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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

The literary works of Sigrid Undset (UHN-seht) include short stories, poetry, drama, essays, and autobiographies. In her youth, Undset favored shorter forms, following her first novel with a one-act play, I graalysningen (wr. 1908; in the grey light of dawn); a volume of lyrics, Ungdom (1910; youth); and four collections of short fiction, Den lykkelige alder (1909; the happy age), Fattige skjæbner (1912; humble existences), Splinten av troldspeilet (1917; Images in a Mirror, 1938), and De kloge jomfruer (1918; the wise virgins). She wrote in German and English as well as in her native Norse, and her numerous articles, essays, and speeches reflected the major social and spiritual concerns from which her fiction grew, such as her Samtiden article “Nogen kvindesaks-betragtninger” (“Reflections on the Suffragette Movement”) in 1912 and the collection Et kvindesynspunkt (1919; a woman’s point of view).

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The passionate interest in medieval Scandinavian history that had inspired Undset’s sagalike Gunnar’s Daughter not only led to her mammoth mature novels Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken but also merged with her conversion to Roman Catholicism, to which she testified fervently in the essays collected in Kimer i klokker (1924; the bells are ringing), Katolsk propaganda (1927; Catholic propaganda), Begegnungen und Trennungen: Essays über Christentum und Germanentum (1931; meetings and partings: essays on Christianity and Germanism), and Etapper I and II (1929, 1933; Stages on the Road, 1934). In De søkte de gamle stier (1936; they sought the ancient paths) and Norske helgener (1937; Saga of Saints, 1934), she explored the lives of great European defenders of the faith. As one of Nazi Germany’s first and strongest opponents, Undset assailed totalitarian aims in “Fortschritt, Rasse, Religion” (“Progress, Race, Religion”), an essay that appeared in Die Geföhrdung des Christentums durch Rassenwahn und Judenverfolgung (1935), an anti-Nazi anthology published in Switzerland. Later, from the United States, she continued to attack Nazism and all other forms of modern paganism in the collections Selvportretter og landskapsbilleder (1938; Men, Women, and Places, 1939), Tillbake til fremitiden (1942; Return to the Future, 1942), and Artikler og taler fra krigstiden (1953; wartime articles and speeches). Her warm friendship with the United States and the American people is also reflected in her essays “Skjønne Amerika” (“Beautiful America”), “Amerikansk litteratur” (“American Literature”), and “Common Ground,” all of which were written during World War II.

Toward the end of her life, Undset published several autobiographical fragments, of which the most detailed are Elleve år (1934; The Longest Years, 1935) and Lykkelige dager (1947; Happy Times in Norway, 1942). Her last works, like her first, dwell on her Christian Scandinavian heritage, and her last theoretical and historical essays, “Scandinavia and the New World,” “Brotherhood,” and “Scandinavian Literature,” written in the early 1940’s, all stress the peculiarly Scandinavian response to life she celebrated in her novels: the “preference for the realities of life[the] interest in the innate disparities which condition our development.”


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 393

The reality of Sigrid Undset’s early life was the necessity of leaving school and earning her living in an Oslo law office; the innate disparities between Undset and her office-mates were her ambition to write about the Middle Ages and her ability to comprehend all that she observed around her. When the draft of The Master of Hestviken that she completed in 1905 was rejected, Undset turned to the contemporary situations of working women with Fru Marta...

(The entire section contains 1255 words.)

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