Sigrid Undset’s First Novel “Marta Oulie”–Translated Into English for the First Time!

For the first time Marta Oulie, the first published novel by acclaimed Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset, has been translated into English.

Undset, who is best known for her later work, the three-volume  Kristin Lavransdatter, had not yet converted to the Catholic faith when she penned Marta Oulie: A Novel of Betrayal at the age of 24; but already she was probing into the hearts and minds of women.

I first became aware of Undset’s work when Deal Hudson, former editor of Crisis Magazine, listed her among the great Catholic writers–along with notables including Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Georges Bernanos, Francois Mauriac, and Flannery O’Connor.  She was a student and an admirer of another famous convert, Jacques Maritain.

I remember reading Kristin Lavransdatter and feeling, despite its strong content (which included a rape), that it was like a cleansing shower.  Hudson wrote about her:

The same spiritual intelligence that gives the trilogy a potency to convert the lives of its readers is found throughout her other writings.

Marta Oulie is written in the form of a diary, in which a young wife and mother reveals that she has committed adultery, entering into an affair with her cousin.  “I have been unfaithful to my husband,” she begins her story.   Marta seems self-absorbed, both in her decision to engage in a sexual relationship, and then in how lost  and unworthy it made her feel.  She knew that her husband Otto, had he known of the affair, would have been greatly hurt; yet it was Marta’s feelings, not his, that drove her to finally turn away from the young man who loved her and who would have married her.

Sigrid Undset
1882-1949

A novel is a work of the imagination; but it also draws upon the experience and the inner resources of the author.  Undset’s own life seemed to mirror her protagonists’; like Marta and Kristin, she was restless in her marriage (which eventually ended in divorce).  Preoccupation with self is a recurring theme in her characters’ lives, and her own introspective yearnings fuel the character studies in her novels.

Sigrid Undset had a life-long interest in how women were regarded by the culture in which they lived.  Her novel Jenny is about a woman painter who, as a result of romantic crises, believes that she is wasting her life, and who finally commits suicide.  In Vagren, Undset writes about a woman who succeeds in saving both herself and her love from a serious matrimonial crisis, finally creating a secure family.

Following her conversation to the Catholic faith at age 42, she drew inspiration from strong Catholic women.  This is evident in her acclaimed biography of Catherine of Siena.

 

Saint Gilbert? Chesterton Cause Gets Underway

G.K. Chesterton, the rotund Catholic writer whose acclaimed works include poetry and apologetics as well as biographies of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas, is one step closer to sainthood.

The Diocese of Northampton today announced that Bishop Peter Doyle had appointed a priest to begin the study of Chesterton’s virtue and life.  According to the statement which was released today,

“The Bishop has appointed Canon John Udris, a priest of the Diocese and currently a spiritual director at St. Mary’s College, Oscott, to undertake a fact-finding exercise on his behalf.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a convert to the Roman Catholic faith.  He was a prolific writer, lay theologian, dramatist, journalist, orator and Christian biographer, whose best known works include Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man.  He died June 14, 1936 at his home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.

If you have information which would assist in the fact-finding, you can reach Canon John Udris at St. Mary’s College, Chester Road, Sutton Coldfield, 873 5AA, United Kingdom.  The email address established for the investigation is  Chesterton@oscott.org.

 

Death by Living: Life Lessons from the Pen of N.D. Wilson

Sometimes ordinary words and grandios ideas put on their Sunday best and go dancing, a tango of poetry and prose, and the journey is as important as the destination.

N.D. Wilson’s latest book, Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent, is like that.  I found myself closing the covers but continuing the conversation, my imagination inflamed by Wilson’s vibrant storytelling.

Lacking the denouement of a novel, Death by Living is Wilson’s personal journal, an intimate recounting of life lived and lessons learned.  He wanders through the stories of his past (“Eyes Back”), into the present, setting some of his cogent reflections against the backdrop of cities he’s visited:  Jerusalem, London, Rome.

It was in Rome where Wilson found the inspiration for his title:  Leading his children down the steps into the Mamertine Prison, the wet and dark space where the apostle Peter was held before he was crucified, and where the apostle Paul was held before he was beheaded, he reflected on the apostles’ vigor and their mission:

“Two men who had burned with furious light, two foxes who had raced through the vineyard with torches tied to their tails by Christ Himself—that great Samson.  In this place they had waited for death, for the finish lines to their races, for the last flurry of blows in their fight—they fought well to the end. 

They had reached their deaths by living.”

Walking through what he calls “the Pope’s hallway” (most certainly the long halls of the Vatican Museums), hallways awash in medieval beauty and artistic abundance, Wilson reflects on his own place in the plan of Creation.  “I am museum exhibit number however-many-people-you-have-ever-seen-in-your-life,” he writes.  “I was made.  I am a picture of God (imago dei).  Of His Son (grafted into the new Adam).  I am a hangnail in the larger picture of His Son’s bride, the church.  (I live in Idaho; a hangnail is generous.)”

In the “pope’s hallway”, Wilson imagines the fiery creativity which spurred God to create the world, the universe, the cosmos, and a single man:

God—the God who bowled the fire in the sky, who spun the moon and flung the stars, who parted the waters, who feathered the birds and scaled the fish and furred bears, who called up trees, who invented fruit and bats and oceans and wind and lightning and gave Jupiter a red cowlick for an eye—that God challenged Himself.  He made a pile of dust on the ground in a garden and He decided to make a picture of Himself.   

He fell short.  (In a frozen frame.)

…I am more than a painting, because I do not sit in time.  I am a failed portrait of God, but this is no frozen frame.  He hasn’t finished.  And He never will.  He cannot fall short, because He will never stop His mouth. 

We are dust.  We are the challenge of the dust.  Mix dust with breath.  Picture God.

If you are an aficionado of poetry and theology, if you like energetic words assembled into a good read, you’ll enjoy Death by Living.

 

N.D. Wilson is author of the best-selling Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl and is currently a Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College, where he teaches freshmen how to play with words.  He describes himself as a “professional daydreamer and occasional screenwriter.”  He and his wife have five children.