Alfred Hauge Essay - Critical Essays


Alfred Hauge’s main concern as a writer was to deepen his understanding of the human soul. The philosophical content in his novels is therefore substantial, but that does not mean that his works are removed from the real world. His early books are firmly anchored in the sociological reality that he knew from his own upbringing. The Cleng Peerson trilogy succeeds admirably in re-creating both the Norwegian surroundings of the emigrants and the new world they encountered in America. Perlemorstrand and Leviathan both draw on the author’s intimate knowledge of life in western Norway in the early part of the twentieth century.

The sociological and historical material found in Hauge’s books is, however, subordinate to his real concerns. A religious and existential humanist, Hauge asked both the question of how humans should act toward other human beings and how they should relate to the divine. Above all, Hauge considered how humans can achieve the greatest personal growth through full participation in life. His tentative answers were informed both by his nondogmatic Christian faith and by the results of his self-analysis, which is influenced by Jungian thought. Hauge’s literary works clearly show that his personal quest for understanding was been a strenuous one.

The personal nature of Hauge’s works is reflected in their form. The early novels were written primarily in the third person, but most of his later books were narrated from the first-person point of view. In Cleng Peerson, the narrator is the aged Cleng, who relates the story of his life in terms of a never-ending search for understanding of both self and others. In Mysterium, Perlemorstrand, and Leviathan, the narrator is formally identical with the author. It is, however, in the later novels that Hauge’s innovativenarrative technique most forcefully strikes the reader.

Written during a period of some twenty-five years, the trilogy about Cleng Peerson required considerable research and other formal preparation. Its main theme is the human quest for liberty. Through the story of Cleng’s personal search for understanding, Hauge describes the striving for that personal freedom that comes only as a result of a person being at peace with him- or herself through self-knowledge. Through his portrayal of the emigration movement, Hauge describes people’s search for religious, political, and economic liberty.


In the first volume of the trilogy, Hundevakt (midwatch), Cleng tells the story of his childhood, youth, and early manhood. The book begins with the young child’s attempt to sail to the sun in a small boat. This voyage serves as an illustration of the individual’s search for wholeness; according to Jungian thought, the sun is a symbol of both the integrated self and human unity with the divine. The young Cleng is largely unsuccessful in his quest, however, for he is both a scoundrel among others and a sinner before his God. While basically well-meaning, he is unable to distinguish fact from fiction and often tells tall tales, a practice that has a disastrous effect on his associates.

During the Napoleonic wars, Cleng and a number of other Norwegians spend several years on board British prison ships. Some of them become Quakers, and after their return to Norway they are severely persecuted by the civil and religious authorities. One of their options is to emigrate to America, and although not formally a member of the group, Cleng is sent off as a scout. Upon his return, he characteristically exaggerates the virtues of the new land.

Landkjenning and Ankerfeste

The second volume of the trilogy, Landkjenning (landfall), tells of the trials the emigrants undergo and for which Cleng is to a large extent responsible. This novel and the third one, Ankerfeste (anchorage), tell the story of early Norwegian emigration in both broad outline and significant detail. The economic hardships are shown, but Hauge’s focus is on the emigrants’ striving for religious development. Removed from the authority of the Norwegian State Church, they fall prey to all manner of religious enthusiasms, the most dangerous of which, from Cleng’s point of view at least, seems to be Mormonism. The men and women who join the various sects are all searching for spiritual wholeness. So is Cleng, who even goes as far as to seek it by chemical means.

Through a substance derived from mushrooms, he is initiated into an ancient religious mystery by the Indian chief, Shabbona, and the result is that he finally gains a measure of self-knowledge. While in the altered state of consciousness brought on by the drug, he has a vision of himself sitting on a throne like a god, while a figure who looks like both a medieval fool and a rooster (but who, at the same time, is Cleng himself) is dancing around the throne. Cleng thus learns that throughout his life he has worshiped only himself and that his various attempts at charitable acts have been a part of this self-worship. This is a haunting scene that, slightly varied, returns in Hauge’s next novel, Mysterium.


At the end of the trilogy, Cleng has obtained a modicum of serenity. On the whole, however, his quest for self-knowledge and integration of the personality has failed. Because he did not reach his human potential, he is fundamentally a tragic figure.

Cleng Peerson’s development constitutes a partially failed, partially successful process of individuation that is portrayed against the backdrop of the early Norwegian emigration to America. Theprotagonist in Mysterium also undergoes a process of individuation, but in his case the historical and sociological backdrop is almost entirely lacking. Mysterium therefore strikes some readers as rather abstract.

When the novel was first published, it was particularly the narrative technique that surprised the reviewers. The first-person narrator, who is formally identical with the author, repeatedly addresses the reader, discusses the novel’s characters and their actions “with” him or her, and even invites him or her to finish the work (the last sentence in the book ends with a colon, and the reader is asked to fill in two names). The novel also has little action in the traditional sense. A victim of amnesia named Victor arrives at a place that can be identified as Utstein Monastery in western Norway. There he meets a Greek professor of archaeology named Hermes Oneiropompos. Victor is searching for his lost memory so that he might know where to find his wife and daughter.

The illusion of reality is completely shattered, however, when Victor and the professor begin exploring some tunnels and...

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