement dominating the early 20th century. The novel exemplified Hamsun's aversion to modernity and inclination towards primivitism and the agrarian lifestyle.[1] The novel employed literary techniques new to the time such as stream of consciousness. Hamsun tended to stress the relationship between his characters and the natural environment. Growth of the Soil portrays the protagonist (Isak) and his family as awed by modernity, yet at times, they come into conflict with it. The novel contains two sections entitled Book One and Book Two. The first book focuses almost solely on the story of Isak and his family and the second book starts of by following the plight of Axel and ends mainly focusing on Isak's family.

Plot[edit]

Book One[edit]

The novel begins by following the story of Isak, a Norwegian man, who finally settled upon a patch of land which he deemed fit for farming. He began creating earthen sheds in which he housed several goats obtained from the village yonder. Isak asked passing by Lapps, nomadic indigenous people, to tell women that he is in need of help on his farm. Eventually, a “big, brown-eyed girl, full-built and coarse” with a harelip[a] named Inger, arrived at the house and eventually settled in. Inger had her first child which was a son named Eleseus. She then had another son named Sivert.

The Lensmand[b] Geissler came by their farm one day informing them that they were on States land and assisting them in purchasing it. They named the farm Sellanraa. Soon after, Geissler was discharged from his position as Lensmand after a sharp reprimand from his superior and was subsequently replaced with Lensmand Heyerdahl. One day while Isak had left the farm to sell a bull in the village, Inger gave birth to a child and had killed it upon seeing that it had a harelip and would undergo the inevitable suffering in life she herself had experienced. One day, Oline, Inger’s relative, visited the farm and figured out that Inger had killed a child. The news of the infanticide now spreading. One October day, the Lensmand and a man showed up at their doorstep to investigate and find evidence pertaining to the crime. Oline had agreed to serve at the farm while Inger was serving her eight-year sentence in prison.

Geissler returned one day, interested in prospective copper mining grounds near Sellanraa. Apparently, Geissler didn’t come to the farm just for the ore, but also intended on planning to have Inger released from prison as soon as possible.

Brede Olsen, the Lensmand’s assistance had now settled on the land halfway between Sellanraa and the village. The farm of his was named Breidablik. One day, people came out to mark the route for a telegraph line that was to run near Isak’s farm. Meanwhile, Inger had given birth to another baby girl, Leopoldine, at the prison. The following day, Geissler returned to Sellanraa. He first addressed the matter of the copper tract. He purchased the land for 200 daler from Isak, money unheard of to him until this day! Geissler also spoke of Inger and how he submitted a report to the King and the Governor regarding the case asking for her release. Inger was to be released early. Isak was stupefied of the generosity of Geissler.

Isak drove down to the village to meet Inger. Great changes had occurred while Inger was away. No longer had she the harelip but merely a scar on her face. And now she was with the daughter Isak had not yet met, Leopoldine. When one of the telegraph engineers stopped at Isak’s house, a job was offered to Eleseus to work under his care in the village. Eleseus went to work in town.

A new settler arrived in between Sellanraa and Breidablik, his name was Axel Ström. He named his farm Maaneland. Axel Ström was offered by Brede to have his daughter Barbro assist him at his place.

Inger once again gave birth to a daughter named Rebecca. When Oline arrived one day, she told the family that Uncle Sivert, the one who Sivert was named after, had fallen terribly ill. It was agreed upon that Sivert was to inherit the big fortune which his uncle was to leave behind. Eventually, Uncle Sivert died and later, the fortune was to be determined.

Geissler and a few prospective mining buyers arrived at the farm by horse one day. Geissler acted as Isak’s advocate and sold the section of Isak’s land for four thousand Kroner. Isak marvels at how much Geissler has assisted him in making money.

News arrived that Breidablik was going to be sold. The real reason Brede was selling his place was because there were some money issues associated with the banks and stores at the village, but they made it seem as though he was selling the place on his own freewill in order to avoid disgrace.

The last part of Book One tells of Isak obtaining another wonder for his farm, this time, a mowing machine. He attempts to assemble it but fails and requires Eleseus’ reading skills to help him fix it. People from all over assemble to witness this luxury in use.

Book Two[edit]

After the officials went through the financial books, it was discovered to the shock of the family that Uncle Sivert had nothing left of his fortune.

Isak went to the auction of Breidablik. Axel, to the surprise of everyone, had purchased the farm. When asked, he said that he was buying it on someone else’s behalf. Meanwhile, Eleseus had left the farm and headed back to town for a job which was no longer available for him.

On the third of September, Axel could not find Barbro anywhere. He searched around and eventually finds her on the banks of a stream. He wonders what has happened the child Barbro was pregnant with. According to her, she had been near the stream collecting juniper twigs for cleaning buckets when suddenly, she slipped into the river at the same time she was to give birth. It was too late as the baby had already succumbed to drowning. Axel went to look for the infant and found it under a heap of moss and twigs wrapped in a cloth. He ran home for a shovel to bury the body properly. Axel and Barbro argued as she continued to claim that the baby drowned when she accidentally slipped into the water. Barbro, in the heat of the argument, confessed that she had once killed another baby and threw it off a boat. That winter, Barbro went to the village to visit the dentist. Axel had no faith in her returning and as he predicted, she had gone to Bergen, another large city, to stay.

One day, Axel was going out to the forest to fell some trees when he sees Brede going up the hill, most likely on an errand to fix something relating to the telegraph line. Axel started chopping down a tree when suddenly, his foot slipped into a cleft in a stone and the tree came crashing down on him. There was a blizzard that day and night was setting in. Axel struggled for hours trying to free himself but wasn’t able to reach for the axe lying on the ground to cut his way out. Axel yelled to Brede hoping that he would be returning from his errand soon. Surely enough, after a few hours, Brede came by but simply ignored him pretending that he was unaware of the situation. He walked on and left Axel to die. When all hope was lost, Oline found Axel. She freed him and helped him return home. On their way back, they encountered Brede who claimed that when he encountered Axel on the ground, he showed no signs of needing help or that anything was wrong.

Next day, the news reported that there was a new settler arriving below Maaneland. He was apparently very rich and was going to open a store at the location. His name was Aronson and he called his place Storborg. Spring arrived and engineers and workmen from Sweden began work on the mine. Storborg was prospering with all of these workers buying things at his trading post. The work on the mine continues but there was news that the yield of ore was not as good as promised. As expected, the commotion at the mine started to subside and workers were being dismissed. Now that the mine had been deemed fruitless, the engineer wanted to purchase the land south of the water owned by Geissler. Geissler anticipated that this would happen and so he offered the land at an exorbitant price showing that he had nothing to lose if they didn’t want to buy it.

Eventually, the ordeal with Barbro was discovered and she was arrested in Bergen, the village where she was staying. Now the time had come for Barbro and Axel’s trial to take place. Amazingly, the Lensmand’s wife, Fru Heyerdahl, had stepped up for Barbro by giving a great, eloquent speech that moved everyone. The jury was obviously affected by this speech and Barbro and Axel were fully pardoned. Fru had then gotten Barbro to come work for her.

Meanwhile, Aronsen was furious that Geissler was refusing to sell his tract of land to the mining company. His trading business depended on a lot of foot traffic but since there was no more, there were no more customers. Geissler was taking revenge on the village for removing him as Lensmand. The entire fate and economy of the district hinged on whether he would sell the land. Eventually, Aronsen, not able to handle it anymore, sold his place to Eleseus who decided that he become a farmer. Geissler had finally sold his land and the mine was operational again. Later, Aronsen returned to buy back the farm from Eleseus but to no avail.

Barbro was evicted from Fru Heyerdahl’s house after an argument in which Fru discovered that Barbro was often sneaking out to celebrations when she was supposed to be working. Fru was outraged that this was what she got after saving Barbro from the clutches of the law. Barbro daringly returned to Axel but unfortunately, Oline had taken her place in the household while she was away. Oline really doesn’t want to leave the place and asked Axel to call for the doctor as she wasn’t feeling well one night. She criticizes them for trying to evict such a poor, ill woman. Oline had died that night.

When Eleseus returned home, he talked privately with Sivert telling him his big plans - he was going to start a new life in America. Sivert was shocked and advised his brother not to go but seeing that this was futile, he gave him 25 kroner for his journey. Eleseus left that day on a boat and never came back. What was once barren land is now rich of settlers, all started from the one pioneer Isak.

Characters[edit]

Isak[edit]

Isak, the protagonist of the novel, is described as a "strong, course fellow, with a red iron beard, and little scars on face and hands". He is the first settler on the Almenning[c] near the village. He is the husband of Inger and father of Eleseus, Sivert, Leopoldine, and Rebecca. The character of Isak conforms to Hamsun's ideal individual: hard working, with a large family, and averted to modernity but rather finding roots with the agrarian lifestyle. Isak is often portrayed as very simple. He has no education and is unable to read well or write. Isak is a pioneer of the land, starting a farm and family from virtually nothing, a trait which Hamsun admired in individuals. There are several moments when Hamsun reveals Isak's crude and violent side, such as when he slams his wife Inger to the floor when he sees her flirting with a telegraph worker. Isak is admired by many, his farm is very developed compared to his neighbors. He has many sheds, fancy tools such as gift from Geissler and a mining operator, good land, an advanced irrigation system, and more things which gains him the admiration of many.

Inger[edit]

Inger is the wife of Isak described as being "a big, brown-eyed girl, full built and coarse, with good, heavy hands, and rough hide brogues on her feet as if she had been a Lapp..." She is the mother of Eleseus, Sivert, Leopoldine, and Rebecca and another child whom she had killed. Inger had a harelip until it was surgically repaired when she was in prison serving her sentence for committing infanticide. After the birth of her two boys: Eleseus and Sivert, she bore a daughter who had also had a harelip. Knowing how tough her life would be, she killed it. People soon realized that something had happened to her pregnancy and the body of the child was discovered buried in the forest. She was sentenced to eight years in prison out of a maximum sentence of life. While in prison, Inger had a positive experience. She learned how to knit, do various needlework, read, write, and do other things. Hamsun described Inger as being quite ugly, unrefined, and unintelligent. She is always amazed at everything which Isak does. Whenever he purchases something at the village, Inger marvels at it. After her time at the prison though, she had experience some modernity and no longer was as awed by the things which Isak did.

Isak's Children[edit]

Isak had four children: Eleseus, Sivert, Leopoldine, and Rebecca. There was also one child that was killed just after birth by Inger. The eldest child is a boy named Eleseus. He represents the intellectual of the family. Eleseus was offered a job in the village by a man where he learned many academic skills which are foreign to the rest of his family. His parents frequently sent him money which he would spend frivolously thus angering them. Upon returning home for a vacation, his position at his former job was lost. While staying at the farm again, it is evident that Eleseus is weak compared to his brother and isn't a physical worker. After much consideration, Eleseus purchased Aronsens' home with Isak's money. He stayed for a while but after realizing that he no longer wanted that lifestyle, set of to America never to be seen again. Sivert, the second eldest son, is a strong, hard-working, person. He is more similar to his father in terms of strength. Sivert is named after his uncle who when died, was supposed to leave him most of his fortune which was expected to be a large amount. Unfortunately after his death, the total sum left from his uncle amounted to near nothing. Leopoldine is one of the daughters which Inger bore while she was serving her prison sentence for committing infanticide. Rebecca is the youngest daughter which was born afterwards.

Geissler[edit]

Geissler is the ex-Lensmand of the village. He was a great friend of Isak and helped him sell his land, release Inger from prison, and give advice on selling the mine. Geissler was replaced by Lensmand Heyerdahl after a sharp reprimand from his superior. Isak admired Geissler and was always excited when he came by. Geissler would often be doing big business with other people and travelling but towards the end of the novel, he was seemingly becoming worn out and out of health.

Isak's neighbours[edit]

Isak's neighbours are Brede Olsen, Aronsen, Axel Strom and Barbro. The first neighbour to settle near Isak was Brede Olsen of the farm Breidablik. He was scatterbrained and unable to look after a farm properly. Evidence of neglect of Brede's tools were seen as Isak passed used to by his farm to go to the village. Brede's place was eventually sold because of outstanding charges with the banks in the villages. They allowed Brede to make it seem like he was selling Breidablik out of his own will to avoid unnecessary embarrassment. Breidablik was purchased by Axel Strom who bought it for his brother. Axel Strom was the owner of Maaneland. He was not proficient at farming as Isak was but received help from Barbro, Brede's daughter, who went to work for him. Aronsen was another very rich settler who set up a store in order to make profit from the many miners who would be in the area working on the mine near Sellanraa (Isak's farm). His place was named Storborg. Seeing that there was no more business as they were leaving due to a failure of yield, Aronsen sold his place to Eleseus, Isak's son.

Major themes[edit]

Hamsun's protagonists were often outcasts and vagabonds that opposed civilization, industrialization, and modernisation. These rootless individuals who distrusted organized society were a reflection of Hamsun himself. The novel “Growth of the Soil” expresses back-to-nature, old-school philosophies, and peasant life. His works set simple agrarian values against those of industrial society, showing a deep aversion to civilization proving that people’s fulfillment lies with the soil. The novel showed Hamsun’s favour of primitivism and aversion to modernity. He opposed naturalism and realism and wanted “modern literature to represent the complex intricacies of human mind”. Hamsun believed that the true nature of an individual could only be revealed through a subjective and irrational approach. Hamsun’s political beliefs and ideologies were often expressed in his books, especially Growth of the Soil.[2]

The character Isak conforms to Hamsun's vision of an ideal individual. He has little connection with industrialized society or modernity, and when he does, it usually is in a negative light. For example, when he was informed that he was needing to purchase the farms land from the State, Isak was confused as this had never crossed his mind. Luckily for him, the cost was mild thanks to Lensmand Geissler's generosity. Isak was a pioneer of the soil, he started with nothing and built a great farm out of it. The theme of hard work yielding results was evident throughout the book with Isak as an example.[3]

Style[edit]

The novel Growth of the Soil is written in the style of Norwegian new realism, a literary movement which was used in Hamsun's later novels. This style was common during the first half of the 20th century in Norwegian literature. Hamsun utilized techniques fairly new to the time such as stream of consciousness or interior monologue. This method gives the reader insight into what the character is thinking.[4]

Reception[edit]

Growth of the Soil is regarded as a historical classic. It has acclaimed by many and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. On Goodreads, the book has received very positive reviews with an average of 4.24 stars out of five. Hamsun's support of the German occupation of Norway has drawn a lot controversy and many refuse to acknowledge his success as a writer in lieu of that. William Worster, in an afterword to his 1920 translation of Growth of the Soil, describes the novel as follows:

Film adaptation[edit]

Markens grøde is a 1921 Norwegian silent film based on Hamsun's Growth of the Soil by the Norrøna Film company. It was directed by Gunnar Sommerfeldt who also wrote the script and played the role of Lensmand Geissler. The film is 117 minutes long and costed about 240,000 kroner to make, a very considerable sum of money at the time. It was filmed at Rana, Norway. The film cast stars Amund Rydland as Isak, Karen Poulsen as Inger, Ragna Wettergreen as Oline (Inger's relative), and Gunnar Sommerfeldt as Geissler. The chief photographer was George Schnéevoigt.[6][7]

Nobel Prize[edit]

The novel Growth of the Soil was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. This is Hamsun's speech at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, December 10, 1920 translated to English.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The archaic term for a cleft lip
  2. ^ An official in charge of a certain jurisdiction
  3. ^ Not explicitly explained in the novel, the Almenning is presumed to be the large region where between Isak's farm and the village where many people were settling

References[edit]

  1. ^ Zagar, Monika (2009). Knut Hamsun: The Dark Side of Literary Brilliance. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295989459. 
  2. ^ "Knut Hamsun - Biographical". Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 15 Apr 2016. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1920/hamsun-bio.html>
  3. ^ " Knut Hamsun." 2012. FamousAuthors.org 15 April, http://www.famousauthors.org/knut-hamsun
  4. ^ " Knut Hamsun." 2012. FamousAuthors.org 15 April, http://www.famousauthors.org/knut-hamsun
  5. ^ Worster, W.J. "Knut Hamsun".
  6. ^ "Markens grøde". IMBD. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  7. ^ "Markens grøde". Filmarkivet. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  8. ^ "Knut Hamsun - Banquet Speech". Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB. Retrieved 27 March 2016. 

External links[edit]