Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sigrid Undset, Nobel Prize Winner

Sigrid Undset (born 20 May 1822)

Today is the birth day of Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset, who won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Sigrid Undset, 1928
The most well-known of Undset's novels comprise the trilogy known as Kristin Lavransdatter, published between 1920 and 1922. This epic historical series focuses on the life experiences of a fourteenth-century woman, the title character Kristin. The series generated controversy--and Nobel attention--for its frank descriptions of female sexuality. (Undset's work also illustrated her engagement with literary modernism.)

Her next series, known collectively in English as The Master of Hestviken, was published in two volumes (1925-7), but it appeared as a tetralogy in its English edition. Like Kristin Lavransdatter, it is set in medieval Norway, and it connects up with the earlier books by incorporating Kristin's parents at the end of the final volume of this later work.

To access a great deal of information about Undset, the first place to start might be the Nobel website; there you will find information about the 1928 prize, the award-ceremony speech, Undset's autobiographical account of her life, the entire text of Undset's speech at the Nobel banquet, a bibliography, and "other resources."

But maybe the best thing to do is get a copy of the three-volume Kristin Lavransdatter, available in Tina Nunnally's excellent new English translation for Penguin (you can buy all three novels in one volume or separately, The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross--I've linked to the one-volume version here. Be cautious--you should make sure you're getting Nunnally's translation rather than the first English translation by Charles Archer in 1927.)

And, just in case you're interested, after Undset's "scandalous" conversion to Catholicism in 1924, she wrote a biography of the fourteenth-century mystic and theologian Catherine of Siena, about whom I posted last month. Undset's life of the Catholic saint is also available in an affordable paperback edition. (Like Catherine of Siena, Undset lived as a third-order Dominican.)

One further note: during the last semester I taught, I was fortunate to have in class two young women from Norway, studying abroad in the U.S. Their project on Kristin Lavransdatter inspired several class members to buy the book for their summer reading. Thank you, Cornelia and Hilde!