Jenny, Sigrid Undset’s early novel, set off a firestorm of criticism for its portrayal of a young woman’s unplanned pregnancy.


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Jenny, an early novel by Sigrid Undset, created a firestorm of criticism for its portrayal of a young woman’s unplanned pregnancy and rebellion against convention. Her ability to present a meticulously accurate portrait without sacrificing the poetry and narrative drive of masterful storytelling is a hallmark of her writing. Daughter of an archaeologist who died when he was forty, thus leaving the family impoverished, Undset left school to work as a secretary. A self-taught writer, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1928. The work is included in our catalog as an inspiration to writers struggling to balance earning a living and finding time to write, but also because Undset passed through California when she was fleeing the Nazis.

When the German army invaded Norway in WW II, the Norwegian government insisted Undset leave the country to avoid being captured and used for propaganda purposes. So, in company with other refugees, she made an arduous journey, walking for much of it, through mountains before crossing the border into neutral Sweden. From there she flew to Russia, then traveled through Siberia by train and on to Japan by boat. Another boat trip took her across the Pacific to California. From there she traveled to New York where she spent the rest of the war helping the Norwegian government-in-exile.

She’s best known for her Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, three historical novels that encompass a single woman’s life from birth to her waning years. Jenny offers the same blend of magic–a determined woman who wants to live her own life, and a society that does its best to constrain her.

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