Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Into the romance of the Peasant-Poet and the Princess, Hamsun has interwoven many stories and anecdotes about love, ostensibly the writings and musings of Johannes. One story tells of two mothers, one dressed in black, the other in cheerful blue. The one wears mourning clothes because one of her three daughters died. Yet she died ten years ago, and still the mother grieves. The one in blue is having an affair. Her husband pretends not to know, stoically and considerately spending evenings at his club. One night, he comes home early to let his wife know that he knows, jealously seizes her, and proposes that they give “a pair of horns” to the man who just left. She screams and calls the maid. He recovers himself. The next morning, their farce is resumed; she is concerned for his health and the “extraordinary attack” of the previous night; he agrees, adding that “it takes it out of one to be witty at my age. I’ll never do it again.”

Another story tells of the rapture of a love strong enough to endure until death. A lord and his lady are growing old, having been happily married for many years. When the proud lord falls ill and loses all of his hair, he assumes that his wife’s love must be diminished. She cuts off “all her yellow hair, to be like her husband whom she loved.” Much later, the Lady is paralyzed; believing her helplessness and emaciation must prevent her husband from loving her any longer, she says she would gladly die. He vows that he loves her more, that she is more beautiful to him now than in her youth. He disfigures himself with acid. Such stories, of faithfulness and adultery, of altruism, grief, jealousy, and passion, expand Hamsun’s theme of love.