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Two Nobel Laureates Romain Rolland and Knut Hamsun Who Embraced Authoritarianism and yet Revolutionised Literature

An Air Warrior and devotee of Lord Krishna has published over 100 short stories and 10 books on fiction and 4 on military history.

Rolland with Stalin

Rolland with Stalin

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Introduction

Last year before the pandemic broke I remember attending a literary seminar in London. This was the time when my novel Romance of the Frontier was picked up for re-publication and was re-launched. One of the topics of the seminar was the literary work of writers from diverse nations who won the Nobel prize and had positive views of authoritarianism. We know what this word means. It refers to the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom. Two writers' cases came up for this discussion namely Knut Hamsun( 1859-1952) who hails from Norway and Romain Rolland (1866-1944) and who was a native of France. Rolland won the Nobel prize for literature in 1915 and Hamsun won the same in 1920.

Roland throughout his life was a supporter of Joseph Stalin and he never wavered in support of the dictator while Hanson believed in the Nazi ideology and to his bad luck, he survived the war and was tried by the Norwegian authorities as a Nazi sympathizer. He never gave up and his wife was given 4 years of hard labor and both his sons were also sentenced to prison for joining the Nazis to fight the Russians. Hanson was fined 325000 Norwegian Kroner and all his books were banned.

But literature has a way of being the winner all over and now the Norwegians have honored Hamsun as one of their great sons and a man who led the renaissance movement in literature. Roland never faced persecution and his writings have a transcendental spirit and eternal love.

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Great literature

In my personal view, we should not judge these two great writers from their views in supporting the Nazi ideology or the communist ideology but think of what they have left behind for posterity. The writings of both these writers border on the sublime power of the soul and human nature. There are very few writers who can leave such an indelible mark.

Knut Hamsun has been described by the famous Thomas Mann as a descendent of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Friedrich Nietzsche. His love stories have numerous friends and I remember reading his book Hunger. There is a passage in the book where a hungry man who has not eaten food for some time comes across a beautiful woman; he is able to espy her bust and he forgets about his hunger and has a union with the beautiful woman. After it is all over hunger comes back to him. It's a simple enough episode but the way Hamsun has presented it is simply taking you into another realm.

Hamsun is credited with having been the exponent of neo-romanticism and neo-realism in literature. He was awarded the Nobel prize for his wonderful book Growth of the soil. Hamsun died in poverty but now he is remembered and a collected edition of his works in 15 volumes has been brought out by the Norwegian government.

Holland was different from Hamsun, in the sense he was on the extreme left while Hamsun was on the extreme right. He was an admirer of Joseph Stalin and visited Russia but he was a man with an open mind and even met Gandhi in India and had many interesting discussions with him. Both Roland and Hanson visited `America any number of times and they were well received, until the beginning of the war. After that, the American perception of both writers changed considerably but now there is a realization but both these men were great exponents of literature and I can't remember but many Hollywood films have been made on the books written by both men.

Rolland was a spiritualist and believed in transcendental love. if you read his novel The Bodies Rapture there are almost 20 pages devoted ( frankly not aware of the exact number of pages but suffice it to say that there is a detailed description) to the breasts of the heroine Lucrece. One can perhaps write the same thing in one sentence but to write so many pages in the description is something totally out of this world.

Romain Rolland was greatly influenced by Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi, so it is difficult to reconcile to the fact that he was an admirer of Stalin also. He also wrote a biography of Mahatma Gandhi.

Roland was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1915 for his monumental work Jean Christophe. One thing which I like about the books of Rolland is his portraits of women which are masterpieces.



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Supporting Hitler and Stalin

This is perhaps the most difficult part to write because both the men were not ordinary mortals but gifted geniuses. Hamsun believed in the Nazi ideology and he was of the view that Hitler came too early in time. His life spanned almost 100 years and in those years he must've observed a lot. Maybe he was not happy about the holocaust but even after the death of Hitler, he wrote favorably about him. During interrogation by the Norwegian authorities, as a collaborator of the Nazis, he stuck to his guns and refused to change his views. Whether he was wrong or right it's something we can't judge now and maybe 100 years from now we will know exactly whether Hansen was right or horribly wrong.

Romain Rolland was a more open-hearted man and he also met Swami Vivekananda, the great Hindu leader as well as Mahatma Gandhi. He has written an excellent book about Mahatma Gandhi but he was an admirer of Joseph Stalin for all that he had done for Russia to bring it from a peasant nation to one of the great powers to reckon with.

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Assessment

I will now conclude with my personal opinion about both the writers. I have read Knut Hamsun as well as most of the books of Rolland and they are eminently readable. A good book is one that transcends time and both these writers have written books almost a century back and yet in this 21st-century they are very relevant. I will recommend people to read the works of Salman Rushdie, the Indian writer as well as VS Naipaul another Indian writer from Trinidad. Naipaul won the 2001 Nobel prize in Literature. Both are a little difficult to read but if you persevere you will be rewarded.




Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 27, 2021:

Thank you, Sangre, for sparing time and commenting.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on April 27, 2021:

It's always interesting to see how someone's beliefs always impact their fan base. It seems that time changes opinions and they finally get the acknowledgment they deserve many years later.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 26, 2021:

Thank you Bill for your comment I'm glad you found the article interesting.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

I hate to admit it, but I knew nothing of these two. Thanks for filling in a rather large gap in my knowledge. Great article, very interesting!

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 25, 2021:

Vidkun Quisling was a Hitler supporter, he was executed at the end of the war.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 25, 2021:

The Norwegian SS division fought for Hitler. The sons of Hamsun were part of this division. They were jailed after the war.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 25, 2021:

Yes, Tom, I should have mentioned this fact. Romain Rolland did know Subhas Bose and he wrote to Rolland saying that spending one's best and most creative years behind prison walls is a “price” which enslaved people in the world have always paid. Romain had no love for the British.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 25, 2021:

thanks

MG Singh from UAE on April 25, 2021:

Good

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 25, 2021:

Tom, Heidegger is a controversial philosopher. His Notes, written between 1931 and 1959 and first published in 2014, contain several anti-semitic sentiments. He held the Jews responsible for the Jewish genocide themselves. He had elements of Nazi ideology in his works.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 25, 2021:

Thank you, Tom, there were many Americans who were Nazi supporters and you are right PG Woodhouse was one of them frankly I love his books so full of humor. Nietzsche had a tremendous effect on philosophy.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 25, 2021:

Thank you Rekha for sparing time and commenting.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 25, 2021:

Jennifer, thank you for your comment. I am flattered that you have read three of my novels

Rekha on April 25, 2021:

Thank you for a wonderful article, I am a student of literature and I am very aware of the contribution of both writers you have discussed. I have also read the body's rapture and I will say some of the passages are too explicit. All in all it's great to read about literature.

Jennifer on April 25, 2021:

I must compliment you for a wonderful article I have read hunger and also the body's rupture and I agree with you the descriptions is absolutely wonderful, they fit in so well with the storyline. I will add here that I have read three of your novels and they are wonderful.

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