Page:Hunger (Hamsun).djvu/13

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vii
Prefatory Note

trick of phrase, a troll-like humour hitherto unknown." In a word, he leavened the heaviness in some marvellous way; it was as if the spirit of Mark Twain had suddenly obsessed the sober discourse of a meeting of serious elders.

Words were gold in his hands, to be tossed about rough as unwashed nuggets, or beaten into a delicate, fantastic filigree; language became a plastic material, capable of expressing the most elusive half-thoughts, the most unrecorded emotions. No translation can give any idea of the magic of his word-treatment; it has to be sacrificed to a bald rendering of the spirit of the original.

Each of his books was attention-compelling, baffling the critics to define his exact place as a writer. Perhaps Hamsun himself was only seeking; as yet a sort of literary freebooter, fighting a place for his individual art through the ranks of conservative prejudice. There was trace of struggle in much of his work; his method was peculiar, and his personality jumped up and down through all his books in many disguises. It tantalised whilst it compelled to laughter, whether as brilliant jester who held all things up to ridicule, or fantastic