Undset, Sigrid (20 May 1882 – 10 June 1949)
Sigrid Undset (20 May 1882 – 10 June 1949)
Pacific Lutheran University
This entry was expanded by Claudia Berguson from her Undset entry in DLB 297: Twentieth-Century Norwegian Writers.
BOOKS: FruMarta Oulie (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1907); Den lykkelige alder (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1908); Fortcellingen om Viga-Ljot og Vigdis (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1909); enlarged as Fortallingen om Viga-Ljot og Vigdis; og, Sankt Halvards liv, dgd og jcertegn (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1925); original version translated by Arthur G. Chater as Gunnar’s Daughter (New York: Knopf, 1936; London: Cassell, 1938);
Ungdom: dikte (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1910); republished as Ungdom: dikt, with drawings by Undset and afterword by Christianne Undset-Svarstad (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1986);
Jenny (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1911); translated by William Emme as Jenny (London: Gyldendal, 1920; New York: Knopf, 1921);
Fattige Skjebner (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1912)–includes “Selma Brater,” “Fraken Smith-Tellefsen,” and “Simonsen,” translated by Naomi Walford as “Selma Brater,” “Miss Smith-Tellefsen,” and “Simonsen,” respectively, in Four Stories (New York: Knopf, 1959); and “Omkring ædligheds-ballet,” translated by Janet Garton as “The Charity Ball,” in An Everyday Story: Norwegian Women’s Fiction, edited by Katherine Hanson (Seattle: Seal Press, 1984): pp. 76-96;
Vaaren (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1914);
Fortallinger om Kong Artur og ridderne av det runde bord (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1915);
Splinten av troldspeilet (Ckristiania: Aschehoug, 1917; revised, 1921)–includes “Fru Hjelde,” translated by Chater as Images in a Mirror (New York: Knopf, 1938; London: Cassell, 1938);
De kloke jomfruer (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1918)–includes “Thjodolf,” translated by Naomi Walford, in Four Stories (New York: Knopf, 1959);
Et kvindesynspunkt (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1919);
Kristin Lavransdatter, 3 volumes (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1920-1922)-comprises Kransen (1920), translated by Charles Archer and J. S. Scott as The Bridal Wreath (New York: Knopf, 1923); Husfrue (1921), translated by Archer as The Mistress of Husaby (New York: Knopf, 1925); and Korset (1922), translated by Archer as The Cross (New York: Knopf, 1927);
Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1925); translated by Chater in two volumes as The Master of Hestviken: The Axe (New York: Knopf, 1928) and The Master of Hestviken: The Snake Pit (New York: Knopf, 1929);
Olav Audunssøn og hans børn (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1927); translated by Chater in two volumes as The Masterof Hestviken: In the Wilderness (New York: Knopf, 1929) and The Master of Hestviken: The Son Avenger (New York: Knopf, 1930);
Katholsk propoganda (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1927);
Etapper (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1929);
Gymnadenia (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1929); translated by Chater as The Wild Orchid (New York: Knopf, 1931; London: Cassell, 1931);
Den brænnende busk, two volumes (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1930); translated by Chater as The Burning Bush (New York: Knopf, 1932; London: Cassell, 1932);
Ida Elisabeth (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1932); translated by Chater as Ida Elisabeth (New York: Knopf, 1933; London: Cassell, 1933);
Etapper: Ny rekke (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1933); translated by Chater as Stages on the Road (New York: Knopf, 1934; London: Cassell, 1934);
To europeiske helgener (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1933);
Elleve aar (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1934); translated by Chater as The Longest Tears (New York: Knopf, 1935; London: Cassell, 1935);
Sagas of Saints, translated by E. C. Ramsden (New York: Longmans, Green, 1934; London: Sheed & Ward, 1934); Norwegian version published as Norske helgener (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1937);
Den trofaste hustru (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1936); translated by Chater as The Faithful Wife (New York: Knopf, 1937; London: Cassell, 1937);
Selvportretter og landskapsbilleder (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1938); translated by Chater as Men, Women and Places (New York: Knopf, 1939; London: Cassell, 1939);
Madame Dorthea (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1939); translated by Chater as Madame Dorthea (New York: Knopf, 1940; London: Cassell, 1941);
Return to the Future (New York: Knopf, 1942); translated from Norwegian by Henriette C. K. Naeseth, published in Norwegian as Tilbake til Fremtiden (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1945);
Happy Times in Norway (New York: Knopf, 1942; London: Cassell, 1943), translated from Norwegian by Joran Birkeland, published in Norwegian as Lykkelige Dager (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1947);
Sigurd and His Brave Companions: A Tale of Medieval Norway (New York: Knopf, 1943), translated into Norwegian as Sigurd og hans tapre venner by Signe Undset Thomas (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1955);
Steen Steensen Bliiher (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger, 1946; Oslo: Aschehoug, 1957); Caterina av Siena (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1951); translated by Kate Austin-Lind as Catherine of Siena (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1954);
Igrdlysningen: skuespill (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1968);
Østenfor sol og vestenfor mane (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1972); De tre kongsdgtrene i berget det bid (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1973);
Tolv År (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1998).
Editions and Collections: Middelalder romaner, 10 volumes (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1949);
Artikler og taler fra krigstiden, edited by A. H. Winsnes (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1952);
Kirke og klosterliv, introduction by Hallvard Rieber-Mohn (Oslo: Cappelen, 1963);
Romaner og fortellinger fra nåtiden, 10 volumes (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1964);
Kritikk og tro, edited by Liv Bliksrud (Oslo: St. Olavs, 1982);
Artikler og essays om litteratur, edited by Jan Daniloff (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1986);
Essays, edited by Bliksrud (Oslo: Grandahl Dreyer, 1996);
Fortellinger i utvalg (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1999);
The Unknown Sigrid Undset: Jenny and Other Works, translated by Tiina Nunnally, edited by Tim Page (South Royalton, Vt.: Steerforth Press, 2001);
Sigrid Undset: Essays og Artikler 1910-1919, edited by Bliksrud (Oslo: Aschehoug, 2004);
Sigrid Undset: Essays og Artikler 1920-1929, edited by Bliksrud (Oslo: Aschehoug, 2005);
Sigrid Undset: Essays og Artikler 1930-1939, edited by Bliksrud (Oslo: Aschehoug, 2006).
Editions in English: The Master of Hestviken, translated by Arthur G. Chater (London: Cassell, 1934);
Four Stories, translated by Naomi Walford (New York: Knopf, 1959)-comprises “Selma Brøter,” “Thjodolf,” “Miss Smith-Tellefsen,” and “Simonsen”;
Kristin Lavransdatter, translated by Charles Archer and J. S. Scott (London: Abacus, 1995);
The Wreath, translated by Tiina Nunnally (New York: Penguin, 1997);
Gunnar’s Daughter, translated by Chater, edited by Sherrill Harbison (New York: Penguin, 1998);
The Wife, translated by Nunnally (New York: Penguin, 1999);
The Cross, translated by Nunnally (New York: Penguin, 2000).
PLAY PRODUCTION: I grålysningen, Oslo, Oslo Nye Teater, 1958.
PRODUCED SCRIPT: I grålysningen, NRK Radioteatret, 1 August 1953.
OTHER: Tre sagaer om islaendinger, translated by Undset (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1923);
“Strømmen tyner,” in Norsk Sogukunst, edited by Rikard Berge (Kristiania: Aschehoug, 1924): 138-157;
Robert Hugh Benson, Kristus i kirken, translated by Undset (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1926);
Benson, Kristi venskap, translated by Undset (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1928);
Peter Christian Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, True and Untrue, edited by Undset (New York: Knopf, 1945);
Introduction, in Steen Steensen Blicher, Twelve Stories by Steen Steensen Blicher, translated by Hanna Astrup Larsen (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945);
Introduction, in Tore Ørjasaeter, Viljen og lagnaden: Dikt i utval (Oslo: Norli, 1946).
Sigrid Undset received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928 “principally for her powerful description of Northern life during the Middle Ages.” Undset was then forty-six years old and had been a published author for twenty-one years. She became the third Norwegian, following Bjørnstjeme Bjørnson in 1903 and Knut Hamsun in 1920, and the third woman, following Selma Lagerlof in 1909 and Grazia Deledda in 1926, to win the prestigious award. The prize recognized Und-set’s greatest historical novels, the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter (1920-1922; Kransen, translated as The Bridal Wreath, 1923; Husfrue, translated as The Mistress of Husaby, 1925; and Korset, translated as The Cross, 1927) and the two-volume epic Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken (1925; translated as The Master of Hestviken: The Axe, 1928, and The Master of Hestviken: The Snake Pit, 1929) and Olav Audunssøn og hans børn (1927; translated as The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness, 1929, and The Master of Hestviken: The Son Avenger, 1930). The powerful portrayal of the life of Kristin Lavransdatter, especially, attracted the attention of historians and literary critics and prompted Undset’s nomination for the Nobel Prize–first in 1922, and then in 1925, 1926, and 1928. Per Hallstrom, Nobel Committee chairman, in his presentation of the award at the ceremony in Stockholm, praised Undset’s depiction of the inner lives of her medieval characters. He noted briefly the concern of some critics that Undset had added fantasy to historical fact in her presentation of medieval psychological detail, but insisted, “the historian’s claim is not absolute: the poet has at least an equal right to express himself when he relies on a solid and intuitive knowledge of the human soul.” In her brief speech at the Nobel Prize banquet, Undset began, “I write more readily than I speak and I am especially reluctant to talk about myself. Instead, I wish to offer a salute to Sweden.” She then commented on the shared humanity of the peoples of the Scandinavian Peninsula and concluded her speech with greetings from Norwegian government officials and friends.
The prize complicated Undset’s already ambivalent response to her life as a well-known author and her aversion to media intrusions on her private life. On the other hand, the Nobel Prize marked the culmination of her efforts to write historical fiction recognized for its poetry as well as its realism. While Undset’s masterpiece, Kristin Lavransdatter, already had attracted international acclaim, the Nobel Prize also secured Undset’s place as an internationally known author and one of Norway’s most significant authors of the twentieth century. The prediction of a dissenting member of the Nobel committee that “jag vagar tro, att hennes romaner inom kort tid komma att sakna lasare” (I dare believe, that her novels will within a short time lack readers) proved to be remarkably off target. The trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter has been in continuous print since its original publication and has been translated into more than seventy languages.
The whole of Undset’s authorship from 1907 to 1939 is informed by keen intellectual observation, remarkable knowledge of medieval history and literature, and a sharply realistic view of the human experience in the world. In addition to historical novels, Undset wrote more than twenty novels and collections of short stories. Her oeuvre also includes several children’s books, plays, early poems, hagiographies, a biography, several works of translation, and many essays that provide rich insight into her views on literature, religion, and the social issues of her time. As a young author Undset quickly found that poetry and drama were not suited to her talents and the topics she wished to address. She turned to the novel, short story, and essay as the genres that best accommodated her determination to address the conditions of her time.
Like many authors of the first decades of the twentieth century, Undset responded to life in a rapidly changing society through her writing. She was a bold skeptic of modernity who regarded further trends toward industrialization, materialism, and a focus on the individual as threats to social stability. Undset credited her early education in the freethinking school of Ragna Nielsen for her lifelong wariness of “alt som smakte av utviklingstro, fremskrittsglede og programmer” (everything that smacked of faith in development, joy of progress, and the programs). In her fiction as well as her nonfiction, Undset presented her own perspectives on the changing roles for women in society, the poverty of a modern culture that forgets its past, and conflicts in values and norms in daily life.
Though she is best known as a writer of the historical novel, Undset was decidedly a writer of her time. In the years 1907 to 1919, Undset focused primarily on women’s roles in modern society. Her polemics against abortion, women’s place in national politics, and what she viewed as overly optimistic rhetoric of the women’s movement became more nuanced in her early short stories and novels. These are stories of urban women struggling in marriage, of single working-women in the gray everyday of Norway’s capital city of Kristiania (present-day Oslo), and of women striving to combine traditional roles with dreams of artistic creativity. The 1920s were Undset’s most productive years as an artist and the most transformative years of her personal life. Though the fate of women remains a central focus throughout Undset’s authorship, the historical novels of Kristin Lavransdatter and Olav Audunssøn reset the search for integrity and truth to the Middle Ages, the inner life of the soul, and the extended religious pilgrimage. Like her Norwegian “new realist” contemporaries Olav Duun and Johan Falkberget, Undset found expression in her historical epic fiction for her respect for history and social continuity. At the same time as the author devoted herself to the writing of her epics, she began to explore the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith, converting to Catholicism in 1924. Her religious faith became more and more a part of her practice of daily life and a source of inspiration for both her fiction and her nonfiction writing. Undset’s literary production in the 1930s, largely contemporary novels with a religious tone, is widely viewed as less compelling and of lesser quality. On the other hand, Undset’s continued exploration of religious thought and experience during this time presents personal and cultural insight into the process of conversion in a largely Lutheran, post-World War I society. Undset’s writing from the 1940s reflects the unsettled political times in which she wrote. She wrote no major works of literature during this period, though her reflective pieces on her experiences in Norway, her narratives for children, and her attention to classic works of Scandinavian literature offer glimpses of a literary mind at work in exile.
In responding to the early 1900s, Undset wrote from convictions firmly rooted in the belief that the traditions of a past could greatly inform the present and the future. She was not interested in merely writing against the current of modern thought. Her essays cast significant light on the ways in which she often functioned as an important dissenting voice that could sound reactionary and antifeminist at times, yet uncompromisingly engaged in the social debate of her time. In her fiction, Undset attains her highest artistic accomplishment and greatest critical acclaim in those texts in which she allows her characters, whether medieval or modern, to remain within the tensions and ambiguities of life. In these works, multiple perspectives and exacting detail depict a realist’s worldview of ethical, moral, and religious choices.
The making of Undset into a Nobel author is to be found as much in her individual determination as in the influence of family and the cultural collective. Undset was the first child of Ingvald and Charlotte Undset. Her father was a renowned archaeologist whose work had taken him and his wife to many sites in Europe. The onset of a serious illness made it necessary for Ingvald Undset to return to Scandinavia from Rome in 1882. He and his wife chose to come to Kalundborg, Denmark, Charlotte’s childhood home. Sigrid was born there on 20 May 1882. Her early childhood memories of Kalundborg are recounted in many works, including Elleve aar (1934, Eleven Years; translated as The Longest Tears, 1935) and “Strammen tyner” (The Current Weakens) in Norsk sogukunst (1924, The Art of Norwegian Folk Narrative). Her memories of the fine family home, the old-fashioned village square, and the bedtime tales told by her aunt Signe all lend a storybook quality to her place of birth. Though Kalundborg was Undset’s home for the first two years of her life only, she maintained her connection to her Danish roots through visits to her relatives, a keen interest in Danish literature and history, and, in later years, visits with Danish colleagues and friends.
In 1884 Undset moved with her parents and her younger sister, Ragnhild, to her father’s native Norway. They settled in Kristiania, where the family grew to five with the birth of Sigrid’s youngest sister, Signe. Within the home, Undset and her sisters grew up in a rich environment of Scandinavian history, medieval literature, folklore, and creative storytelling. Undset remembers in particular the importance of her father to her childhood, reflecting, “Mine forestillinger og mit fatasiliv var like til jeg kom paa skole direkte og indirekte bestemt av min far og hans arbeide. Hans bibliotek og lille samling av nordiske, sydeuropasiske og lilleasiatiske old-saker var det dominerende i hjemmets utstyr” (Right up until I started school my ideas and my fantasy life were directly and indirectly determined by my father and his work. His library and small collection of Nordic, Southern European, and Asia Minor artifacts were the dominating items in the home).
Ingvald Undset contributed his archaeological expertise in the early Iron Age in northern Europe to his work at the Museum of Antiquities in Kristiania. Hours spent with her father at the museum opened Sigrid’s eyes and mind to the world of medieval Scandinavia. Her father’s family also introduced her to the sagas. Undset recalls that while visiting her relatives in Trondheim as a young girl, she was challenged to tackle the Icelandic Njals Saga (circa 1300). This story captivated her, and Undset later in life proclaimed that reading this saga was a turning point in her life. Though Ingvald Undset’s dream that his daughter would follow in his footsteps and become an archaeologist did not come true, the interest Sigrid inherited for medieval history and literature grew into the creation of the most intricate worlds of her fiction. Undset’s father died in 1893 when she was eleven years old. From this time, in addition to an intellectually privileged upbringing, economic challenges for Undset, her mother, and two younger sisters became part of everyday reality.
Undset was schooled at home until the age of eight. She began her formal education at the Ragna Nielsen School, a politically liberal, coeducational school whose progressive outlook did not impress Undset as much as it did others. In a biographical essay written in conjunction with her acceptance of the Nobel Prize, Undset described her resistance to the teaching of the school: “jeg rullet meg sammen som et pinnsvin, og som et lite pinnsvin trillet jeg opp gjennom skolen” (I curled myself up like a hedgehog, and like a little hedgehog I rolled up through school). Upon her father’s death, Sigrid and her sisters were offered a chance to continue at Ragna Nielsen’s school free of charge. At the age of sixteen, however, Undset decided not to continue her study to the next academic level. Instead, she took a one-year course at a commercial school, where she received an education to do secretarial work.
Upon finishing this training in 1899, Undset obtained a position in the Kristiania office of the German engineering firm Allgemeine Eliktrizcitats-Gesellschaft. She regarded her first career as a place where she “lærte å utføre et arbeid som jeg ikke likte, og utføre det godt” (learned among other things to do work I did not care for, and to do it well). Undset’s fiction reveals that her years of office work provided her with more than just a means of supporting herself and her family. She often drew upon her experiences in the milieu of this everyday middle-class Kristiania for the creation of a realistic urban landscape in her contemporary fiction.
In the hours and days Undset was not working at her office job, she continued to pursue her interests in art and literature. Early correspondence with her Swedish pen pal Dea (Andrea Hedberg) offers the best glimpse of Undset’s artistic aspirations during her late teens and early twenties. On 8 March 1902 Undset wrote to Dea, “... jeg vil skabe kunst. Det er det eneste jeg ensker. Men det er kunstner, jeg vil være, kvindelig kunstner og ikke en pennebrugende dame” (I want to create art. That is the only thing I want. But it is an artist I want to be, a woman artist and not a pen-wielding lady).
She wrote some poetry, and a collection of her poems was published in 1910 under the title Ungdom (Youth). But the genre of the novel most occupied Undset from the beginning. Letters to Dea make clear that the initial concepts for the epics Kristin Lavransdatter and Olav Audunssøn were already forming and being put to paper in the early years of the 1900s. Undset’s first medieval creation, the story of Svend Trast, was later developed into the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter. The epic Olav Audunssøn grew out of her second prose piece, which related the life of the fictional Aage Nielssøn. In 1905 Undset traveled to Gyldendal Publishing House in Copenhagen to submit this first completed manuscript, which she had titled “Aage Nielssøn til Ulvholm” (Aage Nielssøn of Ulvholm). The publisher was less than enthusiastic about Undset’s first work. He suggested, in fact, that Undset not attempt the historical novel again and encouraged her to try her hand at writing “something modern” instead. The rejection of this first manuscript indeed prompted Undset to turn to writing a novel set in her own time. In 1907 Aschehoug Publishing House accepted Undset’s first modern novel, Fru Marta Oulie (Mrs. Marta Oulie), for publication.
With the opening statement, “Jeg har været min mand utro” (I have been unfaithful to my husband), Undset boldly introduced a novel with themes that became central to her authorship. The protagonist’s ideals are exposed as illusion, and she is left to face the often less-than-beautiful realities of marriage, relationships, and personal fallibility. Fru Marta Oulie is Undset’s only novel written in diary form. The protagonist, Marta, recounts the story of her marriage and the feeling of guilt for her affair with her husband’s colleague. Upon her husband’s death, Marta refuses her lover Henrik’s marriage proposal. The novel offers no happy ending. Marta’s attempts through her diary to “stille min egen bledende smerte” (quiet my own bleeding pain) are only partially successful. Her past is all too present and the future far from certain. Fru Marta Oulie is a short novel, but in subject matter and style it announced Undset’s ability to write fiction that was both unsentimental and highly revealing of the psychological turmoil of a modern woman’s life.
A year later, Undset followed with her next work of contemporary fiction, a collection of four short stories, Den lykkelige alder (1908, The Happy Age). In this work, Undset expands her gallery of female characters to include in the story “Et halvt dusin lommetørklæder” (A Half Dozen Handkerchiefs) a young schoolgirl and, in the two longest of these stories, “En fremmed” (A Stranger) and “Den lykkelige alder,” unmarried women working in Kristiania. The story “Drøm” (Dream) marks the exception among the stories of the collection and an unusual interlude in Undset’s fiction writing as a whole. Written in the first person, the story contrasts life and death, and nature and the grotesque, in an unreal world of dreams.
In 1909 Undset’s third work of fiction, Fortællingen om Viga-Ljot og Vigdis (The Tale of Viga-Ljot and Vigdis; translated as Gunnar’s Daughter, 1936) was published. In it, Undset returns to the Middle Ages as a fictional setting. Though this novel, often viewed as a saga pastiche, does not measure up to her later medieval epics, it nevertheless demonstrates her knowledge of medieval history and literary style as well as her ability to build an intense narrative around the themes of the male-female relationship and of violation and revenge.
The award of a writer’s stipend in 1909 gave Undset new freedom and time to devote to her writing. In May 1909 she quit her office job and traveled first to Denmark, then through Germany, on her way to Italy. Undset spent the time from late 1909 to the spring of 1910 in Rome. She followed a long tradition of Scandinavian artists and writers who had come to live in Rome, and the sense is that, like many of her predecessors, Undset was inspired by the Italian setting to a new sense of freedom and a higher artistic vision. Among the Scandinavians she met in Rome was Norwegian painter Anders Castus Svarstad. He later became her husband. They were married in 1912, after Svarstad had obtained a divorce from his wife. During her stay in Rome, Undset sent articles and travel descriptions home for publication in Norwegian newspapers. Her main focus, however, was her fiction. On 12 December 1909 Undset wrote enthusiastically to her friend, author Nils Collett Vogt, “Jeg har faat en brasndende lyst til at skrive noget riktig godt hernede” (I have gotten the burning desire to write something really good down here). Undset chose the setting of Rome for the beginning of her new novel, Jenny (1911; translated as Jenny, 1920). She completed this contemporary narrative upon her return to Kristiania in 1910.
Jenny was Undset’s breakthrough novel. It is a powerful narrative of the self-destruction of Jenny Winge, an idealistic young woman, inexperienced in love, who is striving to realize her dreams to become an artist. In Rome, Jenny meets the unimaginative Helge Gram, a Norwegian student who stands in stark contrast to Jenny’s bohemian artist friends. Her exploration of erotic desire with Helge proves to be the beginning of Jenny’s downfall, as she views her relationship with a man she does not love as a sign of her own failure to wait for her “herre” (master). In a visit to Kristiania, Jenny has an affair with Helge’s father, Gert, and becomes pregnant by him. Jenny leaves for Germany, where she gives birth to a son. But upon the death of her baby boy, life begins to ebb for Jenny as well. In Rome once again, Helge Gram finds Jenny and forces his love upon her. After Helge leaves, Jenny takes her own life. The tragedy of Jenny’s life is summed up by her friend Gunnar, who in his grief recognizes the impossible ideals that Jenny had sought to live by:
“Ingen kvinne har fodt det barn hun dromte om da hun gikk svanger. –Ingen kunstner har skapt det verk han sa for seg i unnfangelsens stund. – Og vi lever sommer etter sommer, men ingen er den vi lengtet mot, da vi boyde oss og plukket de vate blomster under varens stormbyger”
(No woman has given birth to the child she dreamed of when she was pregnant. –No artist has created the work he envisioned at the time of its conception. –And we live summer after summer, but none is the one we longed for, when we bent down and picked the wet flowers under the spring’s storm clouds.)
The novel Jenny generated much discussion. While literary critics praised Jenny for its stark realism and honesty, a segment of the public criticized the novel as being immoral for its portrayal of a bohemian lifestyle and erotic desire. Still others, including those working for women’s rights, objected to Undset’s creation of a female character in search of a master instead of her freedom. For Undset, the public reaction was not surprising, nor was it the most important response to her work. In a letter she wrote to Vogt on 28 February 1912, Undset admits she was uncertain if her writing would bring a good result, but she was “glad for at de andre kunstnere, hvis dom jeg bryr meg om, sier at ‘Jenny’ er god” (happy that the other artists, whose judgment I care about, say that “Jenny” is good).
As Undset developed as an artist, the circle of fellow artists, authors, and scholars of literature, folklore, and history came to be a source of mutual support, informed criticism, and consultation. She was a member of Den norske forfatterforeningen (The Norwegian Authors’ Union) throughout her career, and she served as the chairperson of the organization from 1935 to 1940. In addition to her contact with Vogt and other male writers and scholars, women authors of the time-most important, Nini Roll Anker–came to be her friends. Particularly up until the mid 1920s Anker was the friend in whom Undset confided her triumphs and concerns as she gradually took on the challenge of balancing the roles of wife, mother, and author. Many of Undset’s letters, including correspondence with Vogt and Anker, attest to both the common and uncommon aspects of Undset’s life.
With the success of Jenny, a second stipend allowed Undset to spend another extended period of time abroad. In June 1912 she and Svarstad were married at the Norwegian Consulate in Antwerp, Belgium. They then went on to England, where Undset wrote her next collection of short stories, Fattige Skjebner (1912, Poor Fates; three stories of which were translated in Four Stories, 1959). Lacking the bold beginning of her debut novel and the tragic conclusion of her breakthrough novel, Fattige Skjebner nonetheless presents Undset’s intimate, sympathetic, and at times, subtly humorous views of the lives of workingmen and -women in Kristiania. In these short stories, Undset continued to use what she viewed as daring language to depict the discussion of sexual relationships. In fact, Undset related in a letter to Anker on 16 November 1912 that she considered the story “Fraken Smith-Tellefsen” (translated as “Miss Smith-Tellefsen,” in Four Stories) to be “det brutaleske jeg noen gang har skrevet” (the most brutal I have ever written). A different narrative strategy can be found in the story “Selma Brater” (translated as “Selma Brater,” in Four Stories), in which the story of women in the clutches of office gossip is told with special irony. Undset’s clear understanding and sympathy for young workingwomen is particularly conveyed in the story “Omkring SEedelighedsballet” (translated as “The Charity Ball,” in An Everyday Story: Norwegian Women’s Fiction, 1984), in which the main character, seamstress Elina, and her friend Arnljot engage in a discussion of the contrasting lives of single working-women and their married counterparts. Elina remarks, “Jeg vet bare det, jeg, de som er rike, de skulle betale oss ordentlig, som sliter for dem–hellere enn a fly sta og danse isammen redningshjem for gatejenter i kjoler som dem skylder pa–” (I just know that those who are rich, they should pay us decently, all of us who wear ourselves out for them–rather than flit around and dance together a shelter for street girls in dresses they owe money on–). In the same year that the novel Fattige Skjebner was published, Undset also wrote the article “Noen kvinnesaksbetrakninger” (Some Observations on the Women’s Issue), published in 1919 in Et kvinde-synspunkt. Comparisons between this nonfiction essay and Undset’s short stories written in the same time period provide valuable glimpses into how Undset transformed her real-life views into the multivoiced discourse of her fiction.
In December 1912 Undset and her husband made their way from London to Rome. There they lived and worked in the same quarters in which they had lived several years earlier. In January 1913 their first son, Anders, was born. Undset’s role as a mother took precedence over her work as an author during this time. She became increasingly concerned for her son, who was not thriving, despite local medical care, and she finally returned with him to Kristiania for further medical treatment. Her husband remained in Rome for a time and joined his family in Norway in the summer of 1913.
During the years from 1913 to 1919 the time to write became a scarce commodity for Undset. She and her husband moved several times in those years, first living in Ski near Kristiania, and then moving into Kristiania in 1916. They also adjusted to a constantly growing family. Undset gave birth to her second child, Maren Charlotte, in 1915. The gradual realization that her daughter was mentally disabled added to Undset’s concern and commitment to her family. In Kristiania, the household grew to include Svarstad’s three children by his first marriage. Even with domestic help, Undset’s dedication to being wife, mother, stepmother, and author proved to be a challenge.
Undset’s literary production in these years is varied. Her next modern novel, Vaaren (Spring), was published in 1914. The novel is generally viewed as one in which a moralizing tone overwhelms the aesthetic quality. Undset’s interest in historical legend inspired her in her next writing, a retelling of a well-known legend, Fortællinger om, Kong Artur og ridderne av det runde bord (1915, Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table). From the tales of King Arthur, Undset returned to the portrayal of distinctly modern subjects in her next work, Splinten av troldspeilet (1917, The Splinter in the Troll Mirror). The two stories that make up this work, “Fru Hjelde” (translated as Images in a Mirror, 1938) and “Fru Waage,” describe the dilemma of the young wife who must choose between husband and lover in her search for happiness. Infidelity is only a brief transgression of the accepted social framework, as the married woman’s idealistic vision of happiness in an extramarital affair is “corrected” by her realization that such relationships do not guarantee joy in life. The two stories reveal a developing technique in Undset’s writing to engage her own works of fiction in dialogue with one another. The stories respond to one another in the main characters’ resolutions to their dilemmas–Fru Hjelde in the first story chooses to return to her duty to her children and husband, while the protagonist of the second story, Fru Waage, having lost both a child and joy in her marriage, chooses to divorce and remarry. Undset continues in the short-story genre in her next work, De kloke jomfruer (1918, The Wise Virgins; some stories translated in Four Stories, 1959). While Undset’s previous characters often learned the lessons of life through their misguided attempts to choose between contradictory values, the female protagonists in De kloke jomfruer become wise through experiencing the injustices of life. Undset writes with a lighter hand in these stories, as she offers no solutions to the characters’ dilemmas but ends each story with the sorrow experienced by the protagonist in the broken relationships of girlhood friendship, motherhood, and marriage. De kloke jomfruer is the last of Undset’s contemporary prose in the short-story genre and the last for many years in which she uses a contemporary setting. Seen in the context of her entire authorship, the fiction works written from 1907 to 1919 represent an important body of literature in which Undset establishes herself as a multi-faceted author, writing both modern and historical works and moving easily between the genres of the novel, short story, and legend.
While Undset was exploring life’s dilemmas through the worlds of her fiction, it became clearer to her in the last years of the 1910s that her real-life commitment to both family and writing was an extremely difficult project. In a letter to Anker written on 22 October 1918, Undset relates her sense of isolation and frustration, concluding “Jeg vet selv at nogenting maa jeg gjere nu, for dette gaar fanivold” (I know myself that something has to be done now, for this is going to hell). In 1919 Undset’s husband moved to a new home in Kristiania, and Undset moved to Lillehammer with her son and daughter. In the same year Undset gave birth to a second son, Hans. What first seemed to be a temporary separation between Undset and Svarstad proved to be a more serious break in their marriage. In 1921 Undset bought her home in Lillehammer and gave it the name Bjerkebask. With the exception of the time she spent in exile during World War II, Bjerkebask was her home until her death. Undset’s marriage to Svarstad was dissolved in 1924. After her move to Lillehammer, Undset first completed an essay for Et kvindesynspunkt, the collection of articles she had written between 1912 and 1919 debating women’s roles in society. Following the publication of this collection, and fifteen years after the rejection of her first medieval novel, Undset set about building the literary creations of her youth into the multivolume works Kristin Lavransdatter and Olav Audunssøn. These epics represent a phenomenal production in both the volume of writing and the sweeping expanse of the fictional historical landscape. Undset’s masterpiece, Kristin Lavransdatter, received high praise from the beginning for its captivating story and its unprecedented integration of medieval history and fiction. Recognition of her artistic talents also took the form of greater economic security for Undset as she was awarded a yearly author’s salary by the Norwegian government in 1922. In Kristin Lavransdatter, Undset brings the vague contours of Norwegian medieval history into sharp if fictional focus. She weaves folklore and medieval literature into the details of medieval history, creating a complex narrative that follows the life of an individual across the expanse of romance and religious belief. The three volumes present the drama of Kristin from her childhood to her death during the plague of 1349. Between these events, the romance and marriage between Kristin Lavransdatter and Erlend
Nikulausson is the driving force of the novel. In winning Erlend, Kristin defies family wishes and social tradition by breaking her engagement to their likable neighbor, Simon. The relationship of the individual to collective norms established in the first volume is developed in the succeeding volumes of the trilogy, defining the dilemmas of the individual’s life choices. The second volume, Husfrue, contrasts romance and reality, as Kristin’s marriage to the irresistible but irresponsible Erlend becomes a lifelong trial. Erlend brings to Kristin’s life not only love but also political intrigue, infidelity, and social decline, prompting Kristin increasingly to seek a moral and religious direction to her life. In the last volume of the trilogy, the tension between earthly and spiritual existence reaches its climax and resolution. The knightly Erlend dies defending Kristin’s honor, and Kristin leaves her family home to turn to life in the service of her faith at Rein cloister. She dies within the cloister walls, a victim among many victims of the Black Death. In the final pages of the epic, Undset lifts Kristin to a metaphysical plane, describing Kristin’s final vision as God’s servant “eid av den herre og konge som nu kom, baret pa prestens viede hender, for a gi henne frihet og frelse” (owned by the lord and king that now came, carried on the priest’s consecrated hands, to give her freedom and salvation).
The trilogy was immediately recognized as a compelling narrative with an incredibly accurate medieval setting. At the same time, the trilogy contributed to a debate over the extent to which the Catholic faith was an integral part of Norwegian medieval mentality. Since the time of its publication, Kristin Lavransdatter has continued to spark much interesting discussion on the relationship of the medieval to the modern in Undset’s historical novels.
Undset’s writing projects in the years immediately following the publication of Kristin Lavransdatter focused in part on efforts to bring both saga and folklore texts to the modern Norwegian reader. Undset translated the three Icelandic sagas Viga-Glum’s saga, Kormak’s saga, and Bandamanna saga into Norwegian, and these were published in the collection Tre sagaer om islandinger (1923, Three Sagas of Icelanders). To a collection of tales being compiled by folklorist Rikard Berge and published in 1924 as Norsk sogukunst (The Art of Norwegian Folk Narrative) Undset contributed a selection of childhood folktales as well as the essay “Strammen tyner,” which compared the relationship of traditional and modern society to folk literature.
Undset’s next work of fiction, Olav Audunssøn, had its origin in the plot of her rejected manuscript “Aage Nielssen til Ulvholm.” Undset’s Olav Audunssøn is, like Kristin Lavransdatter, set in the Middle Ages. In contrast to the dramatic tension between daughter and father, wife and husband in Kristin Lavransdatter, the themes of Olav Audunssøn are played out in large part through the conflict between father and son. In Olav’s son Eirik are embodied all the secrets of Olav’s life. Eirik is in reality not his son, but the son of the man Olav murdered. As Olav grows old, and the fate of his farm Hestviken is to be determined, he is faced with the responsibility to reveal that the rightful heir to the farm is not Eirik, but Olav and his wife Ingunn’s daughter, Cecilia. Olav is spared exposing the truth of Eirik’s parentage and his own role in the murder of Eirik’s father when Eirik himself decides to leave Hestviken to enter the life of the cloister. Underlying this story of murder and inheritance is the psychological and spiritual struggle of Olav as he contemplates his religious faith and responsibility to confess his sin of murder. The critical reception of Olav Audunssøn was positive, but it did not acknowledge new heights for Undset. While this second medieval work displayed a similar impressive historical knowledge, and included a sophisticated internal struggle for its main character, Olav Audunssøn was generally viewed as more sober than the first medieval work, with a main character whose life was less engaging than Kristin’s.
For her two epics set in the Middle Ages, Undset was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928. Already in 1922, when she first was nominated for the prize, Undset recognized the ways in which her growing fame affected her life. She confided in a letter to Fredrik Poulson, who had nominated her for the prize, “Allerede det at jeg nu er blit savidt “beramt” passer i grunden si darlig til mig–det er bare det at jeg aldri har noen fornemmelse av at det er mig personlig det gjaslder” (Already the fact that I now have become somewhat “famous” suits me actually so poorly–it is just that I never have any sense that it pertains to me personally). At the same time, she is quick to add that she would not want merely to fade into the background after having been published, and she admits in the same letter the difficulty of “at spise sin kake og ha den!” (to have one’s cake and eat it too!). Journalists’ efforts to elicit a response from the author upon the news of her being named the Nobel Prize-winner in literature resulted in the following entry in Norwegian newspapers :
Si at jeg er glasdelig overrasket, sa Sigrid Undset. Og forresten har jeg en sand radsel for at bli interviewed Jeg kan virkelig ikke si andet enn at jeg er glasdelig over-rasket.Og nu maa jeg gaa og si godnatt til mine born. Hvorefter fruen med en venlig hilsenforsvandt op trappen.
(Say that I am pleasantly surprised, said Sigrid Undset. And by the way I have a true fear of being interviewed. I can really not say anything else than that I am pleasantly surprised. And now I must go and say goodnight to my children. Upon which the madam with a friendly greeting disappeared up the steps.)
Undset chose to donate her Nobel Prize money to three causes, all reflecting the concerns and passions of her life. She gave a portion of the Nobel monetary award to Den norske forfatterforeningen (The Norwegian Authors’ Union) and larger sums to set up two separate funds–one to assist families with mentally disabled children in their efforts to care for their children at home and another to support Catholic families in the education of their children at private Catholic schools.
The tremendous success of Kristin Lavransdatter and the award of the Nobel Prize only increased requests for Undset to give speeches, grant interviews, and provide monetary support to many diverse projects and to strangers. She responded to many requests, though she continued to be reluctant to grant interviews and at times found the volume of letters requesting money exasperating. In a letter before Christmas in 1929, Undset wrote to an aunt, “var det mange som skrev til mig for og betrodde mig al verdens elendighet, saa er det ikke blit farre nu. Jeg har ikke hat nogen anmodning om at hjelpe nogen som bor paa Maanen, saa nu er jeg da helt viss paa at den er ubeboet” (if there were many who wrote to me before and confided to me all the world’s misery, there are not any less now. I haven’t had any request to help someone that lives on the moon, so now I am totally certain that it is uninhabited).
If the success of her medieval novels and receiving the Nobel Prize interrupted her personal life, it did not distract her from her writing, nor did it change the course of her life toward an exploration of a Roman Catholic past in Norway and her own Catholic faith in the present. Undset continued her investigation of religious and historical themes in part through continuing to write hagiographic texts. In a letter to literary historian Fredrik Paasche on 30 June 1929, however, it is clear that Undset again sought the challenge of investigating contemporary subjects. In the letter Undset conveys her satisfaction with her progress in writing accounts of Norwegian saints, but she adds as well, “Men [jeg] lamgter efter at bli fardig og kunne vende til-bake til norske syndere” (But [I] long to be done and to be able to turn back to Norwegian sinners). In her fiction of the 1930s, Undset did indeed explore the life of the modern and imperfect individual once more.
Her works during this decade were to a large extent distinctly religious. This tone is found especially in the two novels Gymnadenia (1929; translated as The Wild Orchid, 1931) and Den brcendende busk (1930; translated as The Burning Bush, 1932), which tell of the main character Paul Selmer’s conversion to Catholicism. Undset softens the religious tone in her next two novels, Ida Elisabeth (1932; translated as Ida Elisabeth, 1933) and Den trofaste hustru (1936; translated as The Faithful Wife, 1937). In these, her last two works of contemporary fiction, Undset presents religious belief as a possible space within which modern and self-sufficient women can find purpose and harmony inside the fragile circle of the family. In the context of Undset’s entire authorship, these two novels and the two so-called conversion novels about Paul Selmer are generally considered not of the same caliber as many of her other works. They do, however, mark both an important movement in Undset’s authorship toward more-religious themes and a consistency in her exploration, from her first novel, Fru Marta Oulie, to her last contemporary work, Den trofaste hustru, into the myriad ways in which the individual relates to spouse and lover, family and children, kin and community, and the larger questions of purpose and a life of integrity.
During the 1930s, many of Undset’s hagio-graphic texts were published in Sagas of Saints (1934) and its Norwegian version, Norske helgener (1937, Norwegian Saints). The works include chapters on St. Olav and St. Sunniva and an essay on the impact of the conversion to Christianity and the Reformation on Norwegian culture. This essay reveals more than Undset’s historical expertise. It is also a forum through which Undset reminds her readers of a Norwegian national heritage based in pre-Reformation Europe.
The 1930s were a time for Undset to reflect on her own personal history as well. The novel Elleve oar is a thinly veiled autobiography of Undset’s own childhood and tells the story of the young Ingvild–given this name in honor of Undset’s own father, Ingvald–up until the time of her father’s death, when she is eleven years old. In 1997 the unfinished manuscript that was a continuation of this account of Ingvild’s life was found among Undset’s papers at her home, Bjerkebsk. Tolv Ar (1998, Twelve Years) is believed to have been written in the 1940s while Undset was in exile in the United States. Together, the stories of Ingvild’s life provide a glimpse into the mature Undset’s impressions of the significant sights, sounds, and experiences of her own childhood. The two accounts are more poetic than documentary narrative and offer interesting points of comparison with some of Undset’s early fiction.
In 1939 Undset wrote her last novel. Madame Dorthea (translated as Madame Dorthea, 1940) was the first volume of what Undset originally had intended to be an historical epic. The story of Madame Dorthea takes place in Denmark in the late 1700s. The plans for this multivolume work were interrupted by the events of World War II, and additional volumes were never written. The year 1939 also proved to be one of personal trial for Undset, as both her daughter and her mother died during this year.
Beyond the borders of home, Undset’s attention was drawn to political activities, and she joined the protest against the actual and impending human tragedy of war in Europe. In articles and speeches she gave during this time, Undset warned against fascism and the growing Nazi threat from Germany. Because Undset’s anti-Nazi stance was known to German authorities, it was considered too dangerous for her to remain in Lillehammer after Germany invaded Norway in April 1940. Shortly after the invasion Undset left her home and fled to Sweden. Upon her arrival in Stockholm she learned that her eldest son, Anders, had been killed in April during the early weeks of fighting Nazi forces. Undset was later joined in Sweden by her son Hans, and together they made the journey via Russia and Japan to the United States. They arrived in San Francisco in August 1940, and moved on to New York City, where Undset lived for the duration of the war.
Undset’s talents as a writer and a keen observer of cultural and historical conditions made her a great asset to Norwegian authorities. During her exile in the United States, Undset helped to further the cause of Norway in part through informing Americans about the nation and its people. When she first arrived in the United States, she spoke at many colleges and universities across the country. The majority of her time, however, was spent working and writing in New York City. Undset’s literary production during this time was small and diverse. It included a substantive essay on Danish author Steen Steensen Blicher, which was written for a collection of his stories, Twelve Stories by Steen Steensen Blicher (1945), and a compilation of Norwegian folktales in English published as True and Untrue (1945). Undset also wrote three shorter book-length works while in the United States. All three were first published in English and later published in Norwegian. Return to the Future (1942) describes Undset’s journey from Norway to the United States in 1940. In Happy Times in Norway (1942) Undset followed Eleanor Roosevelt’s suggestion that exiled authors provide Americans a glimpse of the way children grow up in foreign lands and contributed an account of childhood in Norway. Sigurd and His Brave Companions (1943) is a fictional account for children and is set in the Middle Ages. Requests for Undset to write and to speak to American audiences on issues pertaining to Norwegian culture and wartime perspectives resulted in many nonfiction articles, essays, and speeches. A selection of these works is included in Artikler og takrfra krigstiden (1952, Articles and Speeches from War Time). Undset’s expression in these pieces includes a sense of distance and explicitness that gives clear outline to her observations on topics ranging from American cultural habits to her depiction of truth in fiction. Of her nonliterary assignments during her time in exile, Undset was proudest of her work for the government in mapping the location of cultural sites in Norway in hopes they might be spared from destruction during wartime.
While she was proud of her role as a spokesperson for Norway, Undset realized that exile had had a profound effect on her relationship to the writing of fiction. In a letter to her son written on 22 September 1943, Undset expressed her doubts that she would write more major works of fiction after the war. She explained to Hans, “Ser du, hele den verden som jeg hadde rotter i og kunde gjen-skape i tankene og arbeide med i fantasien, den er borte, det vet jeg godt. Jeg haber jeg kan utrette litt endda, i den verden som skal bygges op, men jeg er gammel, og er blitt rykket op med alle rotter” (You see, the entire world that I had my roots in and could re-create in my thoughts and work with in my imagination is gone, I know that. I hope that I can still accomplish a little, in the world that will be built up, but I am old, and have been pulled up by all my roots). Undset’s doubts about her future literary production proved true, and she never returned to the writing of creative prose.
She returned to Norway after the war in 1945 and resettled at her home, Bjerkebsk. Like many others, she was weary from the war, and she suffered from poor health in the last years of her life. Her major literary work of this time was the posthumously published biography Caterina av Siena (1951; translated as Catherine of Siena, 1954). Undset was recognized with many awards for her contributions during the war. The greatest of these came in 1947 when she was honored with the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olaf by the Norwegian government. In 1948 Undset visited Denmark and traveled with friends to her birthplace at Kalundborg. Her visit was cut short by poor health. In June 1949 Undset entered the hospital in Lillehammer with a kidney infection. She died there on 10 June 1949 at the age of sixty-seven. Sigrid Undset was buried at Mesnali near Lillehammer. In addition to her biography of Catherine of Siena, several minor works, including several plays for children, were published after her death.
In Sigrid Undset’s lifetime, her fiction and non-fiction became an integral part of Norwegian culture. Since her death, Undset’s works, in particular her trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter, have continued to engage a tremendous audience in following characters whose conflicts, longings, and insights are potentially common to every man and woman. The strength Undset developed in writing both historical and modern realist fiction was no accident. Rather, it stemmed from a conviction to investigate the human experience from within the crosscurrents of past and present and of tradition and modernity. Throughout her authorship, the roles, choices, and responsibilities of women remained central to this investigation.
The lasting quality of Nobel Prize-winner Undset’s writing lies in its uncompromising response to life. Undset once commented, “Jeg kan ikke la vasre a skrive. Det er for mig den naturlige maten a reagere pa overfor det jeg har tasnkt og oplevet og demte om men-nesker og forhold i verden omkring mig” (I can’t help but write. It is for me the natural way to react to what I have thought and experienced and judged about people and relations in the world around me). Into the twenty-first century Undset is still a part of the Norwegian cultural and literary landscape. From her picture on the face of the 500-crown bill, to a prizewinning biography for young adults published in 2001, to dramatizations of her life and works, Undset remains present to a wide audience. Today, scholarly research into her fiction has continued to investigate her ideological commitments and the depth of her artistry. Now, one hundred years since her debut as an author, Undset’s essays are being carefully compiled, referenced, and published, and her fiction is being published in new editions. New biographies and translations promise to present Sigrid Undset in a new light. With these publications and the continuing careful attention to new and known materials written by Undset, her life and work will continue to be studied.
Kjare Dea (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1979); selected letters also translated by Tiina Nunnally in The Unknown Sigrid Undset (South Royalton, Vt.: Steerforth Press, 2001).
Nini Roll Anker, Min venn Sigrid Undset (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1946);
A. H. Winsnes, Sigrid Undset. En studie i kristen realisms (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1949);
Borghild Krane, Sigrid Undset. Liv og meninger (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1979);
Charlotte Blindheim, Master Sigrid. Et familieportrett av Sigrid Undset (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1982);
Arne Skouen, Sigrid Undset skriver hjem (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1982);
Gidske Anderson, Sigrid Undset–et liv (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1989);
Tordis Ørjasaeter, Menneskenes hjerter: Sigrid Undset en livshistorie (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1993);
Sunniva Hagenlund, Portrett av et vennskap: Gösta av Gei-jerstam og Sigrid Undset (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1994);
Tordis Ørjasaeter, Sigrid Undset i Roma (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1996);
Anne B. Ragde, Biografien om Sigrid Undset. Ogsd en ung Pige (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2001);
Nan Bentzen Skille, Innenfor gjerdet: Hos Sigrid Undset pa Bjerkebcek (Oslo: Aschehoug, 2003).
Anne-Lise Amadou, A gi kjcerligheten et sprak. Syv studier i Sigrid Undsets forfatterskap (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1994);
Claudia Berguson, “Questions of Narrative Authority and Authenticity in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter,” Edda, 4 (2005): 344-356;
Liv Bliksrud, “Feminisme og antifeminisme,” Norsk litterær årbok (Oslo: Samlaget, 1981), pp. 25-40;
Bliksrud, Natur og normer hos Sigrid Undset (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1988);
Bliksrud, “Norsk Utakt. Sigrid Undset i litteraturviten-skapen,” Norsk Litteraturvitenskapelig Tidskrift, 1 (2005);
Bliksrud, Sigrid Undset (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1997);
Bliksrud, “Sigrid Undset,” in Norske nobelprisvinnere: Fra Bjørnson til Kydland, edited by Olav Njølstad (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2005);
Bliksrud, “Sigrid Undset og ættesagaen,” in Atlantisk dad og drem: 17essays om Island/Norge, edited by Asbjorn Aasnes (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1998);
Carl Fredrik Engelstad, Mennesker og makter: Sigrid Undsets middehlderromaner (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1940);
Janet Garton, Norwegian Women Writing, 1850-1990 (London: Athlone, 1993);
Rakel Chr. Grannaas, and others, Kvinnesyn–tvisyn. En antologi om Sigrid Undset (Oslo: Novus, 1985);
Daniel Haakonsen, “Paktbegrepet i Kristin Lavransdatter,” in Tolkning og teori, compiled and edited by Daniel Haakonsen (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1987), pp. 125-136;
Christine Hamm, “The Maiden and the Knight: Gender, Body and Melodrama in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter” Scandinavica, 45 (2006): 5-27;
Bente Heltoft, Livssyn og digtning. Strukturgrundlaget i Sigrid Undset romaner (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1985);
Kristin Johansen, Hvis kvinner vil være kvinner. Sigrid Undset, hennes samtid og kvinnespørsmålet (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1998);
Pal Espolin Johnson, ed., Sigrid Undset i dag (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1982);
Bernt T. Oftestad, Sigrid Undset: Modernitet og katolisisme (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2003);
Ellen Rees, “Dreaming of the Medieval in Kristin Lavransdatter and Troldsyn,” Scandinavian Studies, 75 (Fall 2003): 399-416;
Otto Reinert, “Unfashionable Kristin Lavransdatter,” Scandinavian Studies, 71 (Spring 1999): 67-80;
Hallvard Rieber-Mohn, Sten pa sten. Fern blikk pa Sigrid Undset (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1982);
Helge Rønning, “Middelalderens lys-mellomkrigstidaslyst; om den historiske roman som genre og Sigrid Undsets middelalderromaner,” Vinduet, 37 (1983): 48-55;
Elisabeth Solbakken, Redefining Integrity: The Portrayal of Women in the Contemporary Novels of Sigrid Undset (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1992);
Olav Solberg, “Opfostret i historie,” Edda, (1994): 99–108;
Solberg, Tekst møter tekst. Kristin Lavransdatter og mellomalderm (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1997);
Ellisiv Steen, Kristin Lavransdatter. En estetetisk studie (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1959);
Finn Thorn, Kristentro og kirkesyn (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1974);
A. H. Winsnes, Sigrid Undset: En studie i kristen realisme (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1949); translated by P. G. Foote as Sigrid Undset: A Study in Christian Realism (London: Sheed & Ward, 1953);
Vigdis Ystad, “Ideologikritisk og/eller vitenskapelig? Helge Rennings fortolkning av Sigrid Undset,” Vinduet, 38 (1984): 60-65.
A collection of Sigrid Undset’s letters is in the National Library, Oslo.
"Undset, Sigrid (20 May 1882 – 10 June 1949)." Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, Part 4. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/undset-sigrid-20-may-1882-10-june-1949
"Undset, Sigrid (20 May 1882 – 10 June 1949)." Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, Part 4. . Retrieved September 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/undset-sigrid-20-may-1882-10-june-1949