Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Johannes, the miller’s son, later a poet. At the age of fourteen, Johannes is immersed in nature. Birds, trees, and stones are all his friends. Imagination peoples his small realm with dwarfs, giants, kings, and princesses. Emotional and sensitive, he suffers the misery of being the poor boy and servant when Ditlef and Victoria, children from the local manor house, wish to play. Even at the age of fourteen, he adores the ten-year-old Victoria, who enchants him with her pretty appearance and gestures. His love for Victoria inspires him to write a series of successful books of love poems. His success, however, cannot clear away the misunderstandings, doubt, and pride that continue to bar his way to Victoria.


Victoria, the daughter of the master and lady of the castle. At ten years of age, Victoria is irresistible to Johannes, and as she grows older she becomes more lovely, graceful, and slender. Her deep blue eyes and wide, slender brows lure the miller’s son. As her childish affection for Johannes matures, Victoria disguises her love to save her mother. Although the great success of Johannes and the death of Victoria’s wealthy fiancé, Otto, might have freed the two lovers, a lack of frankness prevents their union. Hurt by Victoria’s actions, Johannes proposes to Camilla hours before he learns of Otto’s death. Misperception continues until Victoria’s death, which comes not long after a tubercular attack. Death frees her not to call to him but to write him a letter and admit the depth and constancy of her love.


Camilla, the young child rescued from drowning by Johannes, later his fiancée. Where Victoria is complex, Camilla is simple and childlike. Cheerful, fair, and naïve, she holds no surprises for Johannes. Despite her engagement to Johannes, she falls in love with the uncomplicated and friendly Richmond.


Otto, a chamberlain’s son. Wealthy and thoughtless, the young lieutenant is not someone Victoria can love. His snobbish actions begin in childhood. The evening before he dies in a hunting accident, the jealous Otto strikes Johannes in the eye “by accident.”

Master of the Castle

Master of the Castle, an improvident, party-loving man who allows the manor house to decline. Dependent on his daughter’s good marriage to restore his fortunes, the master destroys himself and the castle by fire when Otto dies.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Despite the novel’s obvious fairy-tale and romantic qualities, Knut Hamsun has given his major characters some roundness and depth. Johannes is much more the poet than the peasant. He is sensitive, introspective, imaginative, and emotionally intense. He is at times brooding and solitary, frequently seeking solace in nature. At another time, he is capable of staying up all night, singing loudly to himself for excess of joy. Unhappily for him, he is also a romantic in his belief that first love is the only true love, that love can conquer all obstacles, and that love means perfecting oneself in order to be worthy of the beloved.

In the beginning, Victoria and Johannes enjoy the easy equality of children, but the world of money and class difference inevitably intrudes more and more. Yet even when it seems that Victoria has entirely rejected him, he still draws his inspiration from her, still struggles to become worthy of her. She is obviously something more than Victoria. She becomes an object of his idealized love, all the more necessary and desirable because she is unavailable.

In one surrealistically repellent dream, he is at the bottom of the sea “in front of a huge doorway.” There he “meets a great barking fish. It has a mane on its back and it barks at him like a dog. Behind the fish stands Victoria. He stretches out his hands to her, she has no clothes on, she laughs to him and a storm blows through her hair.” When he wakes from this forbidding dream, he leaves town and the country, as if in flight from the real, sexual woman. The suggestion is that Victoria, as an unattainable ideal, is in...

(The entire section is 665 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Ferguson, Robert. Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun, 1987.

Gustafson, Alrik. “Man in the Soil,” in Six Scandinavian Novelists, 1940.

Larsen, Hanna Astrup. Knut Hamsun, 1922.

McFarlane, J.W. “The Whisper of the Blood: A Study of Knut Hamsun’s Early Novels,” in PMLA. LXXI (1956), pp. 563-594.

Naess, Harald. Knut Hamsun, 1984.

Naess, Harald. “Who Was Hamsun’s Hero?” in The Hero in Scandinavian Literature, 1975. Edited by John M. Weinstock and Robert T. Rovinsky.