The Growth of the Soil
by Knut Hamsun
Chapter 1- page 2
The novel begins by following the story of Isak, a Norwegian man, who finally settled upon a patch of land which he deemed fit for farming.
He began creating earthen sheds in which he housed several goats obtained from the village yonder.
Isak asked passing by Lapps, nomadic indigenous people, to tell women that he is in need of help on his farm.
Chapter 2 – page 10
There is really only work and building on the farm and Inger is hugely helpful. Her cow gives birth to a calf, Silverhorns. Isak rents a horse and obtains a bull and other improvements for their lives. They now feel like fairly “well-to-do folks.” Unassisted Inger give birth to a baby boy. A woman named Oline comes to visit from Inger’s original family. It’s all about hard work and improving one’s lot in life but a bit of fear creeps in along with the money from trees and potatoes and corn to by coffee and so on. Oline leaves but says she would return.
Chapter 3 – page 18
Oline returns late in the year but now Isak and Inger can be married and so they do – before the child is christened.
Chapter 4 – page 27
The child is called Eleseus – (meaning “he who gives life – drives life.” )
“Oh, the potato is a lordly fruit; drought or downpour, it grows and grows all the same. It laughs at the weather, and will stand anything; only deal kindly with it, and it yields fifteen-fold again. Not the blood of a grape, but the flesh of a chestnut, to be boiled or roasted, used in every way.” page 28- Penguin edition – Kindle
There is a drought and all might be lost but the rains come. “Troubles great and small.” (p. 32) But they make it and are able to buy more luxuries like nice fabrics, a lamp and a clock.
But Isak is expanding the farm, cutting more trees, tilling more land, building more sheds. The boys, Eleseus and Silvert are growing – lots of stuff growing – the farm the animals, the crops although the drought did affect that. Os-Anders, the Lapp, comes by they talk of Oline and how she’s getting older. Also how Isak’s children are nice and strong and straight – thinking not like Inger. (And Inger’s difficult childhood is noted.) The State now owns all the land. (Historical note –
5. page 37 – The years are not the best but the farm is growing, Isak and Inger continue to prosper.
” What was it a certain Lapp had said to Inger that something about not having bought? Buy, what should he buy for? The ground was there, the forest was there; he had cleared and tilled, built up a homestead in teh midst of a natural wilderness, winning bread for himself and his, asking nothing of any man, but working, and working alone.” (page 39)
Too bad, so sad, now come the Lensmand bringing the demand for taxes. The amount Isak says he needs is 2 furlongs, north, east, south and west. It’s possible there might be some ore of some kind in one area. The amount is “Daler.”
They named the farm Sellanraa.
Soon after, Geissler was discharged from his position as Lensmand after a sharp reprimand from his superior and was subsequently replaced with Lensmand Heyerdahl.
6 – One day while Isak had left the farm to sell a bull in the village, Inger gave birth to a child and had killed it upon seeing that it had a harelip and would undergo the inevitable suffering in life she herself had experienced.
One day, Oline, Inger’s relative, visited the farm and figured out that Inger had killed a child. Inger cries.
“Good things mostly leave no trace, but something always comes of evil.” –
1.- page 204
2. page 219
3. page 232
4. page 247
5. page 261
6. page 274
7. page 288
8. page 303
9. page 313
10. page 326
11. page 339
12. page 354
The news of the infanticide now spreading.
One October day, the Lensmand and a man showed up at their doorstep to investigate and find evidence pertaining to the crime.
Oline had agreed to serve at the farm while Inger was serving her eight-year sentence in prison.
Geissler returned one day, interested in prospective copper mining grounds near Sellanraa.
Apparently, Geissler didn’t come to the farm just for the ore, but also intended on planning to have Inger released from prison as soon as possible.
Brede Olsen, the Lensmand’s assistance had now settled on the land halfway between Sellanraa and the village.
The farm of his was named Breidablik.
One day, people came out to mark the route for a telegraph line that was to run near Isak’s farm.
Meanwhile, Inger had given birth to another baby girl, Leopoldine, at the prison.
The following day, Geissler returned to Sellanraa.
He first addressed the matter of the copper tract. He purchased the land for 200 daler from Isak, money unheard of to him until this day!
Geissler also spoke of Inger and how he submitted a report to the King and the Governor regarding the case asking for her release.
Inger was to be released early. Isak was stupefied of the generosity of Geissler.
Isak drove down to the village to meet Inger. Great changes had occurred while Inger was away. No longer had she the harelip but merely a scar on her face. And now she was with the daughter Isak had not yet met, Leopoldine. When one of the telegraph engineers stopped at Isak’s house, a job was offered to Eleseus to work under his care in the village. Eleseus went to work in town.
A new settler arrived in between Sellanraa and Breidablik, his name was Axel Ström. He named his farm Maaneland. Axel Ström was offered by Brede to have his daughter Barbro assist him at his place.
Inger once again gave birth to a daughter named Rebecca. When Oline arrived one day, she told the family that Uncle Sivert, the one who Sivert was named after, had fallen terribly ill. It was agreed upon that Sivert was to inherit the big fortune which his uncle was to leave behind. Eventually, Uncle Sivert died and later, the fortune was to be determined.
Geissler and a few prospective mining buyers arrived at the farm by horse one day. Geissler acted as Isak’s advocate and sold the section of Isak’s land for four thousand Kroner. Isak marvels at how much Geissler has assisted him in making money.
News arrived that Breidablik was going to be sold. The real reason Brede was selling his place was because there were some money issues associated with the banks and stores at the village, but they made it seem as though he was selling the place on his own freewill in order to avoid disgrace.
The last part of Book One tells of Isak obtaining another wonder for his farm, this time, a mowing machine. He attempts to assemble it but fails and requires Eleseus’ reading skills to help him fix it. People from all over assemble to witness this luxury in use.
After the officials went through the financial books, it was discovered to the shock of the family that Uncle Sivert had nothing left of his fortune.
Isak went to the auction of Breidablik. Axel, to the surprise of everyone, had purchased the farm. When asked, he said that he was buying it on someone else’s behalf. Meanwhile, Eleseus had left the farm and headed back to town for a job which was no longer available for him.
On the third of September, Axel could not find Barbro anywhere. He searched around and eventually finds her on the banks of a stream. He wonders what has happened the child Barbro was pregnant with. According to her, she had been near the stream collecting juniper twigs for cleaning buckets when suddenly, she slipped into the river at the same time she was to give birth. It was too late as the baby had already succumbed to drowning. Axel went to look for the infant and found it under a heap of moss and twigs wrapped in a cloth. He ran home for a shovel to bury the body properly. Axel and Barbro argued as she continued to claim that the baby drowned when she accidentally slipped into the water. Barbro, in the heat of the argument, confessed that she had once killed another baby and threw it off a boat. That winter, Barbro went to the village to visit the dentist. Axel had no faith in her returning and as he predicted, she had gone to Bergen, another large city, to stay.
One day, Axel was going out to the forest to fell some trees when he sees Brede going up the hill, most likely on an errand to fix something relating to the telegraph line. Axel started chopping down a tree when suddenly, his foot slipped into a cleft in a stone and the tree came crashing down on him. There was a blizzard that day and night was setting in. Axel struggled for hours trying to free himself but wasn’t able to reach for the axe lying on the ground to cut his way out. Axel yelled to Brede hoping that he would be returning from his errand soon. Surely enough, after a few hours, Brede came by but simply ignored him pretending that he was unaware of the situation. He walked on and left Axel to die. When all hope was lost, Oline found Axel. She freed him and helped him return home. On their way back, they encountered Brede who claimed that when he encountered Axel on the ground, he showed no signs of needing help or that anything was wrong.
Next day, the news reported that there was a new settler arriving below Maaneland. He was apparently very rich and was going to open a store at the location. His name was Aronson and he called his place Storborg. Spring arrived and engineers and workmen from Sweden began work on the mine. Storborg was prospering with all of these workers buying things at his trading post. The work on the mine continues but there was news that the yield of ore was not as good as promised. As expected, the commotion at the mine started to subside and workers were being dismissed. Now that the mine had been deemed fruitless, the engineer wanted to purchase the land south of the water owned by Geissler. Geissler anticipated that this would happen and so he offered the land at an exorbitant price showing that he had nothing to lose if they didn’t want to buy it.
Eventually, the ordeal with Barbro was discovered and she was arrested in Bergen, the village where she was staying. Now the time had come for Barbro and Axel’s trial to take place. Amazingly, the Lensmand’s wife, Fru Heyerdahl, had stepped up for Barbro by giving a great, eloquent speech that moved everyone. The jury was obviously affected by this speech and Barbro and Axel were fully pardoned. Fru Heyerdahl had then gotten Barbro to come work for her.
Meanwhile, Aronsen was furious that Geissler was refusing to sell his tract of land to the mining company. His trading business depended on a lot of foot traffic but since there was no more, there were no more customers. Geissler was taking revenge on the village for removing him as Lensmand. The entire fate and economy of the district hinged on whether he would sell the land. Eventually, Aronsen, not able to handle it anymore, sold his place to Eleseus who decided that he become a farmer. Geissler had finally sold his land and the mine was operational again. Later, Aronsen returned to buy back the farm from Eleseus but to no avail.
Barbro was evicted from Fru Heyerdahl’s house after an argument in which Fru discovered that Barbro was often sneaking out to celebrations when she was supposed to be working. Fru was outraged that this was what she got after saving Barbro from the clutches of the law. Barbro daringly returned to Axel but unfortunately, Oline had taken her place in the household while she was away. Oline really doesn’t want to leave the place and asked Axel to call for the doctor as she wasn’t feeling well one night. She criticizes them for trying to evict such a poor, ill woman. Oline had died that night.
When Eleseus returned home, he talked privately with Sivert telling him his big plans – he was going to start a new life in America. Sivert was shocked and advised his brother not to go but seeing that this was futile, he gave him 25 kroner for his journey. Eleseus left that day on a boat and never came back. What was once barren land is now rich of settlers, all started from the one pioneer Isak.
Isaac Bashevis Singer called Hamsun “the father of the modern school of literature in his every aspect—his subjectiveness, his fragmentariness, his use of flashbacks, his lyricism. The whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun”.
QUESTION: What do you think of the different and varying attitudes of Isak and Inger? – What do they reveal?
QUESTION: Will the luxuries spoil them? – What effect will they have on the very basic existence the couple has? Good or not good?