Mourning the Unknowable

A daughter comes to hold her vanishing, remote mother as myth.

Meghan Guidry

Illustration for Mourning the Unknowable, by Vivenne Flesher

Illustration by Vivienne Flesher


Throughout my childhood, chronic migraines kept my mother bedridden for days. During these spells, silence became the only dictum of our house. The boisterous sounds of a child’s body could trigger physical pain. I tried walking up and down the stairs without making them creak. I gathered small trinkets from my room and brought them downstairs to avoid taking those steps during the day. To protect the woman who lay injured under some invisible magic.

On the days when my mother was sick, I sifted through our house looking for artifacts of who she was. I stood in hall closets sliding dresses across the bar. I held the hem of a gown: sheer black organza and delicate gold brocade. I peeled each layer of the skirt and held it against my skin, watching my arm materialize from gossamer fog.

It was in these closets that I first encountered her. The dresses—patterned silks and sweeping taffeta—bespoke a woman unknown to me. Trying on those dresses seemed sacrilegious, but sometimes I would slip my hand into one of the arms. By the time I was six, the sleeves were too tight. My body was already too big, too loud, and too undisciplined to fit into the world my mother inhabited.

♦♦♦

I first read Knut Hamsun on a cross-country train ride to visit my best friend in Oregon. On the day of the departure, my mother met me at Boston’s Back Bay station. Though she had become severely overweight since I was little, she still moved with a lightness that seemed sewn into her genes. Inside the station, she bought me a cup of coffee, though I didn’t know where or how she’d gotten the money. Her silver-streaked hair caught every strip of sun pouring through the skylights. When the train arrived, she stood, toes barely touching the yellow safety strip, and waved goodbye as I watched from the train.

The first leg of the trip from Boston to Albany should have taken three hours. Instead, it took eight, setting off a chain reaction of barely made connections and long waits in desolate stations. In a dark stretch somewhere between Albany and Chicago, flanked with shadowed pines and cracked concrete, I pulled the first book I could find from my bag: Hunger.

I had never read any of Hamsun’s works, nor did I know anything about him.1 But the title crooked its fingers and beckoned.

I read the entire volume in one sitting, straining through sunrise and dizziness to keep the text from ending. Hunger tells the story of an aspiring writer. When the book opens, the nameless narrator is already destitute. Behind on his rent, bereft of anything of value to pawn, he inhabits an ecology of lack. “I was so curiously bared of every conceivable thing,” he reflects:

All through the summer, up in the churchyards or parks, where I used to sit and write my articles for the newspapers, I had thought out column after column on the most miscellaneous subjects. Strange ideas, quaint fancies, conceits of my restless brain. In despair I had often chosen the most remote themes, that cost me long hours of intense effort, and were never accepted. (1)2

Throughout the book, the narrator slips between clarity and delirium, correlating to the amount of food he’s been able to ingest. As he weaves in and out of lucidity, he drags the reader along, despite the slow, surreptitious realization that he is wholly unreliable as a narrator. But it was Hamsun’s treatment of obsession that blindsided me.

I overtook two ladies, whom I passed. . . . I brushed one of them accidentally on the arm . . . she blushes and becomes suddenly surprisingly lovely . . . I stand and gaze into her eyes and hit, on the spur of the moment, on a name which I have never heard before—a name with a gliding, nervous sound, Ylajali! (5)

As I read Hunger by the flickering train lights, I began to understand something about my relationship with my mother that I had always felt but never been able to express. Though it would be years before I could articulate what Hunger had struck, the reverberations ran real and intolerably deep.

♦♦♦

My mother died the year after that train trip, when I was twenty-two. In the months that followed, her estranged family and friends all fell into chorus: “You knew her better than anyone.”

But I didn’t. I had encountered enough of her to know that I didn’t know her at all.

Even though I lived with my mother for the first half of my life, and maintained close contact with her after I went to live with my father at age twelve, I never really knew her. What few photographs remain of her show a sylvan woman, silvery blond with steel-blue eyes. A gifted pianist, she eschewed a career as a professional musician to pursue her education at age seventeen. She graduated from high school a year ahead of her class and left a working-class suburb of Providence to attend Wellesley College, where she studied psychology and political science. Every time I visit the campus, I try to place her—younger, happier, free—at the lake and among the dogwood trees.

Though she rarely left the house when I was young, my mother was always disappearing, pulled away by the riptides of her migraines. When she wasn’t sick, she exercised three times a day and ate once. She became skeletal, with violet half-moons under her eyes. I only recognized this behavior as anorexia years later. Like many anorexics, she would make copious amounts of food and feed it to other people. Since I was the only one in the house, she fed me. The more I ate, the more relieved she became. All the food she refused her body I carried in mine.

She was raised Catholic, but my mother was agnostic for the first few years of my life before she pivoted into a self-constructed spiritual world, a patchwork of holy women from Catholicism and elements of new age mysticism. She called this construction The Universe. She spoke to it. Frequently, it spoke back. While I now consider myself agnostic, and while I spent years purging my speech patterns of any mention of The Universe, I still think in its terms, in signs and symbols, in tendons made of myth and stars. As Hamsun writes of the city of Christiania, “No man departs without carrying away the traces of his sojourn there” (1). Though I strain against this conditioning, I realize that I experienced my mother the way some sacred texts describe experiencing the divine: a crushing apprehension of your own otherness in contrast with something higher, something better.

My mother’s slow slide into another mental world is a story I cannot tell with any authority. I was an observer, only. But ultimately, I was an observer who navigated that slide with her. Like Ylajali, she was in this world, but not of it. My mother was a gateway to the gods, a living embodiment of everything flesh turning to dazzling, blinding light.

In the decade since her death, I’ve struggled with how to mourn her and, by extension, what it means to mourn someone you love but can never truly know. My actions in my relationship with her seem desperate to me now. I was always striving to keep her close, whether physically or in memory. The constant threat of her vanishing led me to act as if proximity was tantamount to survival. As if knowing her, and in turn being known by her, was assurance of my own existence.

♦♦♦

Though the narrator of Hunger says he wanders, wandering implies a level of agency he doesn’t possess. Bound by poverty, overpowered by the starvation that is breaking down his body, cell by cell, the narrator is pulled through the streets of Oslo. He is repulsed by an elderly woman’s crooked teeth, and he develops a seething hatred for an infirm man, only to have his heart crack open when the man asks him for money to buy milk. And there is Ylajali: “[S]he had a full, rather pale face. But she blushes, and becomes suddenly surprisingly lovely” (5). After his initial encounter with her, the narrator becomes acutely energized.

Strange as I was at this instant to myself, so absolutely a prey to peculiar invisible inner influences, nothing occurred around me without my observing it. . . . Nothing escaped my notice; I was clear-headed and ready-witted. Everything rushed in upon me with a gleaming distinctness, as if I were suddenly immersed in a strong light. (8)

Rereading it as an adult, I began to see the narrator’s imagined connection with Ylajali as an unsettling obsession. Hamsun’s narrator experiences Ylajali as a kind of surrogate spiritual food. She roots him back into the world even as she seems to signify potential entry into a better one. In his encounters with and idealizations of Ylajali, I see a frenzy like my own. Losing my mother severed me, not only from her world, but from the possibility of entering some other, better existence. One where, in her eyes, I was already enough.

♦♦♦

When I was seven, my mother had surgery designed to realign her jaw and exorcise the migraines. Though the surgery was successful in eliminating the migraines that had dominated her life, afterward she began to change. She ate more and exercised less. She became obsessive about divination. She went to Tarot readers, eventually purchasing her own deck, which she would read for hours at a time. Space once stolen by migraines filled with the snap of cards on the table. Her favorite was the Motherpeace deck: circular cards, goldenrod backings, watercolor women dancing in green.

The author's mother
The author's mother in the 1980s. Photo courtesy Meghan Guidry.

These channelings, as she called them, could last for hours. As she became more familiar with the cards, she would wake up early in the morning, insistent that the time of day was essential for discerning the message in her spreads. She received communication from spirits and mythic creatures. Eventually, she told me she had been contacted by the Virgin Mary, the only vestige from her childhood Catholicism that still filled her with the wonder and warmth she demanded of religion. This became the bond that dominated her life, one that would salt the earth of every relationship she had over the course of the next decade.

Once, when I was nine, after we had hatched butterflies in class, I went home giddy. Forgetting the unspoken rule not to interrupt her channelings, I ran on to the sun porch where she was sitting. I launched into a detailed description about the butterfly unfurling sticky wings from its chrysalis. I told her that I, too, could transform. I crawled into my green sleeping bag and thrashed my body. Then, I peeled the folds back and jumped out in a triumphant, imagined metamorphosis.

Silence. My mother sat entranced, once again flipping cards onto the table. One of the cards in the spread was The World, the symbol of reinvention and change. The card showed a dark-skinned woman in a goldenrod dress, surrounded by a circle of women clasping hands. The light from the windows cast my mother in a silver aura, arranging her cards on the table, diving deeper into her mythology.

♦♦♦

For Hamsun’s unnamed narrator, Ylajali is mythos, an axis around which he plots himself. After their initial meeting, he fantasizes not only about her, but also about her apprehension of him, about who he could be in her presence. Even when he engages with her in the real world—exchanging glances with her in a window, meeting her again, even briefly embracing her—what holds his fascination is the way he imagines her:

[T]he dark monsters out there will draw me to them when night comes, and they will bear me far across the sea, through strange lands where no man dwells, and they will bear me to Princess Ylajali’s palace. . . . And she herself will be sitting in a dazzling hall where all is of amethyst, on a throne of yellow roses, and will stretch out her hand to me when I alight; will smile and call as I approach and kneel: “Welcome, welcome, knight, to me and my land! I have waited twenty summers for you, and called for you on all bright nights. And when you sorrowed I have wept here, and when you slept I have breathed sweet dreams into you! (39)

Ylajali is transfigured into myth, into a luminous other. Through her imagined sight, the narrator affirms his own worth.

His depiction of Princess Ylajali has always reminded me of the High Priestess card in Tarot. The High Priestess—often referred to as “the bride before the wedding”—is a young woman draped in gossamer pastels, often seated on a glittering throne, surrounded by flowers and feathers. It was my mother’s favorite card. She identified the High Priestess with the Virgin Mary. When the card came up in a spread, its presence denoted a true and auspicious revelation. My mother claimed that when she wasn’t able to channel Mary, the High Priestess card appeared more frequently, a reminder from Mary that she was present and listening. Though I didn’t wholly believe the mythos my mother sketched, I also couldn’t risk not believing: if she was right, she was enthroned at the center of The Universe, carrying out critical work none of us could ever fathom. And even if she wasn’t right, there was something to be gained in continuing to suspend my disbelief.

♦♦♦

In the years after my mother began reading tarot, she became more and more bound to the personalized mythology revealed to her through her channelings. Within two years, the gods were speaking to her daily. They told her that her migraines had been preparing her to receive their words. They told her that anything unrelated to the spiritual work she had undertaken was insignificant, a hindrance to claiming a destiny assured but never articulated.

So she quit her job as a human resources manager. Mary told her that this was the right thing to do, that the company she worked for was evil and would pay her millions of dollars so she didn’t reveal their secrets to the world. These millions on which our future lives hinged became known simply as The Check.

During this time, I began to show an interest in the visuals depicted on the Tarot cards. Having studied ancient Egypt in school, I had a vague, clumsy conception of mythological archetypes. As I began to parse the language of the cards, I found that I could keep my mother talking.

Once we had this common language, she told me everything: her awakening, her channelings, the words of the gods, her communion with the dead. She said that the Virgin Mary spoke to her almost every day, occupying the space in her head where the migraines used to throb. She told me that she and I were special, chosen to be agents of deep spiritual change on earth. She could see curtains of glittering, gold light. She asked me if I had seen them too.

I lied and said I could.

In gaining entry to my mother’s world, I became the only person who could legitimize her experiences. She would tell me in detail about her channelings, pointing out signs like the pattern of falling leaves or the numbers on a clock. Every affirmation soothed her.

But I was also aware that something was profoundly wrong. At school, with my father, with my friends, I was a child maneuvering through classes, playing soccer and four square. At home, I was handmaiden to an oracle, parroting descriptions of visions and affirming revelations. My friends’ mothers made crafts and drove carpools. Mine talked to the gods.

In finding a way to make my mother stay, I bound us together. But my role in her mythology felt perilous. In hindsight, I realize that in order to keep my mother close, I made myself into the myth I intuited she wanted, regardless of my own, faltering beliefs. Honesty would have been tantamount to fracture.

♦♦♦

My mother’s ability to provide stable shelter had disappeared by the time I was eleven. About a year before, she had stopped working and stopped paying the mortgage, per Mary’s instructions. I found out we were losing my childhood home one week before the bank was scheduled to foreclose and auction it off to some new family that didn’t speak to the gods. Even after that, I never told my father how precarious our existence was, how we were staying with friends before switching to other spare bedrooms, other couches. At one point, my mother discovered that she could talk her way into hotels by telling them she would pay in full after her paycheck cleared later in the week. I’d watch cable TV and look for change in the hallways. We always left before sunrise, before the regular staff began their days, and always through a back door.

One night, during a rainstorm, we sat in her car. My mother shuffled Tarot cards. “Mary’s been telling me all day that this is almost over, that we had to lose the house. It was part of the plan. If we got the money with the house, we’d have been trapped. Now, we can go anywhere we want. She also said that she’s clearing residual negative energy from our bodies, so you might feel something in your neck or back.” Her voice was soft, but full of conviction.

I hadn’t slept in the same bed for more than a week at a time. We spent our days driving aimlessly to make it appear that she had a job, or that she was looking for one. I sat next to her on benches while she channeled. For meals, we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches using plastic spoons she’d taken from a fast food restaurant. We ate off mismatched paper napkins from the glove box. Everything hurt.

I told her I felt it, the sensation in my neck. Lightning flashed and she was visible again: fair and brilliant, disconnected and divine. One flash before she disappeared back into the darkness and the sound of my lie dissipating into falling rain.

♦♦♦

The next time the narrator meets ylajali on the street, she is veiled. When he realizes that she is Ylajali, he is overwhelmed and asks if he can see her again. In the space between his question and her response, he betrays his own precariousness: “I had no hope of being permitted to see her again. I almost wished for a sharp No, that would pull me together a bit and render me callous. ‘Yes,’ she whispered softly, almost inaudibly” (81). His curious hope for a rejection seems to imply that he has become more attached to the myth of Ylajali than to the woman herself.

Ylajali remembers him, and, improbably, has thought of him often in the weeks since their initial encounter. They arrange to meet at her family’s home the following week, embracing before they part. He is again overcome with energy: “The joy of being able to meet Ylajali . . . and of feeling I could look her in the face, ran away with me. I was not conscious of any pain. My head . . . was as if it were a head of mere light that rested gleaming on my shoulders” (84).

Their meeting the following week begins according to his fantasies. Ylajali welcomes him inside to a drawing room. She lights a candle and confesses that, after embracing him the week before, she is embarrassed to have him look upon her. Throughout these sections, Ylajali is rendered only through the narrator’s gaze: “Every one of her words intoxicated me, fell on my heart like drops of wine. She enchanted me with the trick she had of putting her head a little on one side, and listening when I said anything” (99).

But, in his enchantment, he cannot fight the desire to draw nearer. His longstanding obsession with her overflows, and he confesses every terrible thing he has done, every anger he has ever held, every truth about his precarious circumstances he had kept hidden.

I related—related all—and I only related truth. I made out nothing any worse than it was; it was not my intention to rouse her compassion. . . . She sat and listened, with open mouth, pale, frightened, her shining eyes completely bewildered. I desired to make it good again, to disperse the sad impression I had made, and I pulled myself up. (101)

He moves to embrace her, to resume the flirtatious game they had been playing moments before. But she hesitates, turns away from him, and begins to rebutton her dress.

♦♦♦

Almost two years after the loss of the house, my father gained full custody of me. The day my mother dropped me off to live with him permanently, I was too paralyzed to cry. As she drove away, I realized I didn’t know where she would be sleeping that night. The utter chaos of her life was hers, and hers alone.

In the six years between the custody switch and my turning eighteen, I tried to keep the connection I had with my mother intact. The shift from living with her to speaking via phone threw the tumult of her life into clarity. I listened as she retold the same story over and over—that she had made a wonderful new friend; that the friend had invited her to stay; that everything was perfect; then that Mary said to be cautious; that the friend only wanted The Check; that my mother left the friend’s home in the early hours of the morning.

Seeing her less frequently underscored the shifts in her body. Each time I saw her, she was heavier, rounder. Though she maintained that the weight was a necessary measure for the channelings, which were becoming more frequent and physically taxing, I could see nothing of softness in her new form. Instead, I viewed it as armor.

♦♦♦

When I was nineteen, I convinced my father to let me spend Thanksgiving with my mother. I rode the subway into the city alone. At the station, my mother greeted me and explained that plans had changed. She was no longer living with the friends she’d been staying with. Instead, she had taken a small room at a local convent. The nuns, she explained, were in the same order as Mother Teresa. They were embodiments of charity and love. (Weeks later, she would escape from the convent in the middle of the night, after the nuns became obsessed with taking The Check.)

My mother decided we should eat at a high-end restaurant perched atop one of the tallest buildings in the city (she had started earning money by lying her way into focus groups and was feeling flush, thanks to a particularly lucrative session). The restaurant was modern and sleek, with walls of glass and white upholstered chairs. Waiters shuffled uneasily in the empty space. We ate pumpkin soup dotted with pomegranate arils from white ceramic bowls. I sipped diet soda while she nursed espresso from a gold-rimmed cup. “This is our life,” she said. “Our real life. The one that’s coming. No more waiting, no more wanting. Mary just told me: Today is just a taste of what will unfold in the next few weeks.”

I stared out at the grid of buildings and blackened windows. How do you say I don’t believe you? How do you reveal the wound a decade of belief has left open in your chest? Everything I could say was eclipsed by other images: my mother walking away, my mother taking the brass elevator to the lobby, my mother stepping through a door, my mother disappearing into a chokehold of city and clouds. The only trace of her a small gold-trimmed cup and the space her voice used to occupy.

I imagined phone calls from police telling me something terrible had happened to my mother. I imagined having to explain that I didn’t know where she was, that I didn’t know what she had been doing or how she had been surviving for the last few years, that I knew her better than anyone, but that one Thanksgiving, I said something I knew would break us and hadn’t seen her since.

I told her I believed her. I told her I trusted her. Underneath the table, I twisted the napkin tighter around my wrist, tight enough to chafe the skin, tight enough to stop the truth.

♦♦♦

In rereading hunger, particularly the narrator’s encounter with Ylajali, I see Hamsun grappling with the same questions I did that Thanksgiving: Is it worth risking the myth for greater proximity to someone you love? Would the potential loss of my imagined self have been worth the risk of revealing my actual thoughts? While Hamsun’s narrator dares to reveal himself to Ylajali, I was never so brave. The aftermath of his rejection still pains me to read. In that scene I see both a desire for authenticity—being known by someone you love for who you truly are—and the complete rejection I was always afraid would come if I revealed that I could no longer inhabit the mythos my mother had created.

In revealing himself to Ylajali, in forcing her to see him the way he sees himself, the narrator severs any possibility of a connection between them. He launches into a frenzied, barely comprehensible goodbye. “I don’t even ask to meet you again . . . for it would torment you. But tell me, why didn’t you leave me in peace? Why did you turn away from me all at once, as if you didn’t know me any longer?” (104). His words touch upon something that has struck me more in each subsequent reading: when confronted with the actual loss—not only of someone so beloved, but of the myths and potentialities they embody—it feels that we would have been better off never knowing such a wondrous, luminous person existed.

After this, Hamsun’s narrator disappears into a world of imagined revenge. He seethes and declares that he will become the most successful writer in Norway by writing about her. He will invert their story, making himself the unreachable one. She will ache for him and rue her past actions. She will forever carry the weight of bringing down the knife between them. The fantasy is not a plan but a dressing to pack the wound. He fills the gash with anger. It is something, at least, of which there is plenty.

♦♦♦

Throughout my late teens and early twenties, my mother would call at all hours to discuss her channelings, to discuss her revelations, to let me know where she was living and where she was fleeing, to ask me to plan our coming life after The Check arrived. I lay on my bed smoking cigarettes, counting the hours in growing piles of ash. Eventually, she would say that she was tired, that the channeling had taken so much out of her. When she hung up, I tried to imagine her movements. I knew the city by heart. I knew the speed and gait of her walk. I wanted to trace her down streets, across bus lines, to houses I would never see.

In her eyes, I had become someone she trusted with the deepest truths of her mythology. For me, maintaining the illusion that I believed had become the only way I knew to keep her in my life as her world spun increasingly out of control. She was staying in a new place, with a new fast-made friend every other week. She turned on people faster, more viciously than ever before, sometimes because of one skeptical word. And I wasn’t prepared to let go of the myths that had bound and sustained the two of us.

♦♦♦

On a February morning the color of slate, in a parking lot outside a food pantry, my mother told me about a Tarot reading she’d done earlier that day. As I loaded the last groceries into the car, she whispered that she wanted to work her way toward describing the new revelation slowly, shamanic. Then she complained of dizziness. Seconds later, she was unconscious, slumped in the back seat. An ambulance took her to the nearest emergency room. An MRI revealed a hemorrhage had ruptured in her brain stem.

If anyone could die from a bolt from the blue, from the brute strength of revelation becoming conscious thought, it would be my mother.

Her death happened in days, but her disappearance was a slow burn: twenty years of remaking myself into acceptable versions of a person she could love while bracing for her inevitable absence.

As she lay in the hospital, I kept a vigil comprised of small actions over her unconscious body: playing music, reading to her, painting her nails hyacinth pink, pulling the blankets over her shoulders, kissing her goodnight. A diorama of affection. What we could have been if our roles had reversed.

The MRIs showed critical, irreversible scarring on her brain. She couldn’t breathe without a ventilator. Her legs were wrapped in compression sleeves to keep blood flowing to her limbs, to keep her body from decaying with her heart still beating. Because of the extensive neurological damage, she made involuntary, jerking movements called posturing. Once, the posturing caused her eyes to open. I forced myself to look into them, to search for any sign of the woman I didn’t know but couldn’t imagine my life without. But the blackness of her undilated pupils ran deeper than I knew was possible, revealing an emptiness that affirmed she was already gone.

I decided to take her off life support. The nurses couldn’t say how long it would take her to die once we removed her from the ventilator. After eight hours of shockingly stable heartbeats, the night nurse suggested I go outside for some air. She said my mother’s vitals looked stable. It had been a long day, and it would be a long night.

Somewhere in the ninety seconds it took to get from her room to the elevator, my mother died. A green line in free fall on a monitor. The nurses had started to page me, but it was over before they could reach the phone.

Like those early channelings, my mother hid her death from me.

♦♦♦

In the aftermath of losing my mother, I was left with a seemingly incomprehensible story—one of channelings and divinity twined with my own paralysis and terror of abandonment. Like Hamsun’s narrator and Ylajali, we parted, unknown by each other and unknown to each other.

While I can summon memories of my mother, it is the myth of her I carry that has allowed me to navigate this world in her absence, and that has allowed me some act of mourning that feels authentic, something that captures the complicated grief I feel, without imposing a narrative that would violate her matrix of belief.

After nearly a decade of reading Hunger, I return again and again to the narrator’s fantasy of Princess Ylajali welcoming him to her palace, affirming their bond through tears and dreams shared across an ocean. In this section, I see traces of how I have held my mother in death as I couldn’t in life: not as memory, but as myth. Truth is not a prerequisite for myth. It’s a way of holding the unknowable in this world—even though it is not of this world—long after it has gone.

In this myth, I revert to her cosmology, The Universe with its signs and symbols, its tendons of onyx and stars. I imagine the revelation she spoke of the day she died was an unparalleled awakening. I imagine that in the moment she whispers to me, her mind is opened. Time compresses. There is no distinction between what has happened and what will. Her soul unhooks and bursts through the crown of her skull. By the time she says “I’m dizzy,” she’s already gone, somewhere far away, across an unknown ocean, in a palace of amethyst and yellow roses, where every being she has ever channeled welcomes her, repeating over and over, “You’re home.”

Notes:

  1. Born Knud Pedersen in 1859 in Gudbrandsdal, Norway, Knut Hamsun became a national literary icon with the 1890 publication of Hunger and, later, The Growth of the Soil, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. During World War II, he enthusiastically threw his support behind Germany, going so far as to meet privately with both Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler. In 1945, Hamsun was tried for treason and fined more than half a million kroner for his crimes. Hamsun’s beliefs, combined with undeniable racism and sexism in his private writings, have marred his legacy in Norway and the wider literary world. Many Norwegians feel that his work is uniquely emblematic of Norwegian culture—particularly the transition from agrarian to urban at the turn of the century—but they cannot forgive his deplorable personal beliefs. Writing about Hamsun in this context is a fraught endeavor. I cannot condone his beliefs or his actions, but I find myself drawn again and again to his themes of isolation, loneliness, and obsession. Better writers than I have eloquently addressed these issues, including Ingar Sletten Kolloen in Dreamer and Dissenter (Yale University Press, 2009) and Jeffrey Frank, “In from the Cold,” The New Yorker, December 26, 2005.
  2. This and all page references are from Knut Hamsun, Hunger, trans. George Egerton (Dover Publications, 2003).

Meghan Guidry, MDiv ’15, is a recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School, where she studied anthropology, bioethics, philosophy, and religion. An essayist, novelist, poet, and librettist, her second book is scheduled to be published through Empty City Press in 2017. For more information, please visit meghansguidry.com.

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