Tbilisi’s Norwegian greats

In the footsteps of Knut Hamsun and Dagny Juel

Photo: Eistein Guldseth / gotocaucasus.com
A view of the exterior of the former Hotel London. Many Norwegians come here to page homage to one of Norway’s greatest authors.

Lori Ann Reinhall
Editor-in-chief
The Norwegian American

Photo: Eistein Guldseth / gotocaucasus.com
Today, the Hotel London, where writer Knut Hamsun stayed in Tbilisi, is an apartment building, but it looks much the same as it did in Hamsun’s day.

In 1899, the Norwegian author and Nobel Prize laureate Knut Hamsun wrote his famous novel I Eventyrland—opplevet og drømt i Kaukasien (In Wonderland—Experienced and Dreamt in the Caucasus) during his travels with his wife, Bergljot. They traveled from Finland via St. Petersburg, Russia, through the Russian city of Vladikavkaz at the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, then onto the countries of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The trip was funded by a scholarship from the Norwegian government. His travelogue novel was published in 1903.

Hamsun held a great respect for the great Russian writers of his day—Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, and Fyodor Dostoevsky, to name a few—and his goal with his trip was in part an effort to experience the world that had shaped them. This was a world that was to disappear only a few years later in the fire of the Russian Revolution.The Norwegian writer’s final stop in Georgia was Tbilisi, the capital. He writes: “This is then Tiflis [today Tbilisi], which so many Russian writers have written about and so much in the Russian novel has happened.”Hamsun chose the Hotel London in the center of Tbilisi as his home base for his expedition into Old Tbilisi, then a crossroads trading center for Armenians, Georgians, Arabs, and Jews.

The authors’s vivid descriptions of this environment can be read in his travelogue novel. Some of the poetry is lost in the English translation, and even more in the Georgian version, but the novel is considered to be an important chapter in Georgian history. Hamsun’s work has been held in high esteem to this day and is greatly appreciated by Georgians, and a plaque at the entrance of the old hotel serves as a testimonial to this. It reads in both Georgian and English:

AN OUTSTANDING NORWEGIAN WRITER
KNUT HAMSUN (1859–1952) LIVED IN THIS
BUILDING | FORMERLY HOTEL LONDON
IN 1899 DURING HIS VISIT IN TBILISI

Photo: Eistein Guldseth / gotocaucasus.com
A plaque in Georgian and English is found at the entrance to the building to commemorate Hamsun’s contribution to Georgian culture.

Today, the once grand Hotel London is no longer a hotel, but despite its somewhat dilapidated state, it is still much like it was at the time Hamsun stayed there. Many Norwegian tourists make their pilgrimage there to pay homage to Norway’s great author.

Photo: Rainer Ruge
Many Norwegians visit the grave of Dagny Juel Przybyszewska in Tbilisi.

For many Norwegians, the pilgrimage continues on to Tblisi’s Kukia Cemetery, only 164 feet from the Hotel London. There,  Dagny Juel Przybyszewska, “Norway’s Madonna,” was buried in 1901. Immortalized by Edvard Munch in his famous painting of her entitled “Madonna” (1894), Dagny, a talented pianist and poet, was a central figure in a Scandinavian circle of Bohemian artists that had gathered in Berlin.In the German city, Dagny met her husband, the Polish writer Stanisław Przybyszewski, and the couple married in 1893. They traveled around Europe for several years and finally settled in Warsaw in 1901.

That same year, the Przybyszewskis were  invited to travel to Tiflis by Polish admirer Władysław Emeryk. Dagny left Warsaw ahead of her husband, who, tragically, arrived too late. On June 5, Emeryk shot and killed Dagny at the small “Grand Hotel,” today an apartment building.

But Dagny has not been forgotten in Tbilisi. Today, a plaque on the building reads:

Norwegian
Dagny Juel Przybyszewska
died here 05.06.1901

Photo: Eistein Guldseth / gotocaucasus.com
Today, the “Grand Hotel” where Dagny was killed is an apartment building.

Also see Dagny Juel, Norway’s “Madonna”What to see and do in and around Tbilisi, and Georgia through a Norwegian lens in the April 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.