Scribner's Magazine
Book Reviews by Eli Siegel 1931-1934

From Scribner's, August 1934

The Road Leads On. By Knut Hamsun. Coward-McCann. $3.

The Segelfoss, Norway, of Hamsun is now a town of movies and witches, motor-cars and legends. Youth and age, in many ways, fight and mingle in this novel. But it is an old man that sees it all. The eye of age has here made a gentle and rich panorama. The jaggedness of youthful vision has gone. Flint has given place to curves; sharpness to mist.

     And it is an old man, August, who is the central and heroic person in The Road Leads On. He is aged and childlike at once; dreamy and fearfully efficient. His mind is made up of statistics and hallucinations. He blasts mighty rocks and lives in clouds. And about him is the human diversity of Segelfoss. He loves Cornelia: she is tormentingly in his old man's dreams; and she is a curtly clear-minded miss—in a way older than he is. She won't have him and she knows that she won't. Meanwhile she keenly bothers two young men of whom August is jealous. She dies from the kick of a horse; and August immediately forgets everything; he won't even go to the funeral; efficiency has made a clean sweep of sentiment.

     Sex and work, in all their unsearchable ramifications, engross all of Segelfoss. There is a philosophic ramblingness in the novel. People meet and leave each other as if they were part of a somewhat orderly dream that was taking its time. There is a gentleness even to the adultery that takes place in the novel. A stabbing has its slowness. Work seems to merge with the Norway sky.

     The Road Leads On is too much of a philosophic crazy-quilt to be an important artistic success. And sometimes it is hard to distinguish its gentle wisdom from simple tiredness. But there are fine and profound things in Hamsun's latest work. The old and romantic August Altmulig is somewhat like Don Quixote at his most ridiculously sad. There are characters among the druggists, bankers, peasants, wives, and witches of Hamsun that come at you with extreme daylight sharpness, and linger on. And some of the anecdotes in it (it has many; old men tell them) are permanently meaningful. Some of the writing has a sweet and primitive gravity like that of the Bible. Lastly, when August goes over the cliff with his thousand fleeing, frightened, symbolic sheep, we have a humor and a terror definitely beyond the literary moment.

Eli Siegel.


Reviews by Eli Siegel from Scribner's Magazines 1931-1934. Copyright 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934 Charles Scribner's Sons; copyrights renewed. Reprinted with the permission of Charles Scribner's Sons.

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arrowThe Road Leads On by Knut Hamsun
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arrowAdventures in Genius by Will Durant
arrowAnn Vickers by Sinclair Lewis
arrowBreathe Upon These Slain by Evelyn Scott
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arrowJohn Dryden by T.S. Eliot
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: 1917-1932 by T.S. Eliot
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arrowWilliam Carlos Williams: Collected Poems, 1921-1931
arrowA Cultural History of the Modern Age by Egon Friedell, Vol. II
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arrowThe Proud and the Meek (Men of Good Will, vol. III) by Jules Romains

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