Sigrid Undset Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sigrid Undset (UHN-seht) was the daughter of Ingvald Martin Undset, a distinguished Norwegian archaeologist, and Anna Charlotte Gyth from the Danish town of Kalundborg. As a child, Sigrid lived with her mother’s family while her father conducted research in Mediterranean countries. When he became a lecturer at the University of Norway, the family moved to Christiania (now Oslo), where two additional daughters were born. Undset was deeply influenced by her father’s work and applied his scientific rigor to an exploration of medieval culture in Norway. She was educated at a private academy under the direction of the considerate Fru Ragna Nielsen, who permitted Sigrid and her sisters to remain at the school after their father died and financial resources were limited. Despite the expectations of her mother and instructors, Undset had little interest in a university education; she preferred a career as a painter. She enrolled in a business school, however, in order to help support her family.

For ten years, Undset held a clerical position, which, although monotonous, gave her considerable insight into working-class women and their family and social relationships, material that she began to use for short stories and her first novel. During these years as an office worker, her study of Scandinavian folklore became more intense, and she wrote a novel based on Norse legends. However, it was not until the publication of Jenny in 1911 that Undset received widespread recognition as a compelling novelist. The success of this novel allowed her to commit herself to a writer’s career.

In 1912 she married A. C. Svarstad, a Norwegian painter with three children from a...

(The entire section is 691 words.)

Sigrid Undset Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Sigrid Undset was born in Kalundborg, Denmark, on May 20, 1882. Her father, Ingvald Undset, a famous Scandinavian archaeologist, had reacted against the provincial surroundings of his rural boyhood at sterdal in Norway and the confining atmosphere of Norwegian Lutheranism. Undset’s beautiful and intellectual mother, Anna Charlotte Gyth, had been reared by an indulgent Danish aunt and retained both the air of a grande dame and a rationalistic outlook after her marriage to Ingvald Undset, already not a well man. Not surprisingly, Sigrid Undset received only perfunctory religious training as a child.

In 1884, the Undsets moved to Christiania (now Oslo), where Undset’s liberal parents allowed her to follow her own precocious interests. Her father’s illness often shadowed the childhood memories she recorded in The Longest Years, which ends at his death when she was eleven, but her home was filled constantly with the atmosphere of the Middle Ages. She often read aloud to her father from medieval texts, perhaps only half understanding but wholly spellbound by the stern power and the splendor of Old Norse poetry, as in the Hávar#x00F0;ar Saga, which she read to him the day before he died:

Drag Þú mér af hendihring enn rau#x00F0;a,faer Þú enni enguIngibjorgu.Sá mun hennihugfastr tregi,er ek eigi kemtil Uppsala.(Draw from my armthe ring so red,carry it backto Ingibjorg.It will be to hera deep-set grief,when I...

(The entire section is 788 words.)

Sigrid Undset Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sigrid Undset (UHN-seht) was born in 1882 to Ingvald Undset, a Norwegian archaeologist and college professor, and Charlotte Gyth, Danish daughter of the mayor of Kalundborg, Denmark, where Sigrid was born. The family lived there only two years before moving to Norway, where Ingvald Undset could be near museums and universities. Sigrid was a precocious child who readily gained appreciation for history through her father’s studies and her exposure to archaeological objects in the home. She was familiar with the Icelandic sagas, as well as classic writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare. Sigrid was eleven when her father died, causing Sigrid, her mother, and her two sisters to adjust to reduced economic circumstances. Unable to afford a college education, she took a one-year secretarial course. Starting at age sixteen, she worked for ten years for an electrical engineering firm in Christiania (renamed Oslo in 1925). During those years of employment, she began writing for publication.

Undset met a Norwegian painter, Anders Castus Svarstad, in Rome. He was a married man with three children at the time. They had a three-year affair before he obtained a divorce. They married in 1912 and had three children of their own. Undset supervised a large household, which included her three stepchildren, as well as her children with Svarstad. It was not an easy time, as mental disability affected one of the stepchildren, as well as her middle child, a daughter. Her husband was not helpful in supporting or managing the family, and the couple separated in 1919. Then pregnant with her third child, Undset took her family to live at a farm outside Lillehammer. The marriage to Svarstad ended. There are many parallels between Undset’s married home life and that of her best-known fictional character, Kristin Lavransdatter. Two of Undset’s children predeceased her. Her mentally disabled daughter died just before World War II, and her eldest son was killed resisting the Nazi occupation of Norway in April, 1940. Norway’s postage stamp honoring Sigrid Undset features a portrait of her painted by Anders Svarstad.

Undset developed increasingly strong religious beliefs, culminating in her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1924. Once nominally Lutheran, she became convinced...

(The entire section is 937 words.)

Sigrid Undset Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sigrid Undset’s stories have worldwide admiration because she wrote with such an engaging, straightforward style about the inner life of people. She was particularly adept at describing issues troubling women; this was true whether her stories depicted contemporary or medieval times. Her special gift was bringing her prodigious knowledge of history and her descriptive skills to her stories without losing track of the gripping story line.

Undset’s personal life held much difficulty as she dealt with economic woes, a troubled marriage, and the Nazi occupation of her beloved country. Her own acquisition of fervent religious beliefs both aided her own adjustment and shaped her stories.