Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Hamsun once said, “Victoria is nothing more than a little poetry. A writer may have some poetry he wishes to get rid of, particularly if for ten years he has written books that strike you like a fist.” Clearly, Victoria is very unlike Hamsun’s novels of psychological realism of the 1890’s—Sult (1890; Hunger, 1899), Mysterier (1892; Mysteries, 1927), and Pan (1894; English translation, 1920)—and there is much that is poetic in the novel. Hamsun’s setting, with its Castle and its allegorical characters known only as the Master and the Lady of the Castle, the Chamberlain and his Lady, the Tutor, and the Miller, helps create the feeling of a romance, the antithesis of realism. Yet the novel does not, for all its poetry, successfully wall out reality. The preoccupation with death and tragedy in Johannes’ writings is a grim undercurrent to the romance elements of the novel. Victoria’s letter to Johannes is unlike the sentimental letter written by a dying heroine in a romance. Its extreme honesty may not strike like a fist, but it sears and burns. Finally, it seems that a difference in class is not the only or even the real thing which separates the Peasant-Poet from his Princess. Their tragedy seems more a product of their somewhat neurotic selves than of implacable fate and cruel society.

Victoria became a great commercial success for Hamsun. In Norway, it is his best-known and best-loved book, and for a long period it was considered an appropriate confirmation present. It has become one of the most famous love stories in world literature.