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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Knut Hamsun

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To purchase Victoria

Title: Victoria
Author: Knut Hamsun
Genre: Novel
Written: 1898 (Eng. 1969)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Victoria - US
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  • Norwegian title: Victoria
  • Translated by Oliver Stallybrass
  • Also translated by Arthur G. Chater (1923) and Sverre Lyngstad (2005)

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Our Assessment:

A- : shadowily effervescent, veering close to melodrama, but it works

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books . 24/3/1972 D.J. Enright
Sunday Times . 3/4/1988 .
TLS . 8/11/1974 Alasdair Maclean

  From the Reviews:
  • "Oliver Stallybrass's sensitive translation preserves the delicate ache of the original Norwegian text." - Sunday Times

  • "There is enough melodrama here to make the plot sound summary absurd,. But this would also be true of most fairy stories and Hamsun is not after realism. (...) In my view, Hamsun has responded with hackneyed treatment to the challenge of hackneyed material." - Alasdair Maclean, Times Literary Supplement


Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Victoria is, in summary, a simple and largely fairly familiar story: as a youth a miller's son, Johannes Møller, falls in love with the daughter of the local grandee, Victoria, one of the children from 'the Castle'. Victoria's father gets deeper and deeper in financial difficulties, and ultimately the only hope for the family is to marry off Victoria to Otto, who comes with the promise of wealth "beyond reckoning". Victoria goes along with the plan out of a sense of obligation, but in fact she has also always been in love with Johannes. Over the years, some of what separates them falls by the wayside, but other barriers remain and arise; there is no happy end, only final tragedy.
       At one point Victoria tells Johannes: "there are so many things separating us", and this remains the case throughout. Rarely are they able to steal private moments together; usually, their different stations and circumstances keep them apart. The novel opens when Johannes is fourteen and Victoria just ten -- and here already it is Otto, slightly older than Johannes, who literally sweeps the young girl off her feet in front of him, carrying her ashore rather than letting Johannes do so when they take a boat outing.
       The novel moves ahead years at a time, with Johannes eventually moving to the big city. He becomes a writer -- a successful writer, even. Occasionally he sees Victoria again, their paths repeatedly crossing -- in part also because they want to seek each other out, even as they do so only warily, overwhelmed by a sense of the impossibility of their ever being together.
       At points they go out of their way to avoid each other, too, worried about the possible confrontations. But they also reveal their true feelings to one another -- Johannes telling her that even all the time he was apart from her:

Of all the people I have ever seen or heard of there was no one in the world but you.
       Victoria loves him too, but is burdened by her sense of duty to her family. She vacillates, unable to let go, yet unable to commit, either. And when circumstances might allow her to choose differently, suddenly it is Johannes who is in a situation that prevents him from following his heart.
       Victoria is presented almost as a sequence of sketches, covering some fifteen years, skipping from one time to the next. It is not a typical tale of lovers separated largely by social standing, as Johannes' success as a writer means he is a modern man who has risen in the world; it is only when he is an adult that: "For the first time in his life he entered the Castle door", not just a childhood playmate of Victoria and her brother, but welcomed there as: "a great man". Yet that initial huge gap -- made all the clearer in the opening section, where it is a child that the young Johannes is in love with, a ten-year-old that is similarly an impossible love-object -- seems to always overshadow even their later interactions.
       Hamsun indulges in full-fledged flights of reverie -- adding to the melodramatic feel of the story, but appropriate to it too. His descriptions of the author at work, or Johannes' ramblings on the streets and in the countryside are marvelous. So too are the simpler touches, as when Johannes meets Victoria again after his first forays from under the shadows of the Castle:
     "Ditlef tells me how splendidly you're doing, Johannes. You always do so well in your exams. And he tells me you write poetry. Is that true ?"
     He squirmed and answered curtly: "Of course. Everybody does."
       Victoria and Johannes' interactions with one another over the years also add to the melodrama-feel, as they sometimes pout and also ignore eaach other on some occasions when they shouldn't. Yet they also admit to their passion -- letting it seethe even as circumstances around them largely prevent them from acting on it. Other melodramatic elements -- some horrific deaths, Johannes' rescue of a young girl -- make for a very vivid work, too, one that seems far more substantial than its barely 150 pages would suggest.
       It's a bizarre, rapturous little tale, and yet in the telling a completely captivating one. Even as so much here seems conventional, it is inventive and even daring in its exposition. Yes, Hamsun ultimately does take the easy way out in his conclusion, but even so, Victoria is a powerful romantic story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 October 2014

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Victoria: Reviews: Knut Hamsun: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) was the 1920 Nobel laureate.

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© 2014 the complete review

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