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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tarbell's Blue Veil - Hamsun's Victoria

Edmund Charles Tarbell, The Blue Veil, 1898
shared from the Facebook Veils/Schleier album
of Gerda Buxbaum
no copyright infringement intended

Tarbell's The Blue Veil (1898) is another stunning effort, using effects of sheer billowing blue tones across the somewhat impassive profile of a young woman. The background is vague, but a vivid and unexpected green note at the top of the girl's hat draws the eye upward from the titled blue and presumably windswept veil. A white feather plume also appears to be fluttering in the wind. By keeping the background details neutral, Tarbell made the diaphanous veil the painting's focal point, as well as creating contrast between such a solemn female wearing a hat that seems so rebelliously airborne.

The image of Tarbell's Blue Veil is on the cover of an edition having two of Hamsun's novels: Pan and Victoria. I found some place a subtle discussion about the meaning of colors in explaining the ways of the two heroines from Victoria (though the color red is associated with both women, it acquires - together with yellow, the color of joy - a deeper resonance in the case of Victoria: her red hat and parasol, unlikely emblems of passion, are eventually replaced by the red of a hemorrhage, the harbinger of the species of love-death). Even blue was not mentioned, the mysterious lady from Tarbell's portrait pairs a little bit with the young ladies of Hamsun.

Victoria offers multiple levels of meaning. It is a heartbreaking tale of love, sad and beautiful, how only the endless days of Scandinavian summer can be. Johannes and Victoria long for each other, while each one is following separate ways throughout the years. He becomes a writer and all his books are about love. However he lacks the ultimate courage to step firmly toward her. She is undecided and capricious. They will get the courage to acknowledge their love when it is too late.

There is a deeper level. Victoria mirrors Pan, offering an image in reverse (even the mechanism of substitute lover is used: Camilla who disappears from the scene when it's no more need for her).  Hamsun described Victoria as a pendant, a counterpart to Pan (adding, though not so extensive): in enger Verbindung zu Pan steht der kleine, fast sentimentale Roman Victoria, von Hamsun als Pendant zu Pan, aber nicht so umfangreich bezeichnet (Sophie Wennerscheid in Sentimentalität und Grausamkeit: ambivalente Gefühle in der skandinavischen und deutschen Literatur der Moderne).

At this deeper level, Pan is, I think, a study on the pathology of the male, Thomas Glahn. For him (and for us, readers) the woman remains undecipherable (we understand instead something about Glahn). Victoria is a study of the psychology of the woman. With each page, the man, Johannes advances a bit more in understanding her. And this advancement is done through the books Johannes is writing. We, readers, don't see any of his books, while are witnessing his process of creation: throughout the pages of Victoria, Johannes thinks at his love in front of us, and writes his thoughts and his findings in his books, in front of us. Victoria is actually a novel within a novel. Or, maybe better said: a novel that is created in front of us and is finished when we come to the last page.

And again Hamsun comes in front of us as belonging to both 19th and 20th centuries. A tragic love, from the epoch of Elvira Madigan and of Mayerling. And the techniques of writing, Productionism and even Conceptualism well avant la lettre, and calling in mind the architecture of some movies by Kiarostami or Panahi.

Here is a link to the text of Victoria:

Naturally, such a whole-heartedly story of love attracted the moviemakers. So far there have been five movies. The first one was made in 1917 (it is presumed lost): Viktoriya, a Russian silent directed by Olga Preobrazhenskaya (who later would make Peasant Women of Ryazan, also known as Le village du péché, in 1927, and Tikhiy Don, in 1930, a silent adaptation of Sholokhov's novel). The second Viktoria was made in Germany, in 1935, directed by Carl Hoffmann (I didn't have the chance to see any of his movies, instead I saw in my teen years a couple of comedies made by his son, Kurt Hoffmann). In 1979 the Swedish Bo Widerberg (the director of Elvira Madigan) produced Victoria,  the third adaptation of Hamsun's novel.It was followed in 1988 by Viktoriya, made in Rigas Kinostudija by Olgerts Dunkers. And the fifth came in 2013: a Norwegian movie (Victoria) directed by Torun Lian.

Victoria (2013), trailer
(video by SF FILM Norge)

(Knut Hamsun)

(Edmund Charles Tarbell)

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