Passionate and Incorruptible

This beautiful little book—one that does much credit to its publisher— appears as a blessing amid the clutter and noise and ugliness that characterize the publishing industry as well as literary discourse today. A pleasure to hold and to behold, this volume is also the vehicle for rendering words, thoughts, and values that seem new because they are traditional, and indeed are new because of the controlled brilliance of their exposition. This essay or monograph, in other words, is to be prized not only for what it says but for what it does not say.

Kristin must be approached through its layers of context. First, it is a reading of the trilogy known collectively as Kristin Lavransdatter (1920-22), the most famous work of Sigrid Undset (1882-1949), the Danish-born Norwegian who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. Kristin Lavransdatter is not a book one hears much about today, but it ought to be. It has sometimes been called the greatest of historical novels, and its author the greatest writer of her sex. Epic in scope, realistic in detail, and spiritual in focus, Undset's vision of medieval Norway is brooding, comprehensive, and unsentimental. Undset's spiritually attuned sensibility led her to a conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1924 (a commitment clearly anticipated in her great novel). As a logical consequence of her Christian principles, the Nazis burned her books. Sigrid Undset,...

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