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Summary Article: Undset, Sigrid
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(sĭ'grĭd ʊn'sĕt), 1882–1949, Norwegian novelist. Poverty forced Undset to do secretarial work for a time (1898–1908). Her early novels of contemporary life, among them Jenny (1911; tr. 1921, new tr. 2001), were frank and realistic works in which she described women's struggles for selfhood in a male-dominated society but nonetheless strongly upheld traditional social structures. Her writing, always powerfully ethical, deepened in religious intensity after her conversion (1924) to Roman Catholicism. Undset is most famous for her historical novels dealing with universal human problems. Kristin Lavransdatter (3 vol., 1920–22; tr. 1923–27 and 1997–2000), considered her masterpiece, tells of love and religion in medieval Norway. It was followed by the excessively detailed and more explicitly religious Olav Audunsson (4 vol., 1925–27; tr. The Master of Hestviken, 1928–30).

Her later works include tales of contemporary family life, among them Ida Elisabeth (1932, tr. 1933), The Faithful Wife (1936, tr. 1937), and Madame Dorthea (1939, tr. 1940), and the autobiographical The Longest Years (1934, tr. 1935) and Return to the Future (1942). Undset came to the United States after the Nazi invasion of Norway (1940) and made a successful lecture tour of the country before returning home in 1945. She was awarded the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her work fell into obscurity during the latter half of the 20th cent., but interest in her writing was revived beginning in the 1990s, sparked by the publication of new and improved translations.

  • See biography by A. H. Winsnes (tr. 1953, repr. 1970);.
  • Page, T. , ed., The Unknown Sigrid Undset: Jenny and Other Works (2001).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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