Novelist Sigrid Undset (1882–1949) left a transformative mark on twentieth-century literature, not only in her homeland of Norway, but across the West. Her painterly eye for the Scandinavian countryside, her uncompromising emotional realism, her concrete sense of history, her bold vision of woman and man—these won her such acclaim that she received the 1928 Nobel Prize for Literature, not long after the publication of her historical epic novel, Kristin Lavransdatter.
During World War II, she loudly opposed anti-Semitism and the Nazi regime, and in the final years of her life, the Norwegian state awarded her the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Olav—the first time this honor was given to a woman outside the royal family.
But something more than courage and literary brilliance set Undset apart. In 1924, she converted to Roman Catholicism, scandalizing Protestants and atheist intellectuals alike, and leaving her isolated. This spiritual turn—which already began during the writing of Kristin Lavransdatter—shaped the very heart of her work, as well as her own life as a mother. In a world so pockmarked by suffering, disappointment, and cruelty, Jesus Christ alone gives meaning to the word "love". Among her other celebrated works are the novels The Master of Hestviken and Ida Elizabeth, and a powerful spiritual biography of the great saint, Catherine of Siena.
Fr. Aidan Nichols, acclaimed theologian and spiritual writer, unpacks the figure of Sigrid Undset from a distinctively Christian point of view. Rich in both biography and textual analysis—including of works never translated into English—Sigrid Undset: Reader of Hearts renders a shrewd, colorful account of a writer who allowed her art to be transfigured by the Cross, by the fire of God’s mercy, and thus opened to an intricacy and beauty beyond all telling.
"This penetrating and engaging exploration of Sigrid Undset's remarkable creativity is a significant contribution to both literary criticism and the New Evangelization proclaimed by Saint John Paul II.";
— George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center
"This is my favorite of Father Nichols' books, and I have read almost all of them. It opens up the world of Scandinavian Catholicism and weaves history, literature, and theology together. Sigrid Undset is one of the heroines of the world of Catholic letters of the past century, and she deserves to be better known."
— Tracey Rowland, Ph.D, John Paul II Chair of Theology, University of Notre Dame (Australia); 2020 Ratzinger Prize Winner
"So luminous is the life and thought of the Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset, it is impossible to exaggerate her significance for our times. This woman of brilliant mind and creativity, of radical honesty and courageous faith is a beacon for this generation. Father Nichols' insights into her novels and nonfiction, and her conversion to the Catholic faith are expressed with his own lucid, beautiful mastery."
— Michael D. O’Brien, Author, Island of the World: A Novel
"Aidan Nichols brings minute and wide-ranging knowledge of Sigrid Undset's life and work, as well as great theological and spiritual learning, to the study of a writer who was indeed a great 'reader of hearts'. This book will lead many new readers to Undset and many who already read her to a much deeper understanding of what she was all about."
— Robert Royal, Author, A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century
"A fascinating and inspiring literary biography. Father Nichols admirably charts Undset's spiritual, religious, philosophical, and psychological development in the intellectual context of her era in this readable new book."
— Susan Treacy, Ph.D., Author, The Music of Christendom
"Intellectual biography takes a mind that is a match for the subject, but more than that, a sympathetic heart. Father Aidan Nichols delivers a portrait of Sigrid Undset without rival. A wise librarian in Rome told me, 'All of moral theology is contained in Kristen Lavransdatter.' Read Father Nichols' book, and you will know what he meant."
— Christopher Check, President, Catholic Answers