Undset, Sigrid

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Undset, Sigrid

(sĭ`grĭd o͝on`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); T. Page, ed., The Unknown Sigrid Undset: Jenny and Other Works (2001).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Undset, Sigrid


Born May 20, 1882, in Kallundborg, Denmark; died June 10, 1949, in Lillehammer, Norway. Norwegian writer.

Undset was the daughter of an archaeologist. The emancipation of women is one of the principal themes of her works. She first treated this theme in the novella Fru Marta Oulie (1907; Russian translation, 1910) and later dealt with it in such novels as The Happy Age (1908). Undset interwove romanticism with realism in the novella Gunnar’s Daughter (1909; Russian translation under the title Vikings, 1916), in the novels Jenny (1911; Russian translation, 1917) and Springtime (1914; Russian translation, 1928), and in the collection of short stories Poor Fates (1912; Russian translation, 1928). The heroes of Undset’s psychological novels and of her short stories about contemporary life are minor office workers, residents of outlying areas of cities, or people suffering from weariness or lack of good fortune. In most of her works of this kind, the central characters become reconciled to their circumstances or perish.

Undset’s most important work is the historical trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter (1920–22; Russian translations: vols. 1–2, 1935–39; vols. 1–3, 1962). The humanism that underlies the trilogy is linked with an affirmation of social equality. Kristin Lavransdatter won Undset a Nobel Prize in 1928. The Bridal Wreath and The Mistress of Husaby, which constitute the first and second volumes of the trilogy, portray the heroine’s struggle against outmoded customs. The third volume, The Cross, reflects Undset’s interest in religion. The story of Kristin Lavransdatter unfolds in the first half of the 14th century, which was a time of social stagnation and passivity. The author’s depiction of the period is detailed and comprehensive.

Undset’s quest for an ethical ideal and for a resolution of the contradictions inherent in society led her to Roman Catholicism. Her conversion is manifest in her historical novel The Master of Hestviken (vols. 1–4, 1925–27), in her essays Stages on the Road (1929), and in her novels The Burning Bush (1930) and Ida Elisabeth (1932). Undset’s social concerns changed during World War II and the German occupation of Norway. By way of protest, she emigrated first to Sweden and then to the United States, where she engaged in antifascist activities. Undset returned to Norway in 1945.


Samlede romaner og fortellinger fra nutiden, 2nd ed., vols. 1–5. Oslo, 1935.
Romaner og fortellinger fra nutiden, vols. 1–10. Oslo, 1949.


D’iakonova, N. “Istoricheskaia trilogiia S. Unset.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1962, no. 8.
Steen, E. Kristin Lavransdatter: En kritisk studie. Oslo, 1959.
Deschamps, N. Sigrid Undset ou la morale de la passion. Montreal, 1966.
Krane, B. Sigrid Undset: Liv og meninger. Oslo, 1970.
Haffner, H. J. Forsøk til en Sigrid Undset bibliografi. Oslo, 1932.
Øksnevad, R. Norsk litteraturhistorisk bibliografi 1900–1945. Oslo, 1951.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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