Saga of Saints
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By Sigrid Undset
Sigrid Undset’s renown is almost exclusively the fruit of her masterworks of historical fiction, Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken. And justly so—for they achieve that hallmark of their genre: authenticity. Saga of Saints, the account of Christianity’s introduction into Norway and those responsible for defending its development, shows the inspiration for that authenticity. From her magnificent opening essay, “The Coming of Christianity to Norway,” on through the stories of Sunniva, King Olav, and Eystein (and others), Undset proves herself a resourceful historian of both events and ideas. As the product of Undset’s patriotic piety and native talent for storytelling, Saga of Saints is—in the words of her biographer A. H. Winsnes—“remarkable for her sure critical sense in the treatment of sources and, above all, for her ability to judge men and their conduct in relation to the age and society in which they lived.”
The saints are those who always say in their hearts, “Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit mihi?” Lord, what can I do for Thee in the short lifetime which Thou hast given me, for the night cometh when no man can work? (Sigrid Undset)
During the ruinous years of World War II, Undset once stated: “It takes more than a little while to part a nation from its history, and silence all the voices from a people’s past.” From its first appearance in 1934 to now, Saga of Saints has borne out this truth, evidencing the permanence of the past and the power of saintly witness as a fulcrum of civilization.
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Sigrid Undset (1882–1949) was a Norwegian novelist and essayist and a convert to Catholicism. Her work is renowned for its realism and poignancy, and she is best known for her three-volume novel Kristin Lavransdatter. In 1928, Undset was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.