A Conflagration in a Bookshop. Modernism and vitalism in Hamsun’s Hunger and in the reception of Hunger

Knut Hamsun’s breakthrough novel Hunger (1890) is often read, and from the 1980s on unequivocally canonized, as a protomodernist text. The starting point of this article is a discussion of how the category «modernism» has been used, and what purposes it has served, in the post-War reception of Hamsun and Hunger. Secondly, the article focuses on the novel’s pre-War reception, pointing out how most earlier studies of Hunger considered it a positive story of survival, and of the protagonist’s victory over hunger, barren city-life and individuation. Finally, the article argues that there may indeed be something to learn from these vitalist perspectives on Hunger, suggesting a more literal approach – focussing less on hunger’s existential effects on the protagonist and more on its physiological ones.

Keywords: Knut Hamsun, Hunger, modernism, vitalism, parody