Finally, after two library renewals, I finished Knut Hamsun’s 435-page Growth of the Soil this afternoon. It was the fifth of Hamsun’s novels I’ve read since last fall, and even though it was the book that won him the Nobel Prize (in 1920), some of his most perceptive critics, including Isaac Bashevis Singer, regard it as a step down from his earlier work. Yeah, I’d go along with that. It has a direct prose style that reminded me of an Icelandic saga, and it contains some terrific set pieces, such as the early infanticide and the episode in which Axel is pinned beneath a tree. But the nostalgia for the peasant way of life wore me down, and all the ayes and ’twases drove me to distraction. (H.G. Wells thought the book “saturated with wisdom,” which any sensible person should take as a warning) Hamsun’s tragedy, according to Singer, was that he lived too long. His powers declined after the turn of the 20th century, and then, there’s his Nazi problem. He regarded Hitler as the savior of civilization, and he supported the German occupation of Norway. Had he died gracefully at 70, instead of at 93, his name might not be anathema in his native land.
Best of the Hamsun novels I’ve read — or at least my favorites — were Pan and Mysteries. If you read any, read those. Then you can feel free to blame me if you don’t like them.
On Wednesday, January 25, I visited Doug Heller and his wife, Nancy Parsons, at their home in Flourtown. Doug, a former Springfield Township commissioner, has stage IV pancreatic cancer. Unlike some patients, who refuse visitors when they realize how serious their condition is, Nancy has issued an open invitation to Doug’s friends and acquaintances. I took her up on it. I stayed for perhaps two hours. Doug is in very good spirits, and indeed, if it weren’t for the weight loss, the bathrobe and slippers, and the blanket on the living room sofa, you wouldn’t suspect he was ill. I stayed for about two hours. We watched Jeopardy, played a round of categories, and ate a little, but mostly, we listened to CDs. I brought a few of my own. Doug and Nancy especially liked the Quartet for Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Piano, and Percussion by Stefan Wolpe, and they introduced me to the transcendently awful music of Jonathan and Darlene and of Mrs. Miller. The former achieved badness intentionally (Darlene was the party name of Jo Stafford), and the latter was born bad. It's been a long while since I laughed to hard.
Went biking today through Pennypack Park, and then out Torresdale Avenue to Glen Foerd and Northeast Philadelphia Airport. The air was clear and deliciously cold. The real reward a ride like that is drinking something hot afterward.