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Jenny by Sigrid Undset (thoughts)

June 28, 2011

Dear Ms. Undset,

Actually, can I call you Sigrid? I think we would be friends, if I could ever finagle myself back to turn-of-the-century Norway. We could go on tour together, see the Continent! I too love the Middle Ages; I delighted in Kristin Lavransdatter and now that I’ve read The Sagas of the Icelanders, we could gossip about those crazy settlers. But I’m actually writing to you about Jenny, a novel you set in its current time. You wrote it after your own trip to Italy, and before your conversion to Catholicism, and I must admit I was startled at how vivid and modern it felt. The way you bring to life the expat experience was so perfect, I couldn’t help thinking back to my own study abroad days! And I wished I could join Jenny and her circle of artist friends: she was so alive, probably happy to be free from her school teacher days. Now Sigrid, I hope this isn’t too much of a liberty, but I suspect Jenny had more than a bit of basis in yourself. You too went to Rome in your late twenties and made friends with a group of Scandinavians living there. And you also found love. I was saddened to see how love and ‘womanly’ responsibilities interfered with women artists; the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Of course, the similarities only go so far. When I realised you were an author of the Wharton school, it made me nervous to keep turning the pages, although of course I did. You drew me completely into Jenny’s life and her head, and the whole novel entranced me. I’m surprised it’s so little known in my time: the writing and character profiles are just perfect. And you did win that Nobel! I think even readers who didn’t, forgive me, get along as well with Kristin Lavransdatter will love Jenny. The new Tiina Nunally translation I read helped as well: it’s found in The Unknown Sigrid Undset. I’m very happy I read it, and I look forward to exploring more of your works.

Your Admirer,


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17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2011 6:37 am

    What is it about Scandinavian authors that make you want to write letters to them instead of blog posts about them? I considered writing a letter to Tove Jansson after finishing her The Summer Book, but it quickly got out of hand so in the end I resorted to a blog post. Now I feel as if I should have chosen to write a letter, it conveys how much a book touched you so perfectly.

    This is definitely going on my wishlist, and I think the other title you mentioned will too.

    • June 30, 2011 1:50 pm

      There must be something about them! :) I can’t wait for The Summer Book to finally finish being processed and come home with me. lol

  2. June 28, 2011 9:27 am

    Heh, I love the way you’ve structured this review Eva. Sounds like a really interesting read.

  3. June 28, 2011 11:19 am

    Great post Eva. I love the letter to the author!

  4. June 28, 2011 5:14 pm

    [smiting forehead] Why is it I always keep circling this novel then passing it up? I know I would love it because I’m a big Kristin Lavransdatter fan as well. [back to smiting]

  5. June 28, 2011 5:17 pm

    Woohoo! I am not a Sigrid Longlastbookname fan (yet!) but I am always up for something where the heroine HAS MY NAME. I am ALSO CALLED JENNY. WOOOOOOO.

    • June 30, 2011 1:51 pm

      Undset isn’t a long name! ;) You’re thinking Lavransdatter, lol. But yeah, I didn’t realise Jenny was a Norwegian name until reading this! I don’t think I’ve read a book w a heroine named Eva, and I know I haven’t read one w a heroine named the same as my first name.

      • June 30, 2011 4:52 pm

        Oooh that would be a fun challenge: find & read a book who’s heroine shares your name. Although, that would mean I’d be reading a bunch of Battle Angel Alita graphic novels ;)

      • July 1, 2011 4:33 pm

        Lol! It would be fun…except nothing springs to mind for Eva. Except We Need to Talk about Kevin, which isn’t a book I’m interested in. Maybe some Eastern European lit…

  6. June 28, 2011 6:10 pm

    I so enjoyed this post because I loved Sigrid Undset’s Kristin…oops, I’ll only misspell the last name!

    Thanks for posting…I’ll try to find the book!

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  7. June 28, 2011 8:37 pm

    I have a copy of Jenny! I really need to get around to reading it.

  8. June 30, 2011 6:43 am

    I haven’t read Kirsten L yet but I knew some people didn’t like it in the blogosphere, so was nervous. Maybe I’ll start small and work my way up.

    • June 30, 2011 1:51 pm

      If it makes you less nervous, I really really loved it. Jenny has a v different feel, so maybe start w one of her other Medieval stories?

  9. June 30, 2011 12:30 pm

    Wonderful review, Eva! I love the fact that the book has inspired you to write a letter to Sigrid Undset :)

  10. June 30, 2011 4:53 pm

    I love this review format! I haven’t read anything by this author, but I’m liking the sound of ‘Jenny.’


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