Six Scandinavian Novelists: Lie, Jacobsen, Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlof, Hamsun, Sigrid Undset

By Alrik Gustafson | Go to book overview

CHRISTIAN ETHICS IN A PAGAN WORLD SIGRID UNDSET

TO a casual observer a photograph of Sigrid Undset is at first misleading. The face that we behold is heavy, full- formed, almost placid in its lack of striking lines or marked, sculptured features. The mouth is full, with a heavy under-lip; the nose regular, though rather large than small; the eyes far-off, dreaming, meditative, under a somewhat low yet well-formed brow; the hair dark, luxuriant, hanging low and full over roundly slanting temples. In no feature of this face does an offhand examination catch the steady, penetrating intensity of mind and feeling that is the most characteristic trait of Sigrid Undset's genius. A second, more careful, examination of those features, however, causes one to pause -- the eyes, though dreaming, are not soft...they have a certain moody, piercing quality, especially suggested by a sharp, very dark iris; and the generous fullness of lip and nose are not without their intimation of a scarcely slumbering sensuousness. It is these qualities of feature -- on first glance not particularly arresting -- that reveal to the discerning observer the Sigrid Undset that is to be found everywhere in the pages of her novels.

Sigrid Undset is a moralist, first of all, though she is certainly not by temperament an ascetic. She has a profound, brooding awareness of the domination of the flesh in the average human life, the central place of passion in the average human destiny. To Sigrid Undset the immediate, as well as the ultimate, truth about purely human life is the central reality of sex; and in the recognition of this truth she is one with not a few of her contemporaries. Still she does not -- as do some modern authors -- accept the actual dominance of sex in human life as essentially a blessing, for which man must be grateful, or as a primarily constructive fact of human existence, upon which an adequate positive philosophy of life may be built. Though sex is to her of central importance, the free, natural functioning of sex is not looked upon by her as an unmixed blessing. It is, rather, simply

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Six Scandinavian Novelists: Lie, Jacobsen, Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlof, Hamsun, Sigrid Undset
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • By Way of Introduction 3
  • Impressionistic Realism Jonas Lie 25
  • Toward Decadence Jens Peter Jacobsen 73
  • Nationalism Reinterpreted Verner Von Heidenstam 123
  • Saga and Legend of a Province Selma Lagerlöf 177
  • Man and the Soil Knut Hamsun 226
  • Christian Ethics in a Pagan World 286
  • Index 363
  • Index 365
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