Page 73 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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MAZOR/S.Y. AGNON AND KNUT HAMSON
6 5
early prose writings (first in Germany and later in Eastern
Europe, and especially in Russia), they faced a lapse in the literary
tradition of prose fiction which ordinarily serves a stimulating
source of inspiration.
This search for literary sources of inspiration was highly con­
scious and well directed. Hebrew authors looked to prominent
European writers whose creations were aesthetically and ideolog­
ically suited to the trends and spirit of the evolving Hebrew fic­
tion. As they read the works of Ibsen, Strindberg, Bj0rnson and
others (in German translation) they felt a strong sense of kinship
with them.
Hebrew fiction between the end of the 19th and the beginning
of the 20th century was created in a Jewish world of twilight in
which the old was collapsing and the new was still unsteady and
unsure. The religious tradition was in crisis as a result of the
enlightenment, and the secular answer was still vague. An old
worldview had been shattered before a new one could be formu­
lated. Therefo re , the self-contradicting internal worlds po r­
trayed by the Scandinavian writers, the agonizing choices which
their fictional characters were forced to make, and the bleak
atmosphere in which they were doomed to act, echoed the inter­
nal turmoil of the Jewish writers and their heroes as well. These
facts, coupled with the eagerness of the Hebrew authors to be
inspired by influential sources in order to compensate for the
lack of a fictional tradition, made the adoption of Scandinavian
themes, ideas and patterns only natural. It was only a question of
time before the Hebrew writers would turn to the writings of
Knut Hamsun.
HAMSUN ’S CHARACTERS
The Hamsunian hero is depicted as an everlastingly-rejected
outsider whose mind is troubled and whose interior world is torn
by agonizing self-contradiction. This is especially the case in
Hamsun’s impressionistic novels
Hunger
(in Norwegian,
Suit),
Pan, Mysteries
(in Norwegian,
Mysterier),
and
Victoria.
In these nov­
els the Hamsunian hero is alien to society and fails to find a pro­
tective shelter in his own world. Thus, he can be seen as a Scandi­
navian version of the Jewish hero who is beset by crisis in the
confusing Jewish world.
Hamsun was a natural source of inspiration to several Hebrew